These Are the Most Popular National Parks in the Country Right Now

Of all the achievements America's made in the last century or so, creating the national park system is among the greatest (sorry, NASA)...

Blue Ridge Parkway | Shutterstock
Blue Ridge Parkway | Shutterstock

Of all the achievements America's made in the last century or so, creating the national park system is among the greatest (sorry, NASA). Seriously, you should definitely be taking advantage of all they have to offer and their many secrets if you aren't already. Still, considering the US is dotted with 418 different national park sites, it makes you wonder which ones are actually getting the most foot traffic these days. 

In 2018, 318 million people visited national park sites, making it the fourth consecutive year in which recreational visits exceeded 300 million, according to new stats just released by the National Park Service. What's more, 28 parks broke visitation records last year and more than 14 million people stayed in them overnight. The most interesting part of the new data from the government agency, however, is which parks and sites are most popular. 

In 2018, the most popular place run by the national park service was the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which saw over 15 million visitors over the course of the year, averaging out to more than 42,000 people every day. The second most visited spot was the Blue Ridge Parkway, which saw nearly 14.7 million people pass through, while Great Smoky Mountains National Park took the third spot, with 11.4 million. Here's how the full ranking of most-visited sites in 2018 panned out. 

Top 10 National Park Sites Overall in 2018 (of all 418 in the category)

10. Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Washington, DC)
9. Natchez Trace Parkway (Alabama/Mississippi/Tennessee)
8. Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
7. George Washington Memorial Parkway (Washington, DC/Maryland/Virginia)
6. Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Arizona/Nevada)  
5. Lincoln Memorial (Washington, DC)
4. Gateway National Recreation Area (New York/New Jersey)
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina/Tennessee)     
2. Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina/Virginia)
1. Golden Gate National Recreation Area (California)                 

Top 10 Most Popular National Parks in 2018 (of all 61 in the category)

10. Glacier National Park (Montana)
9. Olympic National Park (Washington)
8. Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)
7. Acadia National Park (Maine)
6. Yosemite National Park (California)
5. Yellowstone National Park (Idaho/Montana/Wyoming)
4. Zion National Park (Utah)
3. Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
2. Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina/Tennessee) 

Although some parks have seen an uptick in visitors in recent years, it's not too surprising that the truly magnificent Great Smoky Mountains and Grand Canyon have held onto the top two park spots for the last 28 years, according to a report by CNN. But considering there's at least one national park site to be found in every state, you really owe it to yourself to get out there and explore them, especially since you can get five days of free admission in 2019


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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. Follow him @jwmcgauley.