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Most popular national parks in America

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    Most popular national parks in America

    Each year, more than 275 million people will visit one of the National Park System’s 417 sites that showcase the United States’ natural beauty and cultural heritage.Together, the country’s national parks contain at least 247 species of endangered or threatened plants and animals, more than 75,000 archaeological sites, and 18,000 miles of trails.

    For more than a hundred years, national parks have welcomed visitors from around the world to experience some of the best the country has to offer. President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service in 1916 to leave natural and historic phenomenons “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations,” according to the National Park Service.

    To examine the most visited national parks in the United States, Stacker compiled data from the National Park Service on the number of recreational visits each site had in 2017. Read on to find out which ones are the most popular destinations.  

  • National Park Service // Wikimedia Commons
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    #50. Great Basin National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 168,028

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.2%

    Located in Nevada, Great Basin National Park has both warm desert valleys as well as mountains that reach up to 13,000 feet. Visitors can see fossils, caves, rock formations, and even a glacier at the park. Because of its wide elevation range, the park is home to a large spread of biodiversity, including 73 species of mammals, 238 species of birds, and more than 800 plant species, according to the National Park Service.

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    #49. Guadalupe Mountains National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 225,257

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.26%

    Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas has the four highest peaks in the state and protects the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef, making the park a geologist’s paradise. The Guadalupes were once home to the Mescalero Apache Native Americans, and pictographs from early settlers can still be seen in the park’s caves. At one point, the Guadalupe Mountains were all underwater in the Delaware Sea, the National Park Service says.

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    #48. Pinnacles National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 233,334

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.27%

    Pinnacles National Park in California was born after several volcanoes erupted, forming the unique landscape of the park, which is packed with canyons, rock spires, and woodlands. When the park was established in 1908, it was only 2,060 acres, but has now grown to 26,000 acres. Because of hot summer temperatures, Pinnacles is most popular in the winter months, according to the National Park Service.

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    #47. Voyageurs National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 237,250

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.28%

    Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota is 40% water, so many visitors navigate the park by boat. The park is known for its spectacular view of the stars, and even the Aurora Borealis is sometimes visible. Moose, wolves, and black bears are just a few of the animals that call the park home year round, the National Park Service reports.

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    #46. Kenai Fjords National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 303,598

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.36%

    Kenai Fjords in Alaska is home to the Harding Icefield, where more than 40 glaciers flow and display the effects of climate change, the National Park Service says. While today almost 51% of the park is covered in ice, at one point the entirety of the land was hidden beneath ice. On average, the air moving off the Gulf Coast of Alaska delivers about 60 feet of snow to the Harding Icefield every year.

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    #45. Virgin Islands National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 304,408

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.36%

    The tropical Virgin Islands National Park located in the Virgin Islands offers pristine beaches, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, and salt ponds. The park encompasses more than two-thirds of the island of St. John. Archaeological sites traverse the park, dating from 840 BC to 1493, according to the National Park Service. While the park has a variety of bird and fish species, the only native mammal to the park is the bat.

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    #44. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 307,143

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.36%

    The canyons and rock spires at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in western Colorado can reach a surface temperature of up to 120 degrees. Many of the desert creatures that call the park home use ephemeral pools in rocks as their main water source, according to the National Park Service. Some of the canyon’s rocks are up to 500 million years old and contain sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous stones.

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    #43. Channel Islands National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 383,687

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.45%

    The gorgeous Channel Islands National Park in California is comprised of five islands, each one with a unique history. The northern islands were once home to the native Chumash people and eventually European explorers who harvested fish from the channel waters. The unique environment surrounding the islands contributes to a huge amount of biological diversity that represents 1,000 miles of the west coast of North America, the National Park Service says.

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    #42. Big Bend National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 440,276

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.52%

    Big Bend National Park in Texas offers spectacular views of the Chihuahuan Desert landscape as well as the Rio Grande. Visitors to the park can even enter Mexico through the park’s Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry. According to the National Park Service, Big Bend has more species of birds, bats, and cacti than any other national park in the United States.

