The most popular National park is Zion. I find that easy to believe. A few years ago Ruth & I tried to enter it and gave up because we could not park. We learned while there that Zion had found it necessary to restrict travel into it and that everyone had to take a shuttle bus. It was high season at the time, and we learned that individual entry was still possible off season, whenever that was. We tried to enter early the next spring, but the shuttle busses were already in operation, but we got lucky. Despite everything, we got to see much of Zion, and traveling on the shuttle was actually fine because we got to talk to so many other visitors.
In an average year, Zion attracts 4.5 million people. #2 is Yosemite with 4.4 million annual entrants followed by Yellowstone with about 4 million annually. Our best trip to Yellowstone was in late autumn at the very end of the regular season. The weather was iffy but OK and there were few other visitors. It was definitely worth the risk, but by the end of that week with friends from Australia, we were traveling in snow. Halloween night in Elko was fun.
According to CNN and several other raters, the most popular National Park is the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina. The last time we tried to enter it, we gave up and turned around after waiting for hours in an unmoving line of traffic. It was the right decision. If you plan to go to any popular National Park, plan well in advance of travel. Never assume.
For her book Inspired by the National Parks, Donna DeSoto interviewed a long-time park ranger in Smoky Mountains named Jamie Sanders who said, “During the busy season, from May through October, there is never a dull moment.” She goes on to talk about car accidents, arrests, bear incidents, and emergency medical situations. She talks about a total shutdown in 2013 during which the park was closed for 2 weeks. Rangers noted the return to the wildlife that they experienced. I assume that the virus shutdowns of the past couple of months have been restorative to our National Parks.
Acadia National Park in Maine, which came in 4th-most-visited on one list I accessed, was voted the #1 place to visit by USA Today 2 years before Donna DeSoto’s book was published. About the same time, Good Morning America selected Acadia as its favorite national park. It is especially beautiful. Wanda Moran, the long-time park ranger whom DeSoto interviewed, said that her favorite place and view there was from Beech Mountain. Ranger comments are very helpful to potential visitors and one of the strengths of DeSoto’s book.
PS The photos used today were taken in South Dakota’s Badlands, divided Saguaro, and very dry Lassen National Parks.