As many national parks broke attendance records through the first 11 months in 2015, parks are bracing for even greater crowds in 2016, when the National Parks Service turns 100 years old.
Overall visitation to parks, monuments, and other sites administered by the National Parks Service is on track to hit 300 million in 2015, topping last year’s all-time high of nearly 293 million, according to a Parks Service news release.
Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s longest linear park that runs along part of the Appalachian Mountains, welcomed the most visitors in 2015 — 14,184,645 people. It’s consistently the most-visited site in the National Park System, closely followed by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and which welcomed 13,851,213 visitors in 2015.
In 2015 through November, attendance at Carlsbad Caverns in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico was 428,655, nearly 15 percent higher than the same period in 2014. The park is famous for its caves, the most famous of which is its namesake, Carlsbad Cavern.
Utah’s first national park and one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions saw 3,551,343 visitors in 2015—15 percent more than in 2014. The Narrows in Zion Canyon is one of the most popular areas in the park.
10. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Attendance at Crater Lake in 2015 was 612,142, which is 16.5 percent higher than the previous year. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S. and the seventh-deepest in the world.
The Grand Canyon is perhaps the most famous of American parks, and was the second most highly visited national park in 2015, with 5,244,594 visitors. That’s about 16.5 percent more than in 2014.
8. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone saw nearly 17 percent more visitors in 2015 than in 2014, with a yearly attendance of 4,077,241. The park was established in 1872 as America’s first national park.
Canyonlands was visited by 624,279 people in 2015, far less than Utah’s most popular park Zion—but nearly 17 percent more than its 2014 attendance. Island in the Sky is the park’s most accessible district, offering stunning views from sandstone cliffs that stand 1,000 feet high.
Capitol Reef saw 930,161 visitors in 2015, 20 percent more than in 2014. The area was named for white rock domes that look like the U.S. Capitol building and rocky ridges that look like marine reefs.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The Rocky Mountain park saw 4,062,132 guests in 2015, 21 percent more than in 2014. The park includes some of the highest mountains in the continental U.S.
4. Redwood National Park, California
Redwood National Park saw 496,304 visitors in 2015, 21 percent more than in 2014.
Of all Utah’s national parks, Bryce saw the biggest percentage jump in attendance in 2015—1,711,436 people came through its entrance gates, which is nearly 22 percent more than in 2014.
Bryce claims it is home to the world’s largest collection of hoodoos.
2. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Surrounded by Lake Superior, Isle Royale is far off the beaten path and is said to offer “unparalleled solitude”—indeed, only 18,636 people visited in 2015. But that’s 28 percent more than in 2014, indicating the park is gaining in popularity quickly. Getting there isn’t easy: visitors must arrive by boat or seaplane.
In the California desert, Joshua Tree saw a record number of visitors in 2014, and then blew right by that number in 2015. As of the end of November, attendance was 1,827,506, 30 percent higher than the same period in 2014. For the first time in its 74-year history, Joshua Tree National Park topped the 2-million visitor mark, reaching the milestone Monday, December 28.
Please Note: This is part of an on-going series on America’s National Parks Centennial
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