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    #41. Redwood National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 445,000

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.52%

    While Redwood National Park in California is famous for the tallest trees on the planet, the park also protects coastline and prairies. Visitors can watch the gray whale migration at the Klamath River Overlook and even walk on gray sands at Gold Bluffs Beach with remains from the state’s mining era. Animals including Roosevelt elk, California sea lions, eagles, and banana slugs all call the park home, the National Park Service says.

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    #40. Biscayne National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 446,961

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.52%

    Biscayne National Park located just next to Miami is an ocean-lover’s paradise, with crystal clear waters, colorful coral reefs, and more than 500 species of reef fish. Visitors also have the chance to spot manatees, sea turtles, and pelicans. Though the park comprises several islands, 95% of the park is actually water, the National Park Service reports.

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    #39. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

    Recreational visits in 2017: 486,935

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.57%

    Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is famous for the tallest sand dunes in North America that stretch 30 miles across the park. However, the park is also home to five alpine lakes, forests, meadows, and grasslands. Popular activities in the park include sand sledding and sand boarding as well as horseback riding and swimming in the Medano Creek, the National Park Service says.

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    #38. Lassen Volcanic National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 507,256

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.59%

    Each rock at Lassen Volcanic National Park in California is a result of a volcanic eruption, given that the park has been volcanically active for 3 million years. The world’s four volcanic types—shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome—are all present at the park and located in close proximity to each other, according to the National Park Service. Park visitors can also check out the park’s several fumaroles, mud pots, and boiling pools.

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    #37. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 520,026

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.61%

    Located in New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns National Park’s 119 caves were born when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone millions of years ago, leaving behind a treasure trove of caverns. The Big Room in Carlsbad Cavern is the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America and takes an hour and a half to cross, according to the National Park Service. Birders from around the globe flock to Rattlesnake Spring in the park to see some of the 300 documented bird species.

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    #36. Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve

    Recreational visits in 2017: 547,057

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.64%

    Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska encompasses 3.3 million acres of mountains, glaciers, coastline, and fjords, and is one of the largest internationally protected Biosphere Reserves in the world. Just 250 years ago, a large tidewater glacier covered all of the park, but it has now retreated 60 miles to the head of the bay, the National Park Service says. Most visitors to the park come as part of an Alaskan cruise.

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    #35. Mammoth Cave National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 587,853

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.69%

    Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park is known for housing the world’s longest cave system, which stretches at least 400 miles. Though famous for its caves, the park also has more than 70 threatened or endangered species that include birds, crustaceans, and fish. It is believed that the first human entered Mammoth Cave 4,000 years ago, says the National Park Service.

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    #34. Mesa Verde National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 613,788

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.72%

    Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado protects nearly 5,000 archaeological sites that have preserved the history of the ancestral Pueblo people. They inhabited the land for almost 700 years, building dwellings into the cliffs and establishing communities before moving away. Visitors can both see and explore several of the cliff dwellings through tours and hiking trails, according to the National Park Service.

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    #33. Wind Cave National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 619,924

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.73%

    Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota—one of the country’s oldest—is famous for its rare boxwork cave formations that consist of paper-thin intersecting lines of calcite. Other unique formations include popcorn, frostwork, dogtooth spar crystals, and flowstone. Exploration of the cave began in 1881 when brothers Jesse and Tom Bingham discovered a small hole in the ground—the cave’s only natural opening, according to the National Park Service.

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    #32. Petrified Forest National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 627,757

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.73%

    Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona is home to the gorgeous Painted Desert and Crystal Forest, where petrified logs shine with quartz crystals. The site in the park known as Newspaper Rock contains more than 650 petroglyphs inscribed on rock that are between 650 and 2,000 years old, the National Park Service reports. The landscape of the park features mesas and buttes, which have been created by erosion.  

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    #31. Denali National Park & Preserve

    Recreational visits in 2017: 642,809

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.75%

    Denali National Park in Alaska is home to North America’s tallest peak: Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley. This park was the first created to protect wildlife, and today that includes moose, caribou, wolves, and grizzly bears. Almost the entire park is free from light pollution, making it a great place to view the Aurora Borealis at night, according to the National Park Service.

