These national parks received the most visitors in 2021
Although the National Park Service presides over 423 monuments, parks, historic sites and military lands, most of the hubbub and media attention around these public lands is focused on just 63 units – the designated “national parks”. by Congress. Of these, interest is even more concentrated. Last year, 148.2 million travelers, or about half of all NPS visits, happened at just 25 of the nation’s most popular parks. In other words, 50% of park visitors congregate at only 6% of sites.
In the same statement released last week, the Park Service went on to suggest that this year, instead of a road trip filled with crowded fan favorites, wilderness seekers should instead focus their trips on “discovery circles.” lesser known. By encouraging visitors to plan a winding route through one major park and a handful of minor parks, they aim to help people explore the country’s diverse park system and experience the grandeur and solitude often found a few miles outside of the famous record parks.
Adventurers heading to Great Smoky Mountains National Park should consider carving a circuitous route through Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Little River Canyon National Preserve and the Obed Wild and Scenic River, the NPS said. What about those heading to Redwoods National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park? They should skirt the Klamath and Shasta Trinity National Forests and visit the crystal clear waters of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and Oregon’s Caverns National Monument along the way.
Also remember to take inspiration from less visited parks. The remote Arctic gateways of northern Alaska, with the magnificent Brooks Range and an ancient caribou migration corridor, won the title for the lowest number of visits in 2021. The tropical paradise of the American Samoa was next, with the sprawling Kobuk Valley National Park, the glacial North Cascades National Park and the turquoise-blue Lake Clark ranking among the top five least visited national parks.
Chip Jenkins, superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, a site ranked seventh on the most-visited list, suggests that visitors still wanting to visit the better-known parks should avoid crowds by arriving early or late, spreading out and becoming curious. At the very least, wherever you go, consider learning stories that haven’t always been at the forefront of a park visit, which is guaranteed to take you deeper into the park you’re visiting. “Many Indian tribes and reservations provide opportunities for visitors, including recommending places to visit, tribal cultural centers, [and] cultural events open to the public,” says Jenkins. His alternative to Grand Teton? The nearby Big Horn Mountains National Forest.
As national parks continue to break records year after year, one thing is certain: the recreation trend toward camping, RVing, and outdoor pursuits is far from over. Here’s hoping the 2022 numbers reflect a year in which we take the pressure off big parks and explore a little further — after all, the NPS manages more than 85 million acres of land in all 50 states, four US territories and the District of Columbia. There is no shortage of fantastic things to see.