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Most famous national parks set visitation records in 2021

Saint Croix Island is an international historic site in the Saint Croix River between Maine and Canada that preserves the history of an early French settlement.
NPS/Victoria Stauffenberg
Saint Croix Island is an international historic site in the Saint Croix River between Maine and Canada that preserves the history of an early French settlement.

WASHINGTON (KIFI) – While some of the most well-known national parks again had record visitation in 2021, numbers across the entire National Park System remained below pre-pandemic totals.

These findings were released Wednesday as the National Park Service published its official annual visitation statistics for 2021.

Of 423 parks in the National Park System, just 25 received more than 50 percent of the system’s total 297.1 million recreation visits in 2021. Last year’s visitation increased by 60 million over 2020 when COVID-19 shuttered facilities in most parks for at least part of the year.

“It’s wonderful to see so many Americans continuing to find solace and inspiration in these incredible places during the second year of the pandemic,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said. “We’re happy to see so many visitors returning to iconic parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite, but there are hundreds more that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Whatever experience you’re looking for in 2022, national parks are here to discover.”

One way to plan new experiences is to explore clusters of parks—create your own circle of discovery. A visit to Redwoods State and National Parks offers a great opportunity to explore Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, and Lassen Volcanic National Park.

When in Maine for a visit to Acadia National Park, don’t miss Saint Croix Island International Historic Site and one of America’s newest national parks, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

If your 2022 trip will take you to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, also consider Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Carl Sandburg National Historic Site, and Obed Wild and Scenic River.

As you plan your travel, take advantage of the search feature on the NPS website to search by state, activity and topic– you're sure to discover a hidden gem or two. Also be sure to download the NPS App from the iOS App Store or Google Play Store to find up-to-date information about all 423 national parks.

Inside the 2021 visitation report

  • Forty-four parks set a record for recreation visits in 2021.
  • Six parks broke a visitation record they set in 2020.
  • Blue Ridge Parkway remained the most-visited park in the National Park System.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park set a visitation record in 2021 and passed 14 million recreation visits for the first time.
  • Five parks began reporting official visitor statistics for the first time: Alagnak Wild River (Alaska), Camp Nelson National Monument (Ky.), Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument (Miss.), Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument (Nev.), and World  War  I Memorial (District of Columbia).
  • In 2021, some parks operated with limited capacities or indoor space restrictions, but most were open to visitors. Seven parks—all of them historic sites in urban areas—remained closed throughout 2021 due health and safety concerns related to COVID-19.
  • Recreation visitor hours dipped from 1.43 billion in 2019 to 1.36 billion in 2021, a 5% decrease.

2021 by the numbers 

  • 297,115,406 recreation visits 
  • 1,356,657,749 recreation visitor hours
  • 12,745,455 overnight stays (recreation + non-recreation)
  • Three parks had more than 10 million recreation visits – Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area
  • Eleven parks had more than five million recreation visits – up from seven parks in 2020 and equal to the number of parks in 2019
  • 73 parks had more than one million recreation visits (19% of reporting parks) - up from 60 parks in 2020 and down from 80 parks in 2019
  • 25% of total recreation visits occurred in the top eight most-visited parks (2% of all parks in the National Park System)
  • 50% of total recreation visits occurred in the top 25 most-visited parks (6% of all parks in the National Park System)    

25 most visited parks in the National Park System

  1. Blue Ridge Parkway: 15.9 million
  2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 14.1 million
  3. Golden Gate National Recreation Area: 13.7 million
  4. Gateway National Recreation Area: 9.1 million
  5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area: 7.6 million
  6. George Washington Memorial Parkway: 6.8 million
  7. Natchez Trace Parkway: 6.4 million
  8. Lincoln Memorial: 5.8 million
  9. Gulf Islands National Seashore: 5.5 million
  10. Zion National Park: 5 million
  11. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park: 5 million
  12. Yellowstone National Park: 4.9 million
  13. Grand Canyon National Park: 4.5 million
  14. Rocky Mountain National Park: 4.4 million
  15. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: 4.3 million
  16. Acadia National Park: 4 million
  17. Cape Cod National Seashore: 4 million
  18. Grand Teton National Park: 3.9 million
  19. World War II Memorial: 3.7 million
  20. Vietnam Veterans Memorial: 3.6 million
  21. Yosemite National Park: 3.3 million
  22. Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area: 3.3 million
  23. Cape Hatteras National Seashore: 3.2 million
  24. Indiana Dunes National Park: 3.2 million
  25. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: 3.1 million
Article Topic Follows: Idaho

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