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Although it might be facing steep budget cuts, the National Park Service is more popular than ever. In 2016, NPS sites counted nearly 331 million recreation visitors, beating the previous record set in 2015. 2017 could break the record again. Including data through March, the total number of visits in 2017 is already outpacing 2016 by 7.57 percent.

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These figures highlight the enduring importance of America’s parks and the fact that more people are getting out than ever. While overall visitation numbers are up, some parks have been more popular than others.


Using data from the NPS, WanderBat, a travel research site by Graphiq, found the most popular NPS site in every state (and D.C.) by recreational visits. NPS sites include a variety of parks, including national rivers, historical sites and the national parks themselves.

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We’ll start with a national preserve in Alabama and work our way to Wyoming, where the world’s first national park was established. In cases where national parks span multiple states, WanderBat associated each park with the state where its headquarters are based. A small part of Yellowstone, for instance, is located in Montana, but WanderBat did not consider it as that state’s most popular park because its headquarters are in Wyoming.

Note: Delaware has one NPS site — First State National Historical Park — but did not report visitation figures. Therefore, it is left off of the list.

Alabama: Little River Canyon National Preserve

  • Location: Mentone
  • 2016 visits: 462,700

Alabama might not have any national parks, but this national preserve doesn’t lack for beauty. Visitors are treated with spectacular views of waterfalls, canyon bluffs and forested hills.

Alaska: Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

  • Location: Skagway
  • 2016 visits: 912,351

Learn more about the Klondike Gold Rush at this historical park. If you’re rearing for an adventure, you can retrace the footsteps of prospective miners on the Chilkoot Trail, dubbed the “meanest 33 miles of history.”

Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park

  • Location: Grand Canyon
  • 2016 visits: 5,969,811

Once you start walking down into the Grand Canyon, it’s easy to just keep going, as the downhill momentum and beautiful canyon walls pull you in. The catch is that any hike into the canyon ends with a grueling uphill, often coupled with blistering heat. It’s no wonder that the park has one of the highest numbers of fatalities annually.

Arkansas: Buffalo National River

  • Location: Harrison
  • 2016 visits: 1,785,359

One of the few remaining undammed rivers in the continental U.S., the Buffalo National River is a prime destination for canoeing and fishing.

California: Golden Gate National Recreational Area

  • Location: San Francisco
  • 2016 visits: 15,638,777

As San Francisco and the Bay Area grow nearby, it’s no surprise that this park’s visitation numbers have soared. In fact, Golden Gate National Recreational Area is now the most-visited national park site in the U.S.

Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Location: Estes Park
  • 2016 visits: 4,517,585

With over 300 miles of trails, Rocky Mountain National Park is a paradise for hikers and backpackers. If visitors time their trip right, they can be greeted by hundreds of different wildflower species in the park.

Connecticut: Weir Farm National Historic Site

  • Location: Wilton
  • 2016 visits: 39,079

This historic site celebrates the life and work of J. Alden Weir, an American impressionist painter. The park welcomes artists of all abilities to work on site and even has an artist-in-residence program.

District of Columbia: Lincoln Memorial

  • 2016 visits: 7,915,934

The 16th president is immortalized in his marble throne. Above him read the words: “In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.”

Florida: Gulf Islands National Seashore

  • Location: Gulf Breeze
  • 2016 visits: 4,771,309

The coastline protected by this site stretches 160 miles from Cat Island in Mississippi to the Okaloosa Area in Florida. Visitors can explore historic maritime forts and pristine beaches.

Georgia: Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

  • Location: Sandy Springs
  • 2016 visits: 2,736,385

Although popular destination for Atlanta locals, the Chattahoochee River is dealing with several types of pollution, including overflowing sewage spills after heavy rains.

Hawaii: Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

  • Location: Hawaii National Park
  • 2016 visits: 1,887,580

Park visitors can witness a dynamic volcanic landscape, including active lava flows.

Idaho: Craters of the Moon National Monument

  • Location: Arco
  • 2016 visits: 255,436

This national monument contains a variety of volcanic features in the rugged high desert of the Great Rift Region.

Illinois: Lincoln Home National Historic Site

  • Location: Springfield
  • 2016 visits: 239,719

Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln lived in this Springfield home for years before their forays into politics led them to the White House.

