Since the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) started keeping records in 1904, its mountain landscapes, seaside wildernesses, and high desert acres have registered more than 15 billion visits. Although global tourism plummeted as a result of COVID-19 shutdowns, 2021 saw record crowds at some of the best-known parks. Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park passed 14 million recreation visits; more than 5 million people took in the stunning sandstone formations of Utah’s Zion National Park.
Visitors are drawn to the vastness and variety of “America’s best idea.” From sea to shining sea (as well as in the wilds of Alaska and Hawaii), the NPS’s 85 million acres encompass 85,000 miles of rivers and streams; 7,035 square miles of reservoirs, lakes, or ocean; more than 43,000 miles of shoreline; and over 18,000 miles of trails.
These 10 parks are the superstars of the system, but they offer just a glimpse of the variety to be found in the 423 park units (including 63 national parks) of the NPS.
“It’s wonderful to see so many Americans continuing to find solace and inspiration in these incredible places during the second year of the pandemic,” said Chuck Sams, director of NPS. “We’re happy to see so many visitors returning to iconic parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite, but there are hundreds more that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Whatever experience you’re looking for in 2022, national parks are here to discover.”
- Nat Geo Expeditions