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    #30. Kings Canyon National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 692,932

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.81%

    Kings Canyon National Park in California boasts giant sequoia trees, a tall granite dome with sweeping views and a marble cavern known as Crystal Cave. Because the park has an elevation gradient of more than 13,000 feet, it plays host to a wide variety of 1,300 plant species and 300 animal species. The park is currently undergoing an effort to help restore its population of mountain yellow-legged frogs, the National Park Service says.

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    #29. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 708,003

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.83%

    Located in North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s dominating feature is the badlands, which are colorful, rolling hills consisting of rock that are millions of years old. Erosion and other natural processes like lightning strikes and prairie fires continue to shape the badlands today. The park is, of course, named for Theodore Roosevelt, who first came to the Dakotas in 1883 to hunt bison, according to the National Park Service.

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    #28. Crater Lake National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 711,749

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.83%

    Crater Lake National Park in Oregon was formed when a volcanic eruption at Mount Mazama triggered the collapse of a tall peak, and formed the deepest lake in the United States. The crater—also known as a caldera—is five to six miles long and 3,900 feet deep, making it the seventh deepest lake in the world, the National Park Service reports. Because the lake doesn’t have any inlets or outlets, the water comes entirely from precipitation, giving it a clear blue hue.

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    #27. Canyonlands National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 742,271

    Percent of total national park visits: 0.87%

    Located in Utah, Canyonlands National Park features a unique landscape of canyons, mesas, and buttes formed by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Even though the park is considered a desert, its high elevation gives it a varying climate and temperatures can fluctuate as much as 50 degrees in a day. This, combined with the low annual rainfall, make the park a perfect home for drought-resistant plants including cacti, yuccas, and mosses, according to the National Park Service.

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    #26. Saguaro National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 964,760

    Percent of total national park visits: 1.13%

    As its name suggests, Saguaro National Park in Arizona protects giant saguaro cacti, which are known as symbols of the American west. The average lifespan of one of these cacti is 125 years old and produce sweet fruits, the National Park Service says. The park is also home to a variety of animals, many of which can only be found in the southern part of the state, including kangaroo rats, roadrunners, and horned lizards.

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    #25. Everglades National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 1,018,557

    Percent of total national park visits: 1.19%

    Everglades National Park is of such biological importance that it is also a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and a Wetland of International Importance. The park protects rare and endangered species, including the manatee, American crocodile, and the Florida panther. Bird watching is a popular activity in the park, as visitors have the chance to see blue herons, bald eagles, and red-shouldered hawks, according to the National Park Service.

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    #24. Badlands National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 1,054,325

    Percent of total national park visits: 1.23%

    The striking landscape of Badlands National Park in South Dakota contains one of the world’s richest fossil beds—at one point, it was home to the rhino and saber-toothed cat. The badlands were formed 69 million years ago by deposition of sediment and erosion when an ancient sea was once located where today’s Great Plains are, the National Park Service says. However, at one point, the badlands will completely erode away.

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    #23. Haleakala National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 1,112,390

    Percent of total national park visits: 1.3%

    Haleakalā National Park in Hawaii is home to a volcano with a 10,000-foot summit and is the highest point on Maui. Native Hawaiians have lived on this land for more than 1,000 years, making this an important cultural site as well. According to the National Park Service, many of the legends surrounding Haleakala focus on the demigod Maui, and natives consider the summit to be the place where Maui snared the sun in order to slow its passage through the sky.

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    #22. Capitol Reef National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 1,150,165

    Percent of total national park visits: 1.35%

    Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is famous for the Waterpocket Fold, its “wrinkle on the earth,” or geologic monocline, which extends almost 100 miles. The fold was formed 50 to 70 million years ago as a warp in the Earth’s crust, and erosion has exposed the fold at the surface. The National Park Service reports that the park has some of the darkest night skies in the United States, so much so that it has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park.

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    #21. Sequoia National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 1,291,256

    Percent of total national park visits: 1.51%

    Sequoia National Park is adjacent to Kings Canyon National Park in California, and was the first park established to protect a living organism: the sequoia trees. Since World War II, Sequoia and Kings Canyon have been administered jointly. In 2014, Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep were reintroduced to the park for the first time in 100 years as part of a recovery effort for the endangered species, the National Park Service says.

