2021’s Most Visited National Park System Location Isn’t Quite a Park

by Megan Molseed
(Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The National Park System (NPS) has released the 2021 National Park visitation numbers. According to the numbers, many of our favorite national park areas shattered records for the number of visitors touring the areas. And, the most visited national park isn’t even officially a park.

Rather, this area is a series of many smaller parks connected by one breathtaking parkway. A parkway that stretches nearly 500 miles over some of our country’s most spectacular areas – the Appalachian Highlands.

The Famously Breathtaking Blue Ridge Parkway Was the Most Visited Area Within the National Park System In 2021

According to the National Park System, 44 of the 423 parks featured within the system set records for the number of visitors in 2021. Six of these parks even broke records set in 2020. But, one area – the Blue Ridge Parkway – pulled in the top number of visits last year with 15.9 million visitors touring the scenic area throughout 2021.

Sure, we’ve all heard of the greats. Parks within the National Park system such as Yellowstone National Park, Zion, Yosemite, the awe-inspiring Great Smoky Mountains, or the Grand Canyon certainly remain national favorites. Each of the breathtaking national parks throughout our country certainly brings in multiple visitors each year. However, it seems the Blue Ridge Parkway has been the most intriguing among the bunch for tourists.

The Most Visited National Park Takes Visitors Through Some Of the Nations Most Beautiful Landscapes

The Blue Ridge Parkway features a series of parks along with a nearly 500 mile-long stretch of roadway through the Appalachian Highlands of Virginia and into North Carolina. In fact, if one takes the Blue Ridge Parkway down to its southernmost end, visitors would head straight into another national park favorite, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In fact, according to the NPS, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the second-visited national park just behind Blue Ridge Parkway.

While touring the Appalachian mountains, visitors are surrounded by some of the oldest mountains in the world. However, Blue Ridge Parkway visitors have even more opportunities for some breathtaking sites during a tour of the parkway. While driving along the scenic stretch, visitors driving through Blue Ridge Parkway can visit the highest mountain peak in the eastern U.S. This peak is located on Mount Mitchell.

Visitors can also see the oldest river in North America, ironically named New River; the Linville Gorge, the deepest gorge east of the Grand Canyon; and the highest waterfall east of the Rockies, the Whitewater Falls.

Blue Ridge Parkway Set Records Twenty Years Ago

The Blue Ridge Parkway saw its highest number of visitors in 2002. During this tourism season, the scenic route saw more than 21 million visitors drive across the breathtaking highway. In 2014 the parkway did see a dip in visitors with only 14 million recorded visitors during the season.

Between 2011 and 2021 Blue Ridge Parkway had the honor of being the most visited national park another six times. The other years say the Golden Gate National Recreation Area taking the top honors for most visitors during the tourism seasons.