Crowded Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the U.S.
Getty Images, photosbyjim

10 Most Visited National Parks, Plus How to Avoid The Crowds

Visiting U.S. national parks is a rare chance to see huge swathes of nearly-untouched wilderness and stunning beauty. But that awe-inspiring experience can be quickly soured by hoards of other visitors.

The problem: The best national parks are also often the most popular national parks. In total, last year the national park system welcomed a combined 311,985,998 visitors. What's more, among the National Park Service's (NPS) 424 sites, the two most visited national parks accounted for nearly 10% of all visits across the nation: the Blue Ridge Parkway in the East and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the west.

In fact, you might find this list of the top 10 most visited national parks in 2022 covers every park on your bucket list. And, even with the crowds, we'd say they're still worth the trip—which is why we've included tips for how to avoid the crowds at each of the busiest parks so your hikes and sunset lookouts are filled with more amazement and less frustration.

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the top 10 most visited national parks in the U.S.

Dawn in the Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. Getty Images

Annual Visitors: 12.94 million

According to National Park Service stats, the Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the entire U.S. And the competition isn't not even close: The park welcomed nearly 13 million visitors in 2022, while the second most-visited park clocked less than half, at approximately 4.7 million visitors.

One of the biggest factors in its popularity is that it's pretty easily accessible from several major cities, especially in the south. But it also helps that Great Smoky Mountain a beautiful national park practically year-round.

Like many other parks, the busiest months are going to be in the summer when kids are out of school and families are vacationing. This is also a great time to spot a black bear or hike any of the hundreds of miles of hiking trails. The Smoky Mountains are busy in the autumn, too, as a leaf-peeping destination.


Least Busy Season: Winter. This park is, honestly, busy most of the year, but to avoid excessive crowds consider visiting in January. Be aware, however, of NPS road closures as a result of winter weather.

Hidden Gems: With 2,900 miles of streams within its boundaries, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a superb trout fishing destination. Just remember to follow the park's guidelines.

2. Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most iconic landscapes in America

Grand Canyon National Park with blue sky and clouds.

Annual Visitors: 4.73 million

The Grand Canyon has become almost a clichéd necessity of the traditional American road trip—so it's no wonder it's second on the list of the most visited national parks with nearly 5 million visitors per year. And considering the 6,000-foot-deep canyon was carved away by something as simple as water over the course of centuries, the unique geological formation is definitely a site to behold.

If you go peak season, just remember: This is the desert in Arizona. The most popular visiting times in the summer are likely going to involve scorching hot days, sometimes in the triple digits. That is not exactly ideal for hiking if you planned to get off the beaten path a little bit.


Least Busy Season: Winter through early Spring. Earlier and later in the calendar year is generally better if your goal is to avoid other people as well as the heat. Consider February through April, where lows are in the 40s and 50s and the highs are in the 70s and 80s.

Hidden Gems: There is a lot more to the canyon that looking down from above. Take a hike along the canyon floor on Clear Creek Trail to Cheyava Falls or take a boat ride through the Blacktail Canyon, which is full of unique, ancient rock formations and wildlife to view.

3. Zion National Park

Zion National Park is one of the most unique landscapes in America.

Middle of the road from tunnel view of a scenic route in Zion National Park, Utah, United States. Getty Images

Annual Visitors: 4.69 million

Despite being located in a remote part of southern Utah, Zion still pulls in nearly 4.7 million visitors a year, making it the third most popular national park in America. The draw is undoubtedly the breathtaking view of high desert country, the deeply carved and lushly overgrown valley, and the hallmark red rock of Zion's walls.

Zion also features many arches and has a rich history among the Native Americans that used to live there.

Many people combine a trip to Zion with a tour of several other southern Utah parks including Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Arches National Parks. This results in Zion and all these other parks being quite busy in the summer months.


Least Busy Season: Fall through Spring. Many national parks, Zion included, are busiest during the summer months. Visiting during the off season ensures a bit more breathing room.

Hidden Gems: Zion is home to 291 bird species throughout the year, including the Black Chinned Hummingbird and large California Condor. Grab a guide at the Visitor Center and spend some time birdwatching.

4. Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park offer unique and pristine high alpine landscape to visit.

Bull Moose at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Getty Images

Annual Visitors: 4.30 million

The spectacular mountain range of the Colorado Rockies can take a person's breath away—literally, as the lowest point in the park is 7,860 feet and many of the overlooks crest over 14,000 feet.

Not only does Rocky Mountain National Park offer incredibly dramatic and pristine mountain views, but it's so close to Denver that it's no surprise this is a highly popular national park to visit.


Least Busy Season: Winter. RMNP sees most of its visitors during the summer months, but the park is a spectacular sight in the winter months—although they come alongside temperatures down into the teens. Be sure to check the NPS website for road closures.

Hidden Gems: Rocky Mountain National Park is loaded with wildlife, including big bull elk and bighorn sheep. In addition to the spectacular peaks, the park boasts gorgeous valleys perfect for hiking or snowshoeing.

5. Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is one of the top 10 most popular national parks in the U.S.

Rocky beach in Acadia National Park, Maine with view of Otter Cliffs at sunrise. Getty Images.

Annual Visitors: 3.97 million

Acadia National Park lies on the Maine coastline and brings in nearly 4 million visitors per year—surprising when you consider how out of the way it is for the majority of the country.