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    #20. Death Valley National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 1,294,827

    Percent of total national park visits: 1.52%

    Death Valley National Park in California and Nevada is home to the driest, lowest, and hottest spot in North America. The park was once home to a variety of different people, including the Timbisha Shoshone Native Americans, Chinese workers, the Basque people, and Japanese-American internees, according to the National Park Service. Today, visitors can experience the park’s sand dunes, salt flats, and a dry lakebed known as the Racetrack Playa.

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    #19. Gateway Arch National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 1,398,188

    Percent of total national park visits: 1.64%

    Unlike many other national parks, the Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri is located in a major city and isn’t focused on preserving wildlife. The park contains the 630-foot Gateway Arch monument and St. Louis’ Old Courthouse. The courthouse was where the first two trials of the landmark Dred Scott case were held in 1847 and 1850. The arch is the nation’s tallest monument, according to the National Park Service.

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    #18. Mount Rainier National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 1,415,867

    Percent of total national park visits: 1.66%

    Located in Washington, Mount Rainier National Park is famous for housing the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States. Mount Rainier is the highest volcano in the Cascade Range and experiences about 20 small earthquakes a year. Some of the animals that visitors regularly spot at the park include mountain goats, ravens, elk, and black bears, according to the National Park Service.

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    #17. Shenandoah National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 1,458,874

    Percent of total national park visits: 1.71%

    Just 75 miles from the nation’s capital, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia showcases the Blue Ridge Mountains and has about 90 perennial streams, many of which turn into cascading waterfalls. While many native species have been lost over time, today the park has more than 190 bird species, 50 mammal species, and more than 35 fish species, the National Park Service reports. The park is popular with hikers, with more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail.

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    #16. Arches National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 1,539,028

    Percent of total national park visits: 1.8%

    Arches National Park in Utah lives up to its name and has more than 2,000 natural stone arches, the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world. These sandstone geological formations are the result of erosion and a thick layer of salt beneath the rock surface, according to the National Park Service. However, the arches are impermanent—a 71-foot arch called Wall Arch collapsed in 2008.

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    #15. Hot Springs National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 1,561,616

    Percent of total national park visits: 1.83%

    Known as “The American Spa,” Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas has thermal waters with soothing properties. Typically, hot springs pop up in areas with volcanic activity, but are rare in the central part of the continent. These hot springs appeared along a fault on the western side of Hot Springs Mountain, according to the National Park Service.

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    #14. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 2,016,702

    Percent of total national park visits: 2.36%

    Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is home to the currently erupting Kilauea Volcano and periodically erupting Mauna Loa, which have closed the park for the time being. Mauna Loa is the most massive mountain on Earth, occupying a volume of about 20,000 cubic miles, according to the National Park Service. The park was created to preserve the natural setting of both Kilauea and Mauna Loa, as well as the island’s native plants and animals.  

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    #13. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 2,226,879

    Percent of total national park visits: 2.61%

    Near Cleveland and Akron, Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park preserves the beauty of the Cuyahoga River and showcases the historic route of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Popular attractions at the park include the 65-foot Brandywine Falls waterfall, Beaver Marsh, and the National Park Scenic train. The park is home to an astounding 900 plant species, 194 bird species, and 20 reptile species, the National Park Service reports.

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    #12. Bryce Canyon National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 2,571,684

    Percent of total national park visits: 3.01%

    Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah has the world’s largest collection of hoodoos, which are pillars of rock left standing after erosion. Bryce Canyon contains a series of natural amphitheaters and bowls, the most famous being Bryce Amphitheater, which is full of the park’s iconic hoodoos. The park is one of three national parks to house the Grand Staircase geological formation, which is a giant sequence of sedimentary rock layers, according to the National Park Service.

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    #11. Joshua Tree National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 2,853,619

    Percent of total national park visits: 3.34%

    Joshua Tree National Park in California was named after its picturesque spiky Joshua trees. Mormon immigrants named the trees after the biblical Joshua after noticing that the limbs looked as if they were outstretched in prayer. Many of the park’s animals including the Scott’s orioles, wood rats, and desert night lizards depend on the tree for food and shelter, the National Park Service says. Keys View in the park offers an incredible view of the Coachella Valley, the San Andreas Fault, and San Jacinto.

