The National Park Service (NPS) reported that America’s national parks saw 237 million visitors in 2020, representing a 28 percent decrease from the previous year due largely to temporary park closures and restrictions implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although overall visitation dropped, a number of parks experienced record crowds and welcomed new visitors. Trails, overlooks and open spaces provided safe ways for visitors to recreate responsibly, get some fresh air and stay active, NPS noted in a statement.

“This past year has reminded us how important national parks and public lands are to overall wellbeing,” said NPS Deputy Director Shawn Benge. “Throughout the country, national parks provided close-to-home opportunities for people to spend much needed time outdoors for their physical and psychological health.”

The coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly every National Park Service operation, and parks continue to work with public health officials to navigate changing conditions. A maximum of 66 of the 423 parks of the National Park System were fully closed for two months or more. The majority of parks, particularly those with outdoor spaces, remained accessible to the public. Just a handful of historic and cultural parks, primarily historic homes with limited indoor space, remain closed.

To protect the health of those who live, work and visit America’s national parks, face masks are required in all NPS buildings and facilities. Masks are also required on federally managed lands when physical distancing cannot be maintained, including narrow or busy trails, overlooks and parking lots. Additional public health measures remain in effect, and visitors should check with individual parks for details on operations before visiting.

Additional information from the 2020 visitation report includes:

  • Recreation visitor hours dipped from 1.4 billion in 2019 to 1.05 billion in 2020, a 26 percent decrease;
  • 15 parks set a new recreation visitation record in 2020;
  • Five parks broke a visitation record they set in 2019;
  • Blue Ridge Parkway claimed the title of the most-visited site in the National Park System;
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park maintained its long-running position as the most visited National Park in 2020—a position it has held since 1944;
  • Grand Canyon National Park dropped from the second-most visited national park, a position it held for 30 years, to the sixth most-visited;
  • Yellowstone National Park moved from the sixth most-visited national park in 2019 to the second most-visited—a position it has not held since 1947; and
  • Four parks began reporting official visitor statistics for the first time: Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, Katahdin Woods, Waters National Monument, and Valles Caldera National Preserve.

2020 By The Numbers

  • 237,064,332 recreation visits
  • 1,054,952,540 recreation visitor hours
  • 8,039,768 overnight stays (recreation + non-recreation)
  • 3 parks had more than 10 million recreation visits – Blue Ridge Parkway, Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • 7 parks had more than 5 million recreation visits, down from 11 parks in 2019
  • 60 parks had more than 1 million recreation visits (15 percent of reporting parks), down from 80 parks in 2019
  • 19 national parks had more than 1 million recreation visits (30 percent of National Parks)
  • 25 percent of total recreation visits occurred in the Top 6 most-visited parks (1.5 percent of all parks in the National Park system)
  • 50 percent of total recreation visits occurred in the Top 23 most-visited parks (6 percent of all parks in the National Park system)

Top 10 Most Visited National Parks

  1. Blue Ridge Parkway; 14.1 million visitors
  2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area; 12.4 million visitors
  3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park; 12.1 million visitors
  4. Gateway National Recreation Area; 8.4 million visitors
  5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area; 8 million visitors
  6. George Washington Memorial Parkway; 6.2 million visitors
  7. Natchez Trace Parkway; 6.1 million visitors
  8. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park; 4.9 million visitors
  9. Cape Cod National Seashore; 4.1 million visitors
  10. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area; 4.1 million visitors

Top 10 Most Visited National Parks

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park; 12.1 million visitors
  2. Yellowstone National Park; 3.8 million visitors
  3. Zion National Park; 3.6 million visitors
  4. Rocky Mountain National Park; 3.3 million visitors
  5. Grand Teton National Park; 3.3 million visitors
  6. Grand Canyon National Park; 2.9 million visitors
  7. Cuyahoga Valley National Park; 2.8 million visitors
  8. Acadia National Park; 2.7 million visitors
  9. Olympic National Park; 2.5 million visitors
  10. Joshua Tree National Park; 2.4 million visitors

For further 2020 National Park Service visitation statistics, go here.

Photo courtesy Blue Ridge Parkway/Facebook