This park is similar to many on the list in that the greatest flush of crowds is going to be during the summer months. At times, things can get so busy that park officials will sometimes shut down the roads and parking areas.


Least Busy Season: Fall through Spring. A visit to Acadia from October through April will be the least crowded. The weather is Maine is more unpredictable and temperatures can get quote low, but there will be plenty of space to roam around in relative silence.

Hidden Gems: Twice-a-day, every day in Acadia, a variety of plants and animals become exposed on the rocky shores in tidepools, which are depressions in the rocks that trap seawater when the tide recedes.

6. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the top 10 most visited national parks in the U.S.

Sunrise at the tunnel View vista point at Yosemite National Park. Getty Images.

Annual Visitors: 3.67 million

One of the most famous national parks in America, Yosemite is also one of the busiest, raking in nearly four million visitors a year. The California park is close to major cities like Bakersfield, San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento which helps contribute to that number, but it's also just downright iconic—it's a photographers paradise, made famous by Ansel Adams; Climbers live to scale El Capitan and tourists love to stop and watch; and hikers love the trek to Half Dome.


Least Busy Season: It depends. Yosemite sees odd surges of visitors at times throughout the year that sets it apart from other parks. For instance, Horsetail Falls' "Firefall" phenomenon draws visitors in droves in February. However, most visitors tend to swarm the place during the typical summer vacation months.

Hidden Gems: Yosemite is home to countless waterfalls. According to NPS, the best time to see waterfalls is during spring, when most of the snowmelt occurs. Runoff typically peaks in May or June, with some waterfalls (including Yosemite Falls) often only a trickle or completely dry by August. The waterfalls are rejuvenated by storms in the autumn. In the wintertime, they accumulate frost along their edges many nights during the winter, making for a sparkly sight.

7. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is the original national park.

Castle Geyser erupting in Yellowstone. Getty Images.

Annual Visitors: 3.29 million

The original national park, Yellowstone is a gigantic one. Even after driving through the east gate, it is still nearly 100 miles to the Old Faithful geyser. In total, this park is nearly 3,500 square miles of awesome wilderness.

From May through August the park is incredibly busy. If there's an elk or bear near the road, there are often traffic jams as hundreds of people try to get a look.


Least Busy Season: Fall through Winter. After the rush of the summer season winds down, Yellowstone sees a calmer period during the fall and winterThere is still plenty to do and many ways to enjoy Yellowstone during the off season, including hiking, fishing, sight-seeing, and more.

Hidden Gems: While maybe not so hidden, the geysers of Yellowstone are a must-see when visiting this park.

8. Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park is one of the top 10 most popular national parks in the U.S.

Joshua Tree National Park Landscape at Sunset, California. Getty Images.

Annual Visitors: 3.06 million

Joshua Tree is one of the most visited national parks largely because it's wildly unique. Popular for camping, hiking, and astronomy, Joshua Tree is part of the Mojave Desert which has unique vegetation, including the namesake (and endangered) Joshua Trees. This popular national park is also quite close to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Diego so it's easy to get to.

Joshua Tree is a popular place for birdwatchers and animal lovers. Two popular animals that people come to see are the bighorn sheep and desert tortoises that call the park home.


Least Busy Season: Spring. Because it's a desert park, it can get quite sweltering in the summer months. Spring is probably the ideal time to visit because temperatures are still comfortable, and the larger crowds are still a few months away.

Hidden Gems: The 0.7-mile loop Discovery Trail offers a great glimpse at the geology within Joshua Tree National Park.

9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of the top 10 most visited national parks in the U.S.

Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park Ohio. A gorgeous 65 foot falls seen here in late spring from the viewing platform. Getty Images.

Annual Visitors: 2.913 million

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Routinely ends up among the NPS's most-visited national parks. It is easy to see why: A short drive from Cleveland or Akron, the park features an abundance of natural wonders, including waterfalls, serene streams, and in the Spring, a wide variety of lush wildflowers.


Least Busy Season: Winter. Although visitation peaks during the summer months, there is no shortage of activities to enjoy in Cuyahoga during the winter. The park's snowy conditions provide a great base to go sledding, snowshoeing, ice fishing and cross-country skiing. The Ledges Trail is considered to be among the most scenic in the park due to dramatic icicles that form on the rocks.

Hidden Gems: The Towpath Trail is available for visitors to walk, or ride and follows the historic route of the Ohio and Erie Canal. There are also 125 miles of hiking trails within the park.

10. Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is remote and beautiful, but still very popular.

Grinnell Glacier at Glacier National Park, Montana. Getty Images.

Annual Visitors: 2.908 million

This Montana park is a bit harder to reach than some of the other parks on this list, and yet, it's still one of the most visited national parks, receiving nearly 3 million visitors every year. Glacier is a smorgasbord of opportunity to view wildlife, including grizzly, black bear, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep.

The park is a showcase of melting glaciers, alpine meadows, carved valleys, and spectacular lakes with over 700 miles of trails.


Least Busy Season: Winter. Heavy snow often closes many roads in the park during the winter, but the roads that remain safe and useable are still open to visitors.

Hidden Gems: If open, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a must-see when visiting Glacier National Park. This and other roads in the park provide a stunning view of Glacier's natural beauty. This summer, a vehicle reservation is required for four areas of the park: Going-to-the-Sun Road, the North Fork, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier. Each location has unique details and requires a separate reservation.