In 2014 an impressive 292.8 million people visited the attractions under the management of the National Park Service, which includes national parks, monuments and seashores. From Maine to California, and many states in between, these iconic parks are some of the best parks in the country if not the world. The top 10 parks are each popular for different reasons and represent the beauty and diversity of America.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee & North Carolina
Number of Visitors in 2014: 10,099,276
This 522,419-acre park has breathtaking beauty and world class diversity of animal and plant life that dates back several centuries. Most people take in the views from the scenic highway that runs along the mountains but the park also offers more than 800 miles of hiking trails. There are no motels or rental cabins located within the national park other than Le Conte Lodge. The lodge is located on the crest of Mount Le Conte and can only be reached by hiking. The park offers different types of campgrounds for visitors.
The park has several partner organizations that offer a wide variety of programs, including guided hikes, summer camps, family adventures, naturalist workshops, and information on butterflies, wildflowers, salamanders, elk, bears, and so much more! Ranger-led programs are also available in the summer and fall.
Approximately 1,500 black bears live in the park. Bears can be found throughout the park, but are easiest to spot in open areas such as Cades Cove which has historic buildings and is a popular part of the park.
2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Number of Visitors in 2014: 4,756,770
The infamous Grand Canyon National Park has beckoned people to its cutaway gorges for hundreds of years. From Native Americans who considered it a holy site to the masses of tourists that visit today to take in the grandeur, the Grand Canyon and its almost two billion years of geological history is a landmark whose importance is evident at first sight. Going on a hike is a wonderful way to experience some of the canyon’s rich natural beauty and immense size. However, even if you are an avid hiker, hiking the Grand Canyon is very different from most other hiking experiences. A hike into the Grand Canyon will test your physical and mental endurance.
There are different river trip opportunities through the Grand Canyon National Park, including professionally guided raft trips available to the public and often reserved a year or two in advance. The park offers all types of guided tours for visitors. Some of the more popular ones include bus tours, guided hike tours, mule tours, jeep and van tours, and air tours. From Yavapai Point on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the drop to the Colorado River below is 4,600 feet (1,400 m). The elevation at river level is 2,450 feet (750 m) above sea level. Without the Colorado River, a perennial river in a desert environment, the Grand Canyon would not exist.
Lodging includes South Rim Lodge at the Grand Canyon Village which is open all year, Phantom Ranch which is located at the bottom of Grand Canyon and is also open all year, and the North Rim Lodge which is open May 15 through October 15 each year. Advance campground reservations can be made for two of the three NPS campgrounds within Grand Canyon National Park. The NPS campgrounds do not have RV hook-ups. There is only one RV campground within the park with full hook-ups. It is located in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim and is a concessioner-operated RV park with full hook-ups called Trailer Village. The NPS Desert View Campground, on the South Rim of the park and 25 miles to the east of Grand Canyon Village, is based on first-come, first-served only. No reservations are accepted. In order to understand your options it is recommended you stop at the Visitors Center to find out how best for you to enjoy this national treasure.
3. Yosemite National Park, California
Number of Visitors in 2014: 3,882,642
Yosemite National Park offers breathtaking waterfalls, giant sequoias and the notoriously beautiful Yosemite Valley, which are just a few of the picturesque attractions of this 1200 square mile park. Almost 95 percent of the park is a designated wilderness area. Protecting Yosemite in 1890 was a key step for the national park system and the park remains a jewel today.
When it opened to the public on May 29, 1926, the Yosemite Museum became the first museum building in the national park system, and its educational objectives served as a model for parks nationwide.
4. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Number of Visitors in 2014: 3,513,484
The very first national park established in the world, Yellowstone was founded to preserve the magnificent geysers and other geothermal wonders abundant in the area. Old Faithful and the majority of the world’s geysers are preserved here. Over 300 geysers at Yellowstone are the main reason the park was established in 1872 as America’s first national park. The creation of this park spread worldwide. A mountain wildland, home to grizzly bears, wolves, and herds of bison and elk, the park is the core of one of the last, nearly intact, natural ecosystems in the earth’s temperate zone.
There are 12 different campgrounds at Yellowstone. There are 11 restaurants and cafeterias in the park. Activities include horseback riding, llama packing, boating, fishing, guided tours, ranger led activities, hiking, and wildlife watching.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Number of Visitors in 2014: 3,434,751
Stunning vistas and native wildlife delight hikers of all skill levels at the fifth most visited national park in the country. Visitors look forward to brilliant wildflowers, camping under starry nights, and catching a glimpse of elk, moose, bears, cougars, coyotes and more wildlife. With more than 300 miles of hiking trails fit for all skill levels, there’s nothing quite like seeing the Rockies on foot. Activities include boating, fishing, horseback riding, scenic drive, wildlife watching, and interesting visitor centers. There are five different campgrounds and also backcountry camping. There are no lodges and only one restaurant at the park so picnicking is recommended.