More than 282 million people visited America’s national parks in 2012, an increase of more than 3 million over 2011.
It was the sixth highest annual visitation in the history of the National Park Service, despite nearly 2 million fewer visitors as a result of park closures caused by Hurricane Sandy.
Since 1916, the National Park System has recorded more than 12 billion visits.
“The National Park Service strives to represent all that America has to offer,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.
“People come to national parks for many reasons—for recreation and to learn about American history by strolling through a battlefield. They come to listen to a park ranger at Independence National Historical Park and marvel at the Continental Congress. And people come to national parks for old-fashioned enjoyment of the great outdoors.”
National parks capture the story the United States, from its earliest days to the modern era.
Jarvis said, “The dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial and the opening of the César E. Chávez National Monument in 2012 help us to continue to explore how our nation of many faces and many voices has developed.”
The challenges left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy will become part of American history, too. The storm slammed into 70 national park sites from North Carolina to Maine. Some parks closed briefly, others for weeks while the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York remain closed for repairs.
“The Statue of Liberty will reopen by the Fourth of July,” Jarvis said.
“It’ll take longer at the Ellis Island Museum. As we rebuild we keep sustainability front of mind. It is clear that our changing climate will bring more severe weather events, especially to coastal areas, and we must repair our iconic national parks to survive future storms.”
There are familiar park names in the Top 10 lists.
Gateway National Recreation Area in New York lost nearly 1.2 million visitors from 2011 because of Hurricane Sandy yet still made the Top 10 list of most visited National Park Service sites.
Most Visited Places of the National Park System (2012)
1. Blue Ridge Parkway (15,205,059)
2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area (14,540,338)
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (9,685,829)
4. George Washington Memorial Parkway (7,425,577)
5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area (6,285,439)
6. Lincoln Memorial (6,191,361)
7. Natchez Trace Parkway (5,560,668)
8. Gateway National Recreation Area (5,043,863)
9. Gulf Islands National Seashore (4,973,462)
10. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (4,970,802)
Most Visited National Parks (2012)
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (9,685,829)
2. Grand Canyon National Park (4,421,352)
3. Yosemite National Park (3,853,404)
4. Yellowstone National Park (3,447,729)
5. Rocky Mountain National Park (3,229,617)
6. Zion National Park (2,973,607)
7. Olympic National Park (2,824,908)
8. Grand Teton National Park (2,705,256)
9. Acadia National Park (2,431,052)
10. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (2,299,722)
National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics
National Park Service sites receive approximately 280 million visitors each year.
Historic and current visitor use statistics are available for 374 of the nearly 400 units included in the National Park System. (Statistics are not available for some areas; for example, those with joint administration of federal and non-federal lands.)
National Park Service
Since 1916, the American people have entrusted the National Park Service with the care of their national parks. With the help of volunteers and park partners, the park service is proud to safeguard these special places and to share their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year.
More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities.
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.
—Wallace Stegner, 1983