Amind the coronavirus that inundated 2020, millions of Americans flocked to national parks as a way to reconnect with the great outdoors. Although the National Park Service saw fewer visitors in 2020 than it did in 2019, millions still ventured to the national lands.
Virginia and North Carolina’s breathtaking Blue Ridge Parkway took home the winner as the most popular national park in 2020. The parkway, which features a 469-mile drive through the two states, saw 14.1 million visitors, according to the agency.
The other most-visited sites in 2020 included Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California with 12.4 million visitors. North Carolina and Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park had 12.1 million visitors. Gateway National Recreation Area in New York and New Jersey had 8.4 million visitors. Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona and Nevada saw 8 million visitors.
Great Smoky Mountains Comes in as Most Popular National Park in 2020
Even though it came in as the third-most visited park in 2020, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the most popular “national park.” Since 1944, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been the most visited national park.
The NPS also reported that it had more than 237 million visitors in 2020 at its 423 parks. This was a 28 percent decrease from 2019. The agency attributes the decrease in visitors to the short-term closures because of the pandemic.
For two months, the NPS closed 66 of its parks. Currently, some historical homes under the agency are still closed as the pandemic looms. Most of the other parks with outdoor spaces remained open amid the pandemic.
Even though coronavirus cases shut down many businesses and kept people home, the NPS broke records in 2020. According to the NPS, 15 of its parks also set new records for visitors, and five parks even broke visitor records set in 2019.
“This past year has reminded us how important national parks and public lands are to overall wellbeing,” NPS’s deputy director, Shawn Benge, said. “Throughout the country, national parks provided close-to-home opportunities for people to spend much needed time outdoors for their physical and psychological health.”