Indiana: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

  • Location: Porter
  • 2016 visits: 1,698,223

Located at the southern shore of Lake Michigan, this park is an exceptional place for bird watching. The site even offers a seasonal checklist to help birders identify and keep track of the birds they’ve spotted.

Iowa: Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

  • Location: West Branch
  • 2016 visits: 152,382

He may not be as popular as Abraham Lincoln, but Herbert Hoover can still draw a crowd. This historic site showcases Hoover’s childhood home and surrounding places.

Kansas: Fort Larned National Historic Site

  • Location: Larned
  • 2016 visits: 31,060

Fort Larned was operated in the 1860s and 1870s to protect traffic along the Santa Fe Trail from Native Americans.

Kentucky: Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

  • Location: Middlesboro
  • 2016 visits: 820,387

The Cumberland Gap is a narrow pass through the Cumberland Mountains, and served as an important passageway across the Appalachians during American history. Frontiersman Daniel Boone blazed a trail across the pass in 1775.

Louisiana: Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve

  • Location: Marrero
  • 2016 visits: 438,420

Visitors to this park can learn about Cajun culture, watch alligators (from a safe distance) and marvel in the nature of the Mississippi River delta.

Maine: Acadia National Park

  • Location: Bar Harbor
  • 2016 visits: 3,303,393

Acadia offers a variety of activities year-round, but the fall is especially popular for leaf peepers, when the park’s forests explode with color.

Maryland: Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

  • Location: Hagerstown
  • 2016 visits: 4,813,078

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was operated from 1831 to 1924, primarily used to transport coal from the Allegheny Mountains. Today, visitors can stroll along the canal’s path or take boat rides down it.

Massachusetts: Cape Cod National Seashore

  • Location: Wellfleet
  • 2016 visits: 4,692,796

Whether you want to explore lighthouses, wander through cranberry bogs or simply relax at the beach, this national seashore offers something for everybody.

Michigan: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

  • Location: Empire
  • 2016 visits: 1,683,553

Located along Lake Michigan, this NPS site is home to dense forests, towering bluffs and immense sand dunes.

Minnesota: Mississippi National River

  • Location: St. Paul
  • 2016 visits: 256,944

A popular destination for St. Paul and Minneapolis residents, this recreational area offers urbanites a chance to escape the city and boat, fish or canoe in the Mississippi River.

Mississippi: Natchez Trace National Parkway

  • Location: Tupelo
  • 2016 visits: 5,891,315

The Natchez Trace Parkway extends 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. Maintained by the NPS, the road is a designated All-American Road, meaning it has at least two out of six “intrinsic qualities” specified by the Department of Transportation: archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic.

Missouri: Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

  • Location: St. Louis
  • 2016 visits: 1,271,855

This park, which includes the famous St. Louis Gateway Arch, commemorates Thomas Jefferson’s role in opening the West to U.S. settlement.

Montana: Glacier National Park

  • Location: West Glacier
  • 2016 visits: 2,946,681

Few parks are feeling the effects of climate change as sharply as Glacier. The park’s signature glaciers are retreating at alarming rates and could disappear entirely by 2030 if the current rate of warming persists.

Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

  • Location: Gering
  • 2016 visits: 130,085

These iconic cliffs have served as a landmark for many groups of people in American history, including Native Americans and travelers on the Oregon Trail.

Nevada: Lake Mead National Recreation Area

  • Location: Boulder City
  • 2016 visits: 7,175,891

Formed by Hoover Dam, Lake Mead is a popular destination for boaters. But the recreation area also includes nine designated wilderness zones, which offer excellent opportunities for hiking and camping.

New Hampshire: Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

  • Location: Cornish
  • 2016 visits: 42,377

This park commemorates Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the famous American sculptor. Visitors can view samples of his artwork throughout the site and even partake in their own sculpture class.

New Jersey: Morristown National Historical Park

  • Location: Morristown
  • 2016 visits: 252,514

If you’re an American history buff, you shouldn’t miss a trip to Morristown National Historical Park. The site protects several important Revolutionary War sites, including the location of General George Washington’s winter encampment in 1779-80.

New Mexico: White Sands National Monument

  • Location: Holloman AFB
  • 2016 visits: 555,793

Visitors can explore waves of white sand in the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The stark landscape is home to a surprising number of creatures, including the prairie rattlesnake and desert box turtle.

