America’s “best idea” – its national parks – have a lot more to celebrate this year than a centennial. They received a record-breaking number of visitors in 2015 – whooping 307,247,252 recreation visits, according to National Parks Service (NPS) data.
This is a 4.9 percent increase over 2014 which held previous record of 292.8 million. “The popularity of national parks is well known, but last year’s numbers really are extraordinary,” said NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.
In fact, 57 of all 371 different kinds of parks, coasts and monuments regulated by the NPS had their best year ever (See the best urban parks in America).
Joshua Tree National Park surpassed 2 million for the first time, Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone had more than 4 million, and the Grand Canyon National Park surpassed 5 million.
Camping – whether it’s in RVs, tents or designed campgrounds – and backcountry overnight visits are up almost everywhere since 2014. The total overnight stays (sum of all categories) were up 6 percent over the previous year.
Visitors in 2015: 2,366,056
Visiting the Glacier National Park (6 things to do and see) is an amazing experience year-round. Winter there is beautiful as its alpine meadows and rugged mountains offer some of the most spectacular scenery that can be seen while skiing and snowshoeing. The 700+ miles of hiking trails and abundance of wildlife are best experienced when the crowds are sparse in the spring. Bears, moose, elk, goats and sheep roam on more than 1 million acres, sharing the land with more than 1,000 different species of plants.
Visitors in 2015: 2,811,184
Acadia National Park, which should be on your bucket list, has a lot going that make it very attractive for visitors. It’s one of the friendliest parks for pets; its dramatic rocky coastline is magnificent; it has some of the best beaches; and the popular but dangerous Precipice Trail is many people’s favorite attraction. It’s not technically difficult but the steep drops and open cliffs make the walk very tricky. Acadia is ideal for paddling, remote camping, storm watching, and inspiring views.
Visitors in 2015: 3,149,921
Grand Teton is one of the most photogenic national parks, which is, perhaps, just another reason why it’s so popular. The park provides ample opportunity for shooting large wildlife and dramatic landscapes, which are often most intense at sunrise or dusk. Winter there is enchanting with snow covering the landscape from November to May. Cross-country skiing is popular; perhaps most thrilling is that people are not restricted to the established trails. Seeing the grizzlies in Willow Flats, hiking Leigh Lake in the morning, and watching the sunset at the Oxbow Bend of the Snake River are other reasons to visit this beautiful park.
Visitors in 2015: 3,263,761
What makes Olympic National Park a favorite is its unique combination of three distinct environments: the mountains (heavily glaciated despite modest elevation), a coast laced with sea stacks, and a rainforest where every available inch is covered with growth. The beaches are remote and beautiful; the hiking trails range from easy to challenging. Consider camping at Deer Park, which boasts mountain views worth the climb and starry skies you won't see other places since the park is at 5,400 feet in elevation.
Visitors in 2015: 3,648,846
The stunning natural beauty of Zion National Park, which made the Top 3 of all parks this year, is breathtaking any time of year whether visitors come for hiking, canyoneering or sightseeing. Many prefer to go in the spring when it’s not scorching hot to see powerful waterfalls and greenery in a striking contrast against the abundant red-orange rock. The Subway and The Narrows, which is easily one of the most dangerous places in all national parks, are also among the most amazing hikes in the entire country.
Visitors in 2015: 4,097,710
Yellowstone has been one of the most famous national parks in the country for years (it’s the first one, after all). Anything you want to do or see - you name it, Yellowstone offers it. Ski excursions, hot springs, mudspots, volcanos, geysers… the variety of activities is almost overwhelming. The park has many campgrounds ideal for family vacations. See grizzly bears in their natural habitat, go rafting or be a cowboy for a day. Fishing and hiking the Grand Canyon of the park are other favorite activities.
Visitors in 2015: 4,150,217
Yosemite topped this year’s ranking of best national parks. Its most iconic feature is granite monolith of Half Dome. Standing nearly 8,800 feet above sea level, whether you ascent up the cables or admire it from afar, Half Dome is an experience you’ll never forget. You get to enjoy 20 waterfalls, challenging day hikes and family friendly trails, the world’s tallest falls at 2,425-feet, Yosemite Falls, some of the best spots for rock climbing, to name a few.
Visitors in 2015: 4,155,916
If you want a scenic adventure, explore the Rocky Mountains. Backcountry skiing and sledding in Hidden Valley are common among locals and tourists in the winter. Snowmobiling down the glaciers and steep chutes is another favorite. While you are skiing, you are most likely going to see many elk deer and moose roaming around the park. In the summer, you may even get close to bears, coyotes and cougars. This gorgeous park offers some of the most stunning and diverse mountain sites in the country.
Visitors in 2015: 5,520,736
Whitewater and smoothwater raft trips are a must-do in the Grand Canyon. But the park has so much more to offer. Hike the (dangerous) Bright Angel Trail, which leads hikers from the south rim down to the Colorado River, over the course of 9.5 miles. (But it's 4,380 feet in altitude and can get scorching hot). Visit the Grand Canyon Village for the best lodging options and take a bike tour to see the Grand Canyon on two wheels. Backpack the Deer Creek Thunder River Trail for another ideal way to experience the amazing park.
Visitors in 2015: 10,712,674
For a second year in a row, this “wondrous diversity of life,” as NPS calls it, is the most visited national park in the country - about 600,000 more people than in 2014. The park literally has it all – it’s incredibly kid friendly; its more than 800 miles of hiking trails can satisfy the pickiest hikers (Hiking Safety Tips Everyone Should Know); the scenic views and mountains are majestic; the camping in the spring is all about the water…It’s no wonder Great Smoky Mountains has double the visitors of the second most visited park for at least a second year in a row.