How many national parks exist is a personal matter and there are many internet voices. Estimates of its exact number of units range from 61 to 63. Most agree that there are 63 national parks, but if you list the most visited, you have to go back to 2021. In that year, a whopping 12 million people visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so it’ s the champ. In descending order the others are Zion, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park, Acadia , Grand Teton National Park, Yosemite, and Indiana Dunes. One internet voice attempts to list the 2022 most visited national parks and comes up with in descending order from 10 to one Indiana Dunes, The Grand Tetons, Acadia, Yosemite, the Gateway Arch in St Louis, Yellowstone, Zion, Rocky Mountain, The Grand Canyon, and the Great Smoky Mountains. The very popular Glacier National Park that Ruth & I tried to visit didn’t even make several lists despite its popularity.
There is little doubt that the country with the most national Parks is Australia. Most agree that there are 685 national parks there. Queensland reportedly has 237 of them, and New South Wales has 235. The Number 2 country is disputed. I believe it is Thailand with 147 national parks. Canada has 47, and China that some consider #2 actually has 11.
Here is our story, and it’s one of those good news and more good news propositions despite what happened. We learned when we planned our trip to Glacier National Park that it had full closure after opening on May 26 and officially closing on October 1, 2022. We arrived in Kalispell, MT and headed to Glacier on Friday, October 14, 2022, feeling pretty certain that we would get in and see what we wanted. Well, it was completely closed.
We should have paid more attention. Single lane closures began on September 6, 2022, for road construction, but no one we talked to knew that Glacier National Park, if you take into account its biggest attraction, the Going to the Sun Road, was completely closed. The shuttles that carried people all season operated from July 1, 2022, until Labor Day. The popular national parks have gotten much more difficult to visit over time. This Park should have been opened after September for a month or more but it was closed. We had read that reduced services may be offered through late September, but that was not to be. The camp grounds were empty, barriers were up on all roads, and the 3 visitor centers were closed. We expected the Park to be opened until the end of October, but it had closed for road construction already. The weather was not a factor. It was still beautiful and clear. We thought that this National Park would be opened until the first snow arrived, and others shared that opinion. The lines to get into the Park were long that day.
It was said of Highway 89 on the other side of the Park and outside of it, “Expect traffic delays during the summer of 2022.” But there was no mention of closure. Reduced services may be offered through late September, the literature promised, but the 6 entry booths into Glacier were still opened and fully staffed. We got plenty to read including a Park brochure but we were told that driving to Lake McDonald was possible but that all other services were closed already. It was our fault, but even the staff at our hotel in Kalispell expected the Park to be opened through October. Significant delays were expected, but full closure was unexpected. The Glacier National Park newspaper that I was given at the booth, Issue #2, had a boxed in construction plan with lots of yellow spaces (30 areas) that listed projects and predicted delays and partial closures. However, the Park was expected to stay opened to visitors. We should have paid attention to the warning “All services are subject to change without notice.” but all visitor centers, Apgar, Logan Pass and St. Mary, were now closed as were reception centers that had people in them but were not opened for business. I assume that Waterton Glacier International Peace Park in Canada that is attached to our national park was not affected, but we did not find out if it was opened.
We plan to return to Glacier in the upcoming summer, so we will still get to see what we missed in October in a national park we had visited years before and loved. But our attempt to see it in the fall of 2022 was not to be.