Foreign Tourists vs. American Tourists: Who Appreciates National Parks More?

Hikers looking at view Zion National Park

National parks are often hailed as one of America’s greatest treasures, but are Americans taking full advantage of these natural wonders?

With visitors from all over the world flocking to U.S. national parks every year, many during a recent online discussion questioned: “Are Americans visiting their backyard in the same numbers and with the same appreciation?”

Here is what we found.

Millions of Visitors Per Year

One user commented that Americans love their national parks, as evidenced by the fact that they receive 300 million visits annually! This statistic is a testament to the fact that national parks are an essential part of American culture and are beloved by people across the states.

High Cost and Responsibilities

Many folks have daydreamed about hitting the open road in a camper to explore America’s stunning national parks.

In the same online forum, one American talked about their dream of exploring national parks in the U.S., including Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, by traveling in a camper.

Unfortunately, the high cost and responsibilities of raising children and working have made it impossible for this person to realize their dream earlier in life. However, they hope to make it happen in retirement when they have more free time to travel and explore these natural wonders at their own pace.

Our biggest advice – don’t wait. The time to travel is now!

Proximity and Accessibility

Several users in the same forum believe that there is still a strong appreciation for nature and outdoor recreation in American culture. They have visited multiple national parks but frequently visit local state parks and forests due to their proximity and accessibility.

Crowds and Isolation

According to some, the crowds and isolation of these parks can be a turn-off for many people. One commenter further explained that state parks are much more common than national parks, which can be isolated and crowded.

So many people prefer the convenience of state parks, which are often located in more accessible areas and may have less of a tourist crowd.

Environmental Disturbance

Many noted that national parks are so popular that they sometimes face the issue of too many visitors, leading to environmental disturbances caused by people leaving behind litter or creating unnatural rock formations.

In 2022, Arches National Park, started a timed entry pilot system where visitors have to make a reservation to enter the park.

Not as Many People as Should…

Fewer people visit national parks than they should, even though they are unique.

For individuals living in urban areas, distance, cost, and time can be significant obstacles preventing them from visiting parks.

One commenter further added that some people from Europe might need to pay more attention to the vastness of the U.S., making it challenging to comprehend the distances between locations when planning a trip. After all, a coast to coast road trip is anywhere from 2,500-3,500 miles!

Covered in Trails

Additionally, most parks in the U.S. are not just for touristy stuff; they are also covered in trails to hike, bike, or ski. These make them a significant attraction for outdoorsy people. There are also millions of acres in the backcountry off-the-beaten-path.

A Good Conversation Starter

Someone stated that when asked, most people in their area would say no to visiting national parks, which is surprising!

These days, it is a fun conversation starter to ask people about places they have traveled, including which national parks they have visited.

State Parks Vary by the State

Another user mentioned that state parks vary widely based on location and that “cultured Americans” visit national parks.

Well, we don’t think that is true. At The Happiness Function, we spend a lot of our free time exploring epic state parks! But, it is true that state parks vary based on states and topography.

Some states don’t have national parks.

Some Can Access for Free

Did you know? Some people have access to national parks for free, including children under the age of 15, people with medically determined disabilities, active duty military, and veterans.

Visit on a Free Entrance Day

The National Park Service also waives the entrance fee a few times a year.

In 2023, the free days to visit national parks (that require entrance fees) are:

  • January 16 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • April 22 – First Day of National Park Week
  • August 4 – Great American Outdoors Act Anniversary
  • September 23 – National Public Lands Day
  • November 11 – Veteran’s Day

Get Out There and Explore

It’s fascinating to compare how different people appreciate national parks and that this was even a discussion online. What do you think? Do Americans work too hard and not take enough time to enjoy the beautiful outdoors?

Please practice Leave No Trace when exploring the outdoors.

A thread inspired this post.

This article was produced and syndicated by The Happiness Function.

Featured Image Credit: Maridav/

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Zobia Shazi

1 Comment

  1. William B Randall on April 3, 2023 at 7:10 pm

    I have been to a few national parks, and a few state parks.

    Have fun, Ashlee & Pablo next time you guys go.