Discover America’s Most Popular National Parks

Ready for some fun facts? America has 63 National Parks. The largest park in the system is Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. At 13.2 million acres, it’s bigger than Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Switzerland combined, yet it only receives .002% of the National Park System’s visitors. The smallest, Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri, is less than 200 acres, but it’s one of the most visited, with more than 2 million annual visitors.

These observations beg the question, what are the most popular National Parks, and what makes them so good? The 12 most visited parks, we’ll call them the Diamond Dozen, are on track to receive 55 million visitors in 2025, which is almost 60% of all National Park guests.

Read on to learn more about the Diamond Dozen Parks, including what America’s most popular National Park is.

#12 Cuyahoga Valley

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Location matters; former Governor John Kasich says 60 percent of the U.S. population is within 600 miles of Ohio. Cuyahoga Valley is the only National Park in Ohio and only one of three in the Great Lakes Basin, but it’s more than that. Visitors will enjoy biking the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, which is part of the cross-state Ohio to Erie Trail. There are also scenic train rides and hikes to waterfalls that tumble down the gorges and ravines.

#11 Glacier National Park

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Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful parks in the system, with jagged mountain peaks, deep glacial lakes, and 35 named glaciers. Nearly 3 million people visit Glacier every year, and the only reason there is less is the park’s relatively short summer season. Some years, summer vacation is half over before cars can drive the entirety of Going to the Sun Road up and over Logan Pass.

#10 Olympic National Park

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Olympic National Park is a tree-hugger’s paradise! It contains an estimated 366,000 acres of old-growth forests. Temperate rainforests, including the Hoh and Quinault rainforests, dominate the park’s western side. These rainforests receive annual precipitation of over 12 feet, making this perhaps the wettest area in the continental United States.

#9 Joshua Tree

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When you find yourself gridlocked in the City of Angels, you want to escape to desert solitude under a blanket of California stars. The park’s desert landscape is otherworldly, dominated by Joshua Trees and exposed boulders. It’s a year-round natural playground. In winter, it’s a training ground for world-class climbers. Spring is the desert bloom season, summer has star gazing, and the fall is perfect camping weather.

#8 Grand Tetons

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The Tetons received their name from early 19th Century French-Canadian trappers who navigated by three towering mountains, which they called “les trois tetons.” You have to have been in the wilderness for some time to forget the basics of female anatomy, like the standard number of breasts, but the mountains are still magnificent. Grand Teton National Park is a popular mountaineering, hiking, and fishing destination. It’s close enough to Yellowstone and Jackson Hole that many people visit all three during the same trip.

#7 Acadia

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Arcadia is the main attraction of the New England National Parks, which reminds me: How many dad jokes flop? Only one pun in ten did. Seriously, though, Acadia is a beautiful and diverse park along Maine’s central coast. Warm-weather recreational activities include touring the Park Loop Road, canoeing, canoeing lakes, sea kayaking, and guided boat tours. The park’s unique features include Cadillac Mountain, where the sun first rises on the East Coast, and 45 miles of carriage roads built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. The carriage roads are a beautiful place for a bike ride or cross-country skiing in the winter.

#6 Yosemite

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Every burgeoning outdoorsman dreams of going to Yosemite, even before they know how to pronounce it. The towering domes are too beautiful to be taken for granted, and the 1000′ waterfalls tumbling into the Yosemite Valley are picture-perfect. It’s also home to three giant sequoia groves, the largest trees on Earth!

#5 Rocky Mountain

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Rocky Mountain National Park is known for its mountains. More than 60 peaks in the park are over 12,000 feet high, and the park’s Trail Ridge Road is the highest paved through road in the country. It’s also the headwaters of the Colorado River and home to numerous mountain streams and alpine lakes. In total, the park contains approximately 450 miles of rivers and streams, 350 miles of trails, and 150 lakes.

#4 Yellowstone

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Yellowstone is famous for watchable wildlife along the 142-mile-long Grand Loop drive and volcanic activity. The Yellowstone Caldera powers over 10,000 mud pots, numerous hot springs and fumaroles, and the world’s largest concentration of active geysers, including Old Faithful which erupts every 35–120 minutes. It’s a perfect compliment to a visit to the Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole.

#3 Zion

Photo Credit: Becca Eve Young.

The Virgin River carved Zion Canyon through layers of limestone dating back 150 million years. The park’s towering red cliffs are stunningly beautiful, whether viewed from the top, the bottom, or knee-deep in the Narrows. Zion is one of the most accessible National Parks since it’s only a day trip for Vegas’ 40 million annual visitors.

#2 Grand Canyon

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The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and to enjoy it, you only have to gaze out over an overlook. No wonder more than 4.7 million people visited the park in 2023. There is rafting and camping along the Colorado River, but less than 5% of park visitors descend below the rim.

#1 Great Smoky Mountains

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The Great Smoky Mountains is the most popular National Park, and with more than 13 million annual visitors, it isn’t even close. It’s a driving destination for most of the East Coast, and with features like Cades Cove Loop and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, you don’t even need to leave your car to explore the park. Ironically, you’ll want to explore the Parkway in Gatlinburg on foot. The Smokies does have beautiful hikes, including 72 miles of the Appalachian Trail and more waterfalls than you can shake a wet towel at.

Wrapping Up America’s Most Popular National Parks

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Now that you know the Diamond Dozen most popular National Parks, what you do is up to you. Do you make them your bucket list? Look for less traveled alternatives? Enter the myriad of lottery-driven activities? Plan off-season visits? End your West Coast park bias and plan outdoor trips to Ohio and Tennessee? There are no wrong answers, just choices with pros, cons, and endless exploration opportunities.