10 Most Visited US National Parks

To celebrate the US National Park Service’s 100th anniversary this year, Lonely Planet – the world’s leading travel media company – launched www.lonelyplanet.com/national-parks, which features ways to get active in the national parks, 25% off new national parks books and a chance to win a trip to Yellowstone (now through August 21).

Lonely Planet released seven new books to mark the centennial, including National Parks of America: Experience America’s 59 National Parks (Hardcover / $29.99 / April 2016), a breathtaking, illustrated tour through every park in the US and its territories, from Acadia to Zion.

Both inspirational and informative, National Parks of America introduces readers to the parks with stunning panoramic photography, indispensable information and tips on how to explore each one, including:

  • When to go
  • How to get there
  • Top activities, hiking trails and places to stay
  • Park in numbers: highest elevation, population, fun facts and more

Listed below are the 10 most visited US National Parks, excerpted from National Parks of America © Lonely Planet 2016.

Sunset at the Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee © Sean Pavone / Getty

1 . Great Smoky Mountains – 10,712,674 visitors in 2015

When to go

The park is open year-round, but is definitely most crowded in summer. Fall is especially stunning, though chilly. In winter, certain roads and facilities may be closed.

Park in numbers

Area covered (sq miles): 816

New plant and animal species discovered here: 907

Preserved historic buildings: 78

Do this!

Cycling

Vista-viewing

Waterfall-hopping

The Grand Canyon Skywalk is in the Grand Canyon West area. It is a transparent cantilevered structure which allows people to walk out and look down close to 800 feet. The beauty of the canyon extends throughout the rest of the picture. © Mike Kline / Getty

2 . Grand Canyon National Park – 5,520,736 visitors

When to go

The South Rim is open year-round, but summer crowds and winter cold make spring and fall the most pleasant times to visit. The North Rim has a more limited season of May to October.

Park in numbers

Area covered (sq miles): 1902

Highest point: 8800 ft (Pt Imperial)

Age of oldest rocks in the Canyon (Vishnu Schist), in billion years: 2

Do this!

Sunset-watching

Climb the Desert View Watchtower

Rafting

Aspen sunset over Bear Lake © Mike Berenson / Colorado Captures / Getty

3 . Rocky Mountain National Park – 4,155,916 visitors

When to go

The park is most crowded in July and August, when wildflowers bloom and temperatures are comfortable. It’s open year-round, but roads are often closed due to snow from mid-fall onwards.

Park in numbers

Area covered (sq miles): 415

Number of peaks higher than 12,000ft: 72

Miles of hiking trails: 355

Do this!

Scenic driving

Snowshoeing

Mountain-climbing

Half Dome with sunrise © David Kiene / Getty

4 . Yosemite National Park – 4,150,217 visitors

When to go

Yosemite Valley is open year-round. High-elevation Tioga Rd to Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point Rd both close after the first major snowfall in fall; they don’t reopen until the following year in late spring or early summer.

Park in numbers

Area covered (sq miles): 1190

Year the park was established: 1890

Height of Yosemite Falls: 2425 ft

Do this!

Rock climbing

Swimming

Skiing & snowshoeing

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park © Lorcel / Shutterstock

5 . Yellowstone National Park – 4,097,710 visitors

When to go

As Yellowstone’s roads can become massively crowded in July and August, the most pleasant times to visit are early spring to early summer and late summer to early fall. You’ll still have warm enough weather, but far fewer traffic jams.

Park in numbers

Area covered (sq miles): 3468

Height of highest geyser: 300 ft (Steamboat)

Number of grizzly bears: 674 – 839

Do this!

Geyser-watching

Boating & floating

Hiking

Zion National Park © Aaron Meyers / Getty

6 . Zion National Park – 3,648,846 visitors

When to go

High season is May through September, but temperatures commonly soar to 100°F (38°C) while visitors clog the canyon floor. May brings both wildflowers and bugs. Fall is cooler and ideal for hiking.

Park in numbers

Area covered (sq miles): 229

Species of mammals: 75

Height of Observation Point: 6521 ft

Do this!

Canyoneering

Cycling

Bird-watching

Sol Duc River in Olympic National Park © Westend61 / Getty

7 . Olympic National Park – 3,263,761 visitors

When to go

Many areas of the park are unreachable in winter; most entrances are open all year, but roads may be closed due to weather. At high elevations, it can snow year-round. Summer is relatively warm and dry, but be prepared for rain and sub-70°F (21°C) temperatures. December and January see the most rain.

Park in numbers

Area covered (sq miles): 1442

Length of wilderness coastline (miles): 73

Bird species: 300

Do this!

Hiking

Learning

Soaking in hot springs

Grand Teton National Park Hidden Falls © Ferran Traite Soler / Getty

8 . Grand Teton National Park – 3,149,921 visitors

When to go

Grand Teton is open year-round but, like most high-altitude national parks, it is more popular – and crowded – in the summer, when wildflowers bloom and high temperatures are generally in the comfortable mid-70s F (low 20s C). Winter is gorgeous, though some roads may be closed due to snow.

Park in numbers

Area covered (sq miles): 485

Highest point: 13,770 ft (Grand Teton)

Average snowfall (in): 173

Do this!

Rafting

Boat cruising

Cycling

Bass Harbor Lighthouse at sunset, in Acadia National Park, Maine © AppalachianViews / Getty

9 . Acadia National Park – 2,811,184 visitors

When to go

The park gets the usual July/August rush, but it’s just as pretty (if a bit colder) in May, June and September. In October, when the leaves burst into flaming reds and golds, it’s positively heavenly.

Park in numbers

Area covered (sq miles): 74

Highest point: 1530 ft (Cadillac Mountain)

Miles of shoreline: 40

Do this!

Mountain summiting

Carriage riding

Having high tea

Cracker Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana © Feng Wei Photography / Getty

10 . Glacier National Park – 2,366,056 visitors

When to go

As you might expect with a name like ‘Glacier,’ this park is freezing most of the year. Many facilities don’t even open until July, and roads are often closed after the snows come in early fall. Hit the park in late August or early September for the best combination of warm weather and solitude.

Park in numbers

Area covered (sq miles): 1538

Highest point on Going-to-the-Sun Rd: 6646 ft (Logan’s Pass)

Number of mountain goats in the park: 1500

Do this!

Scenic driving

Horseback riding

Glacier-viewing

Source: National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics

Excerpted from National Parks of America © Lonely Planet 2016

National park guides by Lonely Planet are sure to inspire travelers of all ages to get outdoors and explore the parks this year. To find out more visit www.lonelyplanet.com

Mark Ranum: Mark is an outdoor adventure seeker, living in the beautiful state of Michigan. He loves trekking hundreds of miles through the wilderness, whether on two feet or two wheels, always looking for the next new trail or road to see where it will take him.
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