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These Are The Most Visited National Parks In The U.S. According To CNN

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National parks are finally seeing a return to pre-pandemic levels of visitation. Statistics for 2022 show that over 312 million people visited national parks in the U.S., up nearly 75 million from 2020.  After some difficult years of lockdowns and travel restrictions, it's a welcome sight to see visitors returning to some of the most beloved destinations in the country.

These were the ten most popular national parks, in order, and what keeps visitors coming back:

A clear pond inside a red rock formation at Zion National Park

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The most popular national park by a landslide, with nearly three times more visitors than number two, is Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smoky Mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain range that runs through North Carolina and Tennessee. With over 800 miles of trails, it’s the ideal destination for hikers and campers.

Aerial view of forests and mountains at sunset in the Smoky Mountains

2. Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is known around the world for its incredible size and steep cliffs carved through the landscape by the Colorado River. The park offers a variety of activities, such as hiking, camping, and rafting. It is a great destination for all types of travelers, offering something for everyone.

Grand Canyon View at Sunset

3. Zion National Park

Just behind the Grand Canyon is Zion National Park.  Located in southwestern Utah, it is home to some of the most spectacular red rock formations. Not only is the scenery breathtaking, but the park also offers a wide variety of outdoor activities, such as biking, backpacking, horseback riding, and rock climbing. Whether you're looking for an adventure or just want to take in the scenery, Zion National Park is a must-see destination.

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A girl standing on a red rock formation surrounded by other rocky peaks at Zion National Park

4. Rocky Mountain National Park

A trip to Colorado is not complete without a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. With over 400 miles of trails and more than 100 peaks, it is a playground for hikers and climbers. In the winter, visitors can also ski and snowshoe. If you’re lucky, you can get a glimpse of some of the unique wildlife, including elk, moose, and bighorn sheep.

5. Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park has a variety of things to do for any nature lover. Located on the coast of Maine, you can explore the many islands and coves that make up the park, go horseback riding on the historic carriage roads, or watch the sunset from the renowned Cadillac Mountain. Winter activities include cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Fall foliage on a rocky cliffside coast at Acadia National Park

6. Yosemite National Park

It’s hard to believe that Yosemite is in sixth place, even though it still saw around 3.67 million visitors last year. People visit Yosemite for its incredible granite cliffs, stunning waterfalls, and giant sequoia trees. It’s a great place for hikers, campers, and the adventurous rock climber. 

Hiker looking at yosemite falls from glacier point in yosemite park

7. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is another you are sure to be familiar with. This incredible Wyoming park is home to more than 10,000 hydrothermal features, such as geysers, hot springs, and mudpots, making it a unique and unforgettable destination. Wildlife watching is also popular, with bison, elk, grizzly bears, and wolves all living in the park. Be sure to visit in summer unless you are experienced on a snowmobile or snowcoach, as roads closed to regular traffic.

Turquoise thermal pool with steam at Yellowstone National Park

8. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a desert retreat spanning the Mojave and Colorado deserts in southern California. It's known for its unique rock formations, breathtaking sunsets, and of course, the peculiar Joshua tree. Visitors come to explore the desert landscape, whether by hike or scenic drive. It's also home to interesting wildlife, such as coyotes and roadrunners.

A Joshua tree and rock formation in the desert at sunset in Joshua Tree National Park

9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of the lesser-known parks on this list and may come as a surprise. Located just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, it beat the number ten spot by only 5,000 visitors. With less than a half-hour drive from both Cleveland and Akron, it’s a perfect nature getaway from the city. Visitors can kayak or fish along the Cuyahoga River or take part in birdwatching, hiking, or biking.

10. Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is a stunning display of snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and alpine lakes. With log cabins and lodges throughout, it’s a cozy mountain getaway nestled in the Rocky Mountains of Montana. The incredible views, 700 miles of hiking trails, and the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road keep visitors coming back – just be sure to stay up to date on closures and road conditions.

Going-to-the-Sun Road with mountains in the background at Glacier National Park

If you’re planning to visit one of these this year, remember that many national parks now require reservations, and you’ll want to plan far enough ahead to beat the crowds.  Alternatively, there are 63 national parks across the United States (424 National Park Service sites total), so if you want to avoid the crowd altogether, head to one of the lesser-known national parks for a more relaxing visit.

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