New York: Gateway National Recreation Area

  • Location: Staten Island
  • 2016 visits: 8,651,770

Most of Gateway is located on the coastline, meaning it is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Already, the park has been affected by rising sea level and extreme weather events.

North Carolina: Blue Ridge Parkway

  • Location: Asheville
  • 2016 visits: 15,175,578

The Parkway road snakes through the Appalachian Highlands for 469 miles, offering visitors dramatic vistas and chances to see wildlife.

North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

  • Location: Medora
  • 2016 visits: 753,880

This rugged region in North Dakota influenced a young Theodore Roosevelt as he explored life as a rancher. Roosevelt would go on to become a staunch conservationist as president.

Ohio: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

  • Location: Brecksville
  • 2016 visits: 2,423,390

Cuyahoga Valley offers a variety of activities for its visitors, including biking, hiking, bird-watching and kayaking.

Oklahoma: Chickasaw National Recreation Area

  • Location: Sulphur
  • 2016 visits: 1,676,421

The streams and lakes of Chickasaw National Recreation Area are a prime spot for water sports, ranging from fishing to swimming to boating.

Oregon: Crater Lake National Park

  • Location: Crater Lake
  • 2016 visits: 756,344

Because it has no inlets or outlets, all of Crater Lake’s water comes through rainfall or snowmelt, adding to its pure blue color. Crater Lake is also the deepest lake in the U.S.

Pennsylvania: Independence National Historical Park

  • Location: Philadelphia
  • 2016 visits: 5,067,510

Visitors can tour Independence Hall — where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were signed — view the Liberty Bell and explore the Benjamin Franklin Museum.

Rhode Island: Roger Williams National Memorial

  • Location: Providence
  • 2016 visits: 65,588

The founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams argued for separation of church and state and promoted religious freedom.

South Carolina: Fort Sumter National Monument

  • Location: Sullivan’s Island
  • 2016 visits: 888,330

The first shots of the U.S. Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter. After forcing Union troops to surrender, Confederates held the fort for nearly four years during the war.

South Dakota: Mount Rushmore National Memorial

  • Location: Keystone
  • 2016 visits: 2,431,231

The faces of four U.S. presidents are immortalized in the granite cliff of Mount Rushmore: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The creator of the monument, Gutzon Borglum, chose these four individuals because he believed they represented the most important events in U.S. history.

Tennessee: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Location: Gatlinburg
  • 2016 visits: 11,312,786

The park is famous for its rollings forests, diverse animal life and Southern Appalachian culture. It’s also the most-visited national park in the U.S.

Texas: San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

  • Location: San Antonio
  • 2016 visits: 1,358,911

This park protects the Spanish colonial missions in San Antonio. Visitors can use the Mission Hike and Bike Trail to travel between the various missions.

Utah: Zion National Park

  • Location: Springdale
  • 2016 visits: 4,295,127

Visitors are greeted by towering sandstone cliffs when they first enter Zion’s main canyon. The southern Utah park is known for its canyoneering opportunities, including the famed Narrows — where the canyon walls narrow to just twenty feet apart in places.

Vermont: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park

  • Location: Woodstock
  • 2016 visits: 55,716

In the winter, this park becomes a popular destination for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Virginia: George Washington Memorial Parkway

  • Location: McLean
  • 2016 visits: 10,323,339

Visitors can drive through important places in American history on this parkway, including Fort Hunt and the Alexandria waterfront.

Washington: Olympic National Park

  • Location: Port Angeles
  • 2016 visits: 3,390,221

This park contains several distinct ecosystems, ranging from glaciered peaks to temperate rain forests.

West Virginia: New River Gorge National River

  • Location: Glen Jean
  • 2016 visits: 1,197,931

Visitors who hike at least 100 miles on this park’s trails can earn a special prize from the park service and well-deserved bragging rights.

Wisconsin: Saint Croix National Wild & Scenic River

  • Location: St. Croix Falls
  • 2016 visits: 708,258

This woods surrounding this scenic waterway are filled with diverse wildlife, including the black bear, bobcat lynx and white-tailed deer.

Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park

  • Location: Yellowstone National Park
  • 2016 visits: 4,257,177

The granddaddy of all national parks, Yellowstone was signed into law by President Grant in 1872, making it the first national park in the world. Much has changed since then, but Yellowstone remains popular for its abundant wildlife and amazing geothermal features.

Alex Greer, WanderBat |
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