United States' most visited National Park Service sites in 2023 revealed

  • 26/02/2024
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Joshua Tree, Lincoln Memorial, Blue Ridge Parkway.
Clockwise from top left: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Joshua Tree, Lincoln Memorial, Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo credit: Getty Images

In the US, roughly 325.5 million recreation visits were paid to the more than 400 sites administered by the National Park Service (NPS) in 2023, according to statistics released in its annual visitation report.

That's a healthy increase of 13 million visits - or 4% - over 2022 as the system continues its long recovery from the pandemic. The peak year for recreation visits remains 2016 at 330.97 million.

"From Kaloko Honokōhau National Historic Park in Hawai'i to Congaree National Park in South Carolina, parks are attracting more visitors each year to learn about our shared history," National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said in a news release.

As usual, a select few sites - the bulk of them perennials - proved to be the most popular.

Top 10 most visited NPS sites in 2023

A mountainous roadway full of ever-changing seasonal scenery and sumptuous curves landed its usual No. 1 spot as the most visited site in the US National Park system and accounts for 5.15% of all visits in the system. The top 10 sites (numbers are rounded down):

Blue Ridge Parkway (16.75 million visits)

  1. Golden Gate National Recreation Area (14.95 million)
  2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (13.29 million)
  3. Gateway National Recreation Area (8.70 million)
  4. Gulf Islands National Seashore (8.27 million)
  5. Lincoln Memorial (8.09 million)
  6. George Washington Memorial Parkway (7.39 million)
  7. Natchez Trace Parkway (6.78 million)
  8. Lake Mead National Recreation Area (5.79 million)
  9. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (5.20 million)

The sole new entry in 2023's Top 10 is Glen Canyon NRA in Arizona and Utah, which suffered from extensive drought along with the rest of the Southwest in 2022.

Dropping out of the top 10 from 2022 is the emotionally charged and sombre Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., which still landed a very respectable No. 12 ranking for 2023.

Top 10 most visited national parks in 2023

In compiling a list of just the headliner national parks vs. every NPS site (which include memorials, battlefields, recreation areas and more), a familiar name yet again tops the list for 2023:

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (13.29 million)
  2. Grand Canyon National Park (4.73 million)
  3. Zion National Park (4.62 million)
  4. Yellowstone National Park (4.50 million)
  5. Rocky Mountain National Park (4.11 million)
  6. Yosemite National Park (3.89 million)
  7. Acadia National Park (3.87 million)
  8. Grand Teton National Park (3.41 million)
  9. Joshua Tree National Park (3.27 million)
  10. Olympic National Park (2.94 million)

Joshua Tree in California and Olympic in Washington state are the usurpers on the 2023 national parks list, knocking out Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio and Glacier in Montana from their top 10 perches in the 2022 list.

While they garner much of the attention, national parks hosted only 28% of the total number of visitors to all various NPS components in 2023.

Beyond the summer season

Visitation habits to NPS sites are changing with people finding ways to bypass the traditional warm-weather peak.

The NPS said that "data shows that visitation is increasing in the more traditional off-seasons at many parks, with more visits in the spring and fall than seen in years past."

Also of note: 20 sites - some well-known, but others not household names - broke visitation records in 2023.

Among the more famous ones were Joshua Tree National Park (3.27 million) and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (8.09 million).

But the list also includes spots such as Minidoka National Historic Site in Idaho and Washington (18,358 visits), a concentration camp that held Americans of Japanese ancestry in World War II, and Congaree National Park in South Carolina (250,114 visits), which features "the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States."

"Our national parks tell our shared American story," Sams said in the NPS release. "I'm glad visitors are finding hidden gems, exploring in the off-season and finding new ways to have a great time in our national parks."