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    #10. Glacier National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 3,305,512

    Percent of total national park visits: 3.87%

    Glacier National Park in Montana is responsible for housing streams that flow into the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson’s Bay. Because of this, it has become the home for a variety of plants and animals, so much so that it has been designated as an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. The park was carved from glaciers dating from 10,000 years ago, exposing bedrock that has helped scientists understand the Earth’s movement, according to the National Park Service.

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    #9. Grand Teton National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 3,317,000

    Percent of total national park visits: 3.88%

    Located in Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park has a rich history beginning 11,000 years ago when nomadic paleo-Indians harvested berries, crafted stone tools, and fished in lakes, leaving behind evidence for future historians. The weather in the park can get unbearably cold, and the lowest temperature ever recorded was minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit, the National Park Service reports. The center-line of the 2017 solar eclipse was visible from the park, sending it into totality against the backdrop of its glacier-carved landscape.

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    #8. Olympic National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 3,401,996

    Percent of total national park visits: 3.98%

    Olympic National Park in Washington has temperate rainforests, glacier-topped mountains, and more than 70 miles of coastline. The park was established in 1938 to protect some of the state’s quickly vanishing forests, and it now protects one of the largest remaining blocks of temperate rainforest in the lower 48 states, according to the National Park Service. Visitors to the park can see Mount Olympus on a clear day, which stands at 7,980 feet high.

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    #7. Acadia National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 3,509,271

    Percent of total national park visits: 4.11%

    Acadia National Park in Maine protects the highest rocky headlands along the Atlantic coastline in the United States, including Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the eastern coast of the country. Granite ridges in the park were formed by glaciers that measured up to 9,000-feet thick, and evidence of their presence is visible almost everywhere in the park, according to the National Park Service. In the summer, wild blueberries are abundant in the park—a perfect trail snack for hikers.

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    #6. Yellowstone National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 4,116,524

    Percent of total national park visits: 4.82%

    Yellowstone National Park spans three states: Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. As the world’s first national park, Yellowstone has plenty to offer, including the famed Old Faithful geyser, Mt. Washburn, and the Mammoth Hot Springs. The park is one of the largest, nearly intact temperate-zone ecosystems on Earth, making it home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states, the National Park Service says.

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    #5. Yosemite National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 4,336,890

    Percent of total national park visits: 5.08%

    Yosemite National Park in California is home to the 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls, which is the largest waterfall in North America. With 800 miles of hiking, there’s plenty to explore, including enormous granite mountains, such at Mt. Lyell, the park’s tallest point. Visitors can enjoy the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees, the peaceful Hetch Hetchy Valley, and rock formations carved by ancient glaciers, according to the National Park Service.

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    #4. Rocky Mountain National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 4,437,215

    Percent of total national park visits: 5.19%

    Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is home to some of the highest mountains in the continental United States. Sixty mountain peaks measure in at more than 12,000-feet high, making the park a popular destination for hikers. Additionally, visitors can fish at more than 50 lakes and streams, the National Park Service says.

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    #3. Zion National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 4,504,812

    Percent of total national park visits: 5.27%

    Zion National Park was Utah’s first national park and is famous for its landscape of giant colorful sandstone cliffs. 12,000 years ago, the first people to visit the land that is now the park tracked mammoth, giant sloth, and camel until those animals died about 8,000 years ago, the National Park Service says. Because of the range in elevation in the park, it has more than 1,000 plant species.

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    #2. Grand Canyon National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 6,254,238

    Percent of total national park visits: 7.32%

    Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is synonymous with its world-famous canyon that is 18 miles wide and a mile deep. The park encompasses more than a million acres and consists of raised plateaus and structural basins. It is considered one of the best examples of arid-land erosion in the world, according to the National Park Service. It has a rich and diverse fossil record, and the land offers a detailed record of three out of the four geological eras.

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    #1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    Recreational visits in 2017: 11,338,893

    Percent of total national park visits: 13.27%

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee is the most biodiverse park in the National Park system, with more than 19,000 documented species. The Smokies, which formed 200 to 300 years ago, are among the oldest mountain ranges in the world, according to the National Park Service. On average, more than 85 inches of rain falls in the park each year, fueling more than 2,100 miles of streams and rivers that flow through the park.


     

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