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National parks visitation dropped in 2020. Here are the most popular ones.

  • February 26, 2021

COVID-19 closures caused National Park Service visitation to drop by 28% in 2020, making for the lowest number of visits since 1980, the NPS revealed in its Annual Visitation Highlights report Friday.

All told, the parks service welcomed more than 237 million visitors last year, compared to 327.5 million in 2019

Those lower numbers were to be expected, given that more than 60 of the NPS’ 423 parks sites were closed for two months or more during the the COVID-19 pandemic. The parks service noted that a nearly a year into the pandemic, a few historic and cultural parks remain closed.

It also comes as no surprise that COVID closures played a role in reshuffling the makeup of 2020’s top 10 most-visited parks list.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the perennial favorite located along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, held on to the top spot for the 77th consecutive year with 12.1 million visitors in 2020, down from 12.5 million in 2019.

Last year’s No. 2, Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park slid to sixth place with 2.9 million 2020 visitors, which was about half of the nearly 6 million who passed through in 2019. In its place: Yellowstone National Park with 3.8 million visitors. The park, which straddles Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, was sixth last year with 4 million visitors. 

The NPS reported that 15 parks actually set new visitation records in 2020.

Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Joshua Tree National Park, located in the California desert, were both new to the top 10 for 2020, pushing out Yosemite, also located in California, and Montana’s Glacier National Park from the 2019 list. 

Glacier’s eastern side is still closed in order to protect the health of the residents of the Blackfeet Nation. 

2020’s most-visited national parks

The NPS noted that 25% of all recreational visits occurred at the top six parks.

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (12.1 million visits in 2020), 1st in 2019

2. Yellowstone National Park (3.8 million), 6th in 2019

3. Zion National Park, Utah (3.6 million), 4th in 2019

4. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (3.3 million), 3rd in 2019

5. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (3.3 million), 8th in 2019

6, Grand Canyon National Park (2.9 million), 2nd in 2019

7. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio (2.8 million), new entry in top 10

8. Acadia National Park, Maine (2.7 million) , 7th in 2019

9. Olympic National Park, Washington State (2.5 million), 9th in 2019

10. Joshua Tree National Park, California (2.4 million), new entry in top 10

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