Family hiking on summer vacation in Colorado mountains.

The Most-Visited National Parks During the Pandemic

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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, but the pandemic didn’t spare them a major decline in foot traffic. Recreational visits were down 27.6% system-wide in 2020, according to the National Park Service, as stay-at-home orders and temporary park closures left their marks. Still, plenty of people did venture out for some fresh air and socially distant recreation. Here are the 15 parks that drew the most visitors last year, including a few that actually managed to welcome more than they did in 2019. 

Related: Under-the-Radar National Parks to Visit This Fall

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

15. Bryce Canyon (Utah)

2020 visits: 1.5 million 

Change from 2019: -43.6%

Bryce Canyon was partially closed only from March through June of 2020, but still suffered one of the steepest declines in recreational visitation among the most-visited national parks, and the steepest decline among Utah’s ‘Mighty 5’ national parks. 

Related: Stunning Photos of Every National Park in America

Teenager on the edge of a cliff

14. Shenandoah (Virginia)

2020 visits: 1.7 million

Change from 2019: +16.9%

Though Shenandoah was partially closed from March through December 2020, that didn’t deter visitation, which was up nearly 17% over 2019. The park, only a couple hours from Washington, D.C., likely saw its numbers bolstered by urbanites looking for some fresh air during the pandemic.

Related: 35 Surprising Facts About America's National Parks

Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park

13. Glacier (Montana)

2020 visits: 1.7 million 

Change from 2019: -44.3%

Glacier National Park was the 10th-most visited park in 2019, but fell three spots in 2020. The park was partially closed in March and from June through December, and fully closed in April and May. 

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

View of El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
Paul D Wade/istockphoto
Boardwalk steps down a dune at Indiana Dunes National Park
Jon Lauriat/istockphoto

11. Indiana Dunes

2020 visits: 2.3 million 

Change from 2019: +7.4%

Indiana Dunes, one of the nation’s newest national parks, was only partially closed for four months in 2020, less than most other parks. Partially driving record visitation numbers: its proximity to Chicago, which shut down its beaches because of COVID-19. 

Related: Surprising Facts About America’s Beaches

Joshua trees in Mojave Desert

10. Joshua Tree (California)

2020 visits: 2.4 million 

Change from 2019: -19.7%

Joshua Tree was fully closed in April and partially closed in March, May, and June. Despite the drop in visitation, it moved up one spot, from No. 11 to No. 10.

Related: The Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

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

9. Olympic (Washington)

2020 visits: 2.5 million 

Change from 2019: -23%

This lush Pacific Northwest destination held steady at No. 9 from 2019 to 2020 despite recreational visits dropping by just under a fourth. It was partially closed from March through December thanks to COVID-19. 

Related: Best Beaches on the West Coast

Otter Point from Gorham Mountain in Autumn, Acadia National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park

7. Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio)

2020 visits: 2.8 million 

Change from 2019: +23.1%

Like Indiana Dunes and Shenandoah, Cuyahoga Valley probably enjoyed a pandemic bounce from antsy urbanites and suburbanites looking for fresh air in this park just south of Cleveland. It moved from the No. 13 spot in 2019 to No. 7 in 2020 despite partial closures in March through December. 

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Hike to Puebloean Granaries

6. Grand Canyon (Arizona)

2020 visits: 2.9 million 

Change from 2019: -51.5%

The biggest loser on this list by far: Grand Canyon National Park, which lost more than half of its recreational visits from 2019 to 2020, dropping it from the No. 2 most-visited park to No. 6. It fully closed in April and partially closed in March as well as May through December. Grand Canyon is a major draw for international visitors, whose numbers have plummeted during COVID-19.

Related: Around the World in 20 Stunning Sunsets

Grand Tetons mountains, wildflowers, summer, blue sky, water, Snake River

5. Grand Teton (Wyoming)

2020 visits: 3.3 million 

Change from 2019: -3.4%

Visitation was relatively steady at Grand Teton National Park, declining just 3.4% from 2019 despite a full closure in April and partial closures for most of the rest of the year. It moved up three spots, from No. 8 in 2019 to No. 5 in 2020. 

Spring Mountain Hike

4. Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

2020 visits: 3.3 million 

Change from 2019: -29.2%

Rocky Mountain National Park slipped from the nation’s No. 3 park to No. 4 during 2020 and saw its recreational visits plummet 29%. The park was fully closed in April and partially closed in March and May through October.

Related: Dangerous Roads You Should Avoid in an RV

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

3. Zion (Utah)

2020 visits: 3.6 million 

Change from 2019: -20%

Despite losing 20% of its recreational visitors from 2019 to 2020, Zion swapped places with Rocky Mountain, moving from No. 4 to No. 3. The park never fully closed, but was partially closed from March through December.

Great Falls of the Yellowstone in Wyoming
Cheri Alguire/istockphoto

2. Yellowstone (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho)

2020 visits: 3.8 million 

Change from 2019: -5.3%

Always-popular Yellowstone moved from the sixth most-visited national park to second during the pandemic, its highest ranking since the 1940s. It was fully closed in April and partially closed in March, May, June, July, August, September, and October.

Related: Historic National Park Photos for Vintage Views

Sunrise Landscape Great Smoky Mountains National Park Gatlinburg TN

1. Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee, North Carolina)

2020 visits: 12.1 million 

Change from 2019: -3.6%

The Smokies have been the nation’s most-visited national park since 1944, a distinction that even COVID-19 — and partial closures for 10 months out of the year — couldn’t change. 

Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

Parks That Lost the Most Visitors

It wasn’t a good year to be a national park in Alaska — six of the state’s gorgeous but remote parks dominate this list of the 10 national parks that saw the biggest decline in recreational visits from 2019 to 2020.  

  • Glacier Bay, Alaska: -99.1%
  • Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Virginia: -92.5%
  • Denali, Alaska: -90.9% 
  • Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska: -77.6%
  • Gates of the Arctic, Alaska: -72.7%
  • Gateway Arch, Missouri: -76.4% 
  • Isle Royale, Michigan: -75.4%
  • Lake Clark, Alaska: -71.2%
  • Haleakala, Hawaii: -67.9%
  • Kenai Fjords, Alaska: -67.5%
Manzanita Lake and Lassen Peak, Lassen National Park

Parks That Gained Visitors

Some national parks managed to buck the pandemic-driven trend of smaller visitation numbers. Here are all of the parks that actually welcomed more people for recreational visits in 2020 than they did in 2019:

  • Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands: +25.6%
  • Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio: +23.1%
  • Shenandoah, Virginia: +16.9%
  • Voyageurs, Minnesota: +12.9%
  • Indiana Dunes: +7.4%
  • Lassen Volcanic, California: +4.9%