Even though the National Park Service (NPS) saw fewer visitors last year than in 2019, hundreds of millions of people still went to the agency’s parks in 2020.
In fact, the NPS’s most popular site last year, the Blue Ridge Parkway — a 469-mile drive through Virginia and North Carolina, had 14.1 million visitors, according to the agency’s 2020 visitation numbers.
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Following the Blue Ridge Parkway, the NPS’s other most-visited sites in 2020 included Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California, which had 12.4 million visitors; Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, which had 12.1 million visitors, Gateway National Recreation Area in New York and New Jersey, which had 8.4 million visitors; and Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona and Nevada, which had 8 million visitors.
The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina was the most popular NPS park in 2020, with 14.1 million visitors.
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Though it was only the third-most visited NPS site overall, Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the most popular “national park” out of the agency’s 62 specifically designated national parks. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been the most visited national park since 1944, according to the NPS.
Yellowstone National Park in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, followed in second place for national parks, with 3.8 million visitors and Zion National Park in Utah came in third, with 3.6 million visitors.
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Overall, the NPS reported that it had more than 237 million visitors last year at its 423 parks across the country.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee was the most popular national park, with 12.1 million visitors last year.
That’s a 28% decrease from 2019, which the NPS attributed to temporary closures and other restrictions that were put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
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According to the NPS, 66 parks in the National Park System were closed for two months or more and some locations — mostly historic homes — are still closed. However, most of the other NPS sites with outdoor spaces remained open during the pandemic.
Despite the pandemic and lower numbers across the board, the NPS said that 15 parks set new records for visitors last year and five parks even broke visitor records they had set in 2019.
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“This past year has reminded us how important national parks and public lands are to overall wellbeing,” Shawn Benge, NPS’s deputy director said in a statement. “Throughout the country, national parks provided close-to-home opportunities for people to spend much needed time outdoors for their physical and psychological health.”