The Most-Visited National Parks During the Pandemic

Family hiking on summer vacation in Colorado mountains.


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Family hiking on summer vacation in Colorado mountains.

Social Distancing, Naturally

America’s national parks continue to be some of the nation’s biggest tourist draws. Recreational visits were up 25.3% system-wide in 2021, according to the National Park Service, as 2020’s park closures lapsed and visitors eager for fresh air returned. The surge in visitors hasn’t been without its downsides, though, with some of the most popular parks dealing with overcrowding and all of the problems that come with it. Here are the 15 parks that drew the most visitors last year, including a few names you might not expect. 

Related: 35 Surprising Facts About America's National Parks

Bryce Canyon National Park hoodoos with Thor's Hammer, Utah, USA

15. Bryce Canyon (Utah)

2021 visits: 2.1 million

Change from 2020: +43.7%

Bryce Canyon, one of Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks, held steady at No. 15 year despite gaining a very significant 600,000 visitors in 2021.

Related: Stunning Photos of Every National Park in America

Hot Springs National Park
Zack Frank/shutterstock

14. Hot Springs (Arkansas)

2021 visits: 2.2 million

Change from 2020: +60.4%

This newcomer to the top 15 most-visited parks saw a surge of more than 800,000 visitors in 2021 compared with 2020. One of the smallest and perhaps unexpected parks, it features historic thermal bathhouses and even the only brewery in a national park. 

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Cuyahoga Valley National Park

13. Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio)

2021 visits: 2.6 million

Change from 2020: -6.5%

Little-known Cuyahoga Valley enjoyed a big pandemic bounce in 2020 from antsy urbanites and suburbanites looking for fresh air in this park just south of Cleveland. But it doesn’t appear to have lasted, and the park dropped from No. 7 to No. 13. It’s the only park in the top 15 that lost visitors in 2021. 

A path in the fairy green forest. The forest along the trail is filled with old temperate trees covered in green and brown mosses.

12. Olympic (Washington)

2021 visits: 2.7 million

Change from 2020: +8.8%

This lush Pacific Northwest destination dropped from No.9 to No. 12 in 2021, but its visitation numbers held relatively steady.

Related: Best Beaches on the West Coast

Joshua trees in Mojave Desert

11. Joshua Tree (California)

2021 visits: 3.1 million

Change from 2020: +27.7%

Joshua Tree dropped one spot, from No. 10 to No. 11, despite welcoming over 600,000 more visitors than it did in 2020.

Related: The Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park

10. Glacier (Montana)

2021 visits: 3.1 million

Change from 2020: +81.4%

Glacier National Park was only the 13th most-visited park in 2020, but after being heavily impacted by pandemic closures, it bounced back into the top 10 in 2021 with a huge increase of nearly 1.4 million visitors.

Related: World’s Most Beautiful Glaciers to See Before They’re Gone

Boardwalk steps down a dune at Indiana Dunes National Park
Jon Lauriat/istockphoto
View of El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
Paul D Wade/istockphoto
Grand Tetons mountains, wildflowers, summer, blue sky, water, Snake River

7. Grand Teton (Wyoming)

2021 visits: 3.9 million

Change from 2020: +18.1%

Grand Teton dropped two places, from No. 5 to No. 7, but saw nearly 600,000 more visitors than it did in 2020.

Otter Point from Gorham Mountain in Autumn, Acadia National Park
Spring Mountain Hike

5. Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

2021 visits: 4.4 million

Change from 2020: +34.2%

Rocky Mountain National Park slipped from the nation’s No. 4 most-visited park in 2020 to No. 5 during 2021.

Related: Dangerous Roads You Should Avoid in an RV

Hike to Puebloean Granaries

4. Grand Canyon (Arizona)

2021 visits: 4.5 million

Change from 2020: +56.5%

Grand Canyon National Park is back in the top 5 most-visited parks after dropping to No. 6 in 2020, a year that it dealt with significant pandemic-related closures and a drop in international visitors. 

Related: Around the World in 20 Stunning Sunsets

Great Falls of the Yellowstone in Wyoming
Cheri Alguire/istockphoto

3. Yellowstone (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho)

2021 visits: 4.9 million 

Change from 2020: +27.7%

Always-popular Yellowstone dropped from second, its highest ranking since the 1940s, to the third-most visited park in 2021.

Related: Historic National Park Photos for Vintage Views

beautiful of narrow in the afternoon  in Zion National park,Utah,usa.

2. Zion (Utah)

2021 visits: 5 million

Change from 2020: +40.3%

Zion swapped places with Yellowstone, moving from No. 3 to No. 2 in 2021.

Sunrise Landscape Great Smoky Mountains National Park Gatlinburg TN

1. Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee, North Carolina)

2021 visits: 14.2 million

Change from 2020: +17.1%

The Smokies have been the nation’s most-visited national park since 1944, a distinction that even COVID-19 hasn’t been able to change. 

Related: How COVID-19 Has Changed Travel