It’s not too late to start planning your national park vacation this year. Looking for inspiration? Check out one of these parks that made the list of Most Visited National Parks in 2021.
With rule changes affecting travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic starting to become less restrictive during the second part of 2021, the national parks saw an uptick in visitors over 2020. Visitorship had been on a steady upward trajectory, hitting new record numbers in 2018 and 2019, only to drop significantly during 2020.
While visitor numbers still weren’t back to pre-pandemic numbers in 2021, the official National Park Service figure is 297 million recreational visits to parks last year. The top ten most visited parks list holds some familiar parks that are popular every year, as well as those breaking into the top 10 for the first time.
Big Changes in the Most Visited National Parks in 2021
Not surprisingly, the pandemic continues to create some disruptions and changes to the park visitor counts. While the parks saw another record breaking year, Some of our favorite parks were inaccessible during pandemic restrictions but as things slowly opened up, returned to more normal visitor counts. Both Glacier National Park and Yosemite National Park were back in the mix this year after falling behind in 2020.
There is one new park on this year’s list – check out below to find out who surprised everyone by knocking Joshua Tree and Olympic out of the Top 10 for 2021.
Check out our guide below to The Most Visited National Parks in 2021 to see where your favorite parks landed on this year’s list:
The Most Visited National Parks in 2020
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 14.1 million
2019 Rank: #1
2019 Visitor Count: 12.1 million
The visitor count to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2021 surpassed even the 2020 visitor count by two million visitors! Consistently one of the most popular national parks, the Smokies are within a reasonable driving distance of much of the eastern and southern United States for visitors to enjoy the miles of accessible trails, parkways and scenery.
2. Zion National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 5 million
2020 Rank: #3
2020 Visitor Count: 3.6 million
Zion National Park moved up a ranking from #3 most popular park in 2020. With 5 million visitors, this park’s increasing popularity is no surprise thanks to the beautiful views, trails and overall good year-round hiking and camping weather.
Zion National Park was one of the six parks that required reservations in 2021 to help manage the large visitation numbers, but the park still received 1.4 million more visitors than it did in 2020.
3. Yellowstone National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 4.8 million
2020 Rank: #2
2020 Visitor Count: 3.8 million
Even though Yellowstone National Park dropped one slot to #3 from the previous year, their visitor count increased by 1 million visitors in 2021.
Despite a dip in international visitor numbers due to the pandemic, domestic travel to Yellowstone continues to increase a little over past years. International and domestic travelers are treated to natural wonders that can’t be seen anywhere else on earth, like large herds of bison and incredible geothermal features.
4. Grand Canyon National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 4.5 million
2020 Rank: #6
2020 Visitor Count: 2.8 million
After a significant decrease in visitors to the Grand Canyon during the 2020 pandemic year, visitor numbers rebounded slightly closer to the pre-pandemic count of 5.9 million in 2019.
Many of the facilities at the park were still operating at limited capacity, with a closed visitor center and capacity limits in park shops. Campgrounds and trails were still open, however, and visitors enjoyed a few less people to share the views and trails with than pre-pandemic numbers.
Expect bumper numbers in 2022 as the park returns to increased capacity and regular services in many areas.
Start Your Own #Parkchasing List
5. Rocky Mountain National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 4.4 million
2020 Rank: #4
2020 Visitor Count: 3.3 million
Rocky Mountain National Park is consistently one of the most popular parks in the US. We were pretty excited to be among the 4+ million people in the count this year!
In 2021, RMNP was one of the six parks that implemented a reservation to visit the park during peak season. It wasn’t the first year for reservations here, but the park continues to make modifications to accommodate the rising visitor counts.
The park was up more than a million visitors over 2020’s 3.3 million. Those fortunate enough to snag a reservation for their desired dates were treated to RMNP’s stunning scenery and wildlife it is best known for. We can’t wait to share our trip photos from here later this year!
6. Acadia National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 4 million
2020 Rank: #8
2020 Visitor Count: 2.66 million
Like Rocky Mountain National Park, Acadia National Park in Maine was on the list of the six parks that used a reservation system to help manage the high demand for park visitorship during the second year of the pandemic. It’s the second year Acadia had reservations, and it seems to have helped bump up the rankings.
Acadia is consistently in the top ten visited parks, within driving distance of much of the densely populated eastern US. Acadia has 158 miles of hiking tras where visitors can explore the coastline, lakes, forest and mountains of New England.
7. Grand Teton National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 3.8 million
2020 Rank: #5
2020 Visitor Count: 3.29 million
While Grand Teton National Park received a half million more visitors than it did in 2020, it moved down from #5 to #7 in the park visitation rankings for 2021.
Visitors will recognize the iconic Grand Teton range, a beautiful and popular place to photograph. The town of Jackson just south of the park’s border is a huge draw for tourists with great restaurants and places to stay. Wildlife is ubiquitous at this park as well and many people visit just to watch moose, elk and bison in their native habitat.
8. Yosemite National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 3.2 million
2020 Rank: #12
2020 Visitor Count: 2.2 million
Yosemite didn’t make the Top 10 Most Visited Parks list for 2020, but with 3.3 million visitors in 2021 the park came in strong at #8, just edging out another California park, Joshua Tree.
Yosemite’s well known landmarks like Half Dome are almost surreal to see in real life. The park is most popular with summer hikers, but also offers plenty of great winter recreation like cross country skiing. The park was a great, close-to-home option for Californians looking to spend some time in nature in 2021.
9. Indiana Dunes National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 3.1 million
2020 Rank: #11
2020 Visitor Count: 2.2 million
The only Midwestern park to make the Top Ten of 2021, one of the newest national parks in the nation (freshly minted in 2019!) attracted an impressive 3.2 million visitors.
The Dunes are a freshwater lover’s playground and within just a couple hours’ drive of Chicago. Visitors to the Indiana Dunes can hike, hang out on the beach or have fun with the “unsalted” water sports just off the shore of the southern tip of Lake Michigan.
10. Glacier National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 3.08 million
2020 Rank: #13
2020 Visitor Count: 1.69 million
For the first year of the pandemic, Glacier dropped off the list of Most visited national parks. Closures to the East Entrance of the park and changes to the reservation systems for Going to the Sun Road resulted in a significant drop off.
Not so much for 2021. Visitors were back in force to Glacier for 2021, with visitor counts more than double.
How does this list compare?
Curious how the pandemic changed visitor counts in the National Park Service? Check out our Top 10 Most Visited National Parks lists from 2016, 2017, 2018, 201, and 2020.