15 Most Visited National Parks in the U.S.

Blue Ridge Parkway sunset

In 2023, the National Park Service reported over 325 million recreational visits to its parks, parkways, and memorials. So, how do you decide which ones to see or which is the best park for your specific trip? 

Here are the most visited national parks, why you need to visit, and what to expect when you do.

1. Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway

Image Credit: appalachianview/Depositphotos.com.

Location: North Carolina and Virginia

The Blue Ridge Parkway tops the list of most recreational visits among national parks. It might seem strange that a parkway would garner so much attention, but you’re looking at over 460 miles through some of North America’s most captivating landscapes.

It’s a haven for hikers and campers who can appreciate the region’s diverse ecosystem, but that’s not all you’ll find in the Appalachian highlands. You can immerse yourself in local culture.

Campers can make reservations at one of the eight developed campgrounds or obtain a permit for the backcountry sites. 

2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Image Credit: Vacclav/Depositphotos.com.

Location: San Francisco, California

As one of the most visited national parks in the U.S., the Golden Gate National Recreation Area attracts millions annually. It marked its 50th anniversary in 2022, representing a milestone for conservationists who sought to protect the site’s diverse ecosystems. 

Nature lovers will appreciate the chance to explore over a dozen unique ecosystems, home to thousands of plants and animals. You can also find strong cultural and historical ties to indigenous cultures, Spanish and Mexican colonists, and U.S. expansionists who contributed to San Francisco’s prosperity.

Campers must make reservations to stay at Bicentennial Campground.

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

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Location: North Carolina and Tennessee

Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a must for all nature lovers and folks who love the outdoors. Aside from the chance to see remarkable species of flora and fauna, you can hike and explore virtually untouched landscapes.

History buffs will appreciate the dozens of well-preserved structures, including barns, farmhouses, churches, and grist mills. The park also houses several cemeteries that locals still maintain.

My husband and I visited at the end of March and loved it — there were fewer crowds. We went glamping at the Little Arrow Resort in Townsend. The food in the area is so good.

Make a reservation at one of the front country sites throughout the park. Backpackers can rough it in the backcountry with a permit.

4. Gateway National Recreation Area

Gateway National Recreation Area

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Location: New York and New Jersey

Gateway National Recreation Area has a range of indoor and outdoor activities to keep you entertained. Check out the Sandy Hook lighthouse, a wildlife refuge center, and former military outposts. When the sun is out, hit the beach and trails. 

There’s no reservation required for visiting, but you can expect to pay an entrance fee to hit the beach during peak season which is Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day Weekend.

Tent campers can reserve sites at the Sandy Hook campground.

5. Gulf Islands National Seashore

Gulf Islands National Seashore

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Location: Florida, Mississippi

My husband and I love Gulf Islands. It is one of our favorite parks. It draws millions of visitors each year, thanks to its rolling beaches along the Gulf of Mexico that make for excellent swimming, hiking, and wildlife watching (keep your eyes peeled for dolphins). Plus, you can visit several historical sites.

It’s best to plan visits outside of hurricane season. Winter months are nice with mild temperatures and slightly chilly nights. It turns hot and humid from May through September.

An entrance pass is required.

The best places to camp are at Fort Pickens near Pensacola, and Davis Bayou in Mississippi. We have camped at both locations with our RV and they were great. 

6. Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

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Location: District of Columbia

It’s one of the most recognizable buildings in North America, housing an equally notable, larger-than-life statue. Anybody who has walked up the Lincoln Memorial’s steps and stood at the foot of the statue can tell you what a breathtaking experience it is.

You can visit the memorial any time of year, though it’s often busier during the spring when cherry blossoms are in full bloom throughout Washington D.C. 

There is no entrance fee.

7. George Washington Memorial Parkway

Great Falls Park

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Location: District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia

The George Washington Memorial Parkway is a recreational drive featuring several side trips for hiking, wildlife watching, and outdoor concerts during the summer. Stop by one of the many historical landmarks in the area, including Arlington House and Clara Barton National Historic Site.

Make the most of your drive along the parkway by visiting in spring when the trees come to life, or take advantage of fall and its magical changes in leaf color.

8. Natchez Trace Parkway

Natchez Trace PKWY

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Location: Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee

Step back in time when you explore the Natchez Trace Parkway, which serves as a reminder of this nation’s history. Swing by the historic sites, set out on horse or bike trails, or camp at one of the outposts along the parkway. It’s free to explore.

There’s no wrong time of year to visit — though fall offers the most beauty as the leaves change colors.

There are three campgrounds along the parkway.

9. Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead

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Location: Arizona and Nevada

Lake Mead National Recreation Area isn’t just the first of its kind — it’s also the largest at some 1.5 million acres.

Fish, swim, boat, or kayak in clear blue waters, or lounge on the shores to take in the colorful landscapes. Hikers will appreciate the hiking trail options showing off the geological rainbow-hued rock formations and desert.

Depending on your weather preferences, you can find pleasant temperatures almost year-round. Summers bring highs of up to 110° F with bath-like water temperatures. For milder conditions, aim for spring or fall.

You don’t need to make reservations to visit Lake Mead, but an entrance fee is required. 

Lake Mead has four designated RV villages and six campgrounds.

10. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Glen Canyon Utah

Image Credit: The Happiness Function.

Location: Utah and Arizona

Visiting Glen Canyon is another one of our favorite parks to explore. For everyone that likes boating, paddling, and camping, it is a fun place to spend the warmer months. Summers can be extremely hot so be sure you have options for shade if you plan multiple days soaking up the desert views.

There is an entrance fee. There are also a few places to camp.

11. World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial

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Location: District of Columbia

The World War II Memorial is an architectural marvel commemorating those who sacrificed themselves in the name of freedom. You can spend as much time as you like by the fountain or walking between the stone archways.

Try to arrive early in the morning or at dusk to avoid crowds or excessive heat during the summer months.

12. Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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Location: District of Columbia

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is another must-see national monument in Washington D.C. It’s sobering to witness the magnitude of lives lost when you see the endless wall of names cutting a swath into the lawn.

Memorial Day and Veterans Day see considerable traffic, but there’s also a range of programs organized by volunteers and park rangers.

Many who visit make rubbings of loved ones’ names to commemorate them. If you would like to find a name, the memorial has catalogs at the entrance to help you locate one.

13. Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

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Location: Arizona

Visit one of the seven wonders of the world at Grand Canyon National Park. For a unique sightseeing experience, take a river trip or sign up to ride a mule down into the canyon.

To make the most of your trip to the Grand Canyon, aim to visit when it is not as hot. Also keep in mind that the North Rim is not open year-round.

Visitors need to purchase an entrance pass. 

14. Zion National Park

Zion National Park

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Location: Utah

Zion National Park might be the best national park for rock climbers, canyoneers, and backpackers though you need a permit to do most of those activities. When visiting during warm weather, head to The Narrows to cool off. 

Summer and early fall are ideal times to explore Zion National Park because the weather is nice and the water levels are more manageable if you are canyoneering.

Zion requires visitors to pay an entrance fee for their vehicles.

Campers can make reservations for one of three campgrounds in the area.

15. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

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Location: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho

People come from all over the world to see the colorful steaming geysers. When I was a kid, this was one of the first parks my parents took us to on a road trip. To this day, I have the memory of Old Faithful spouting high into the sky. Along with touring the trails through the geysers, keep your eyes peeled for the parks famous wildlife. You might be able to see buffalo, wolves, or grizzly bears.

There is an entrance fee and there are 12 campgrounds to (hopefully) get a reservation at.

Please practice Leave No Trace while exploring all of these beautiful places and respect the wildlife.

Where indicated images courtesy of Depositphotos.com.

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Ashlee Fechino

Ashlee Fechino is an outdoor recreation and travel writer sharing the best-kept secrets that aren’t in your typical guidebook. Her goal is to inspire people to travel with a sense of adventure by sharing hidden gems across the U.S. and beyond. She is married to an expat Argentine, Pablo. They camp in their Aliner often and love wandering the world. Follow their latest adventures on Instagram @thehappinessfxn.


  1. William B Randall on April 2, 2023 at 12:49 pm

    The United States is great. Where are you guys going next?

    • Ashlee Fechino on April 3, 2023 at 2:26 pm

      Hi Burt! We just got back from East Tennessee and The Smoky Mountains. It was incredible. We’ll be writing about it soon.