From California to Maine, find out which states top the National Park Service’s list for national park visitation across America.
Looking to visit – or make a move – to one of the best U.S. states for national parks? Our National Park Service (NPS) has done a stellar job of preserving, then presenting America’s finest landscapes to the public. So much so that many an Outsider has upended their lives to work in or be close to a national park. Tens of millions more travel from across the planet to visit over 400 NPS sites each year, too.
But which states host the most bang for your buck when it comes to national parks? Last week, The Department of the Interior (DOI) put forth fascinating findings that answers this very question. The DOI’s NPS built a comprehensive report showing where and how Americans spent a whopping $42.5 billion, park by park and state by state.
By breaking down these numbers, we now know which states offer the most ‘bang for your buck’ when it comes to national parks, and we’ve got the top 15 for you below.
Top 15 States for National Park Visitation by Spending
Across 2021, the following states saw the most NPS visitation and spending:
15. Maine ($490 million)
Maine hosts 6 National Park Service sites, 10 National Wildlife Refuges, and 1 National Forest. Chiefly, the “North Atlantic’s Crown Jewel” Acadia National Park, attracts millions of visitors every year.
In addition, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail‘s iconic 2,000+ mile trek all leads to Maine’s Mount Katahdin. There, you’ll find the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument site.
Maine also hosts two international sites for NPS, Roosevelt Campobello & Saint Croix Island, alongside the Maine Acadian Culture site.
14. Washington ($530 million)
Washington is a phenomenal state to live in for national parks. Olympic National Park remains one of the most breathtaking places this Outsider has ever been. Olympic gets most of the attention, but Mount Rainier National Park is just as breathtaking.
Washington also hosts North Cascades National Park, alongside several national historic parks, trails, reserves, and recreation areas, including Fort Vancouver, Nez Pierce, and the Lewis & Clark historic park & trails.
13. Colorado ($560 million)
A destination state for Outsiders from across the world, Colorado is known for it’s stunning mountains and vast open spaces. As far as the National Park Service is concerned, Colorado hosts Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and of course, Rocky Mountain National Park.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In total, Colorado hosts 17 NPS sites.
12. District of Columbia ($601 million)
Washington D.C. may seem a surprising inclusion, but no other place in America hosts the sheer concentration of NPS sites as the District of Columbia. From the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument to Chesapeake Bay, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the White House itself (President’s Park), NPS hosts three dozen sites in the nation’s capital.
11. Alaska ($627 million)
Ah, Alaska. It’s a jaunt for most of us, but few places on earth compare to the splendor of America’s far north. Here, the brown bears of Katmai National Park bring the joy of Fat Bear Week each October.
Yet Alaska has so much more to offer via the National Park Service. Denali National Park & Preserve is a must-visit, alongside Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and Kenai Fjords National Park. And these are only the beginning.
Fascinatingly, Alaska holds over half of America’s national park lands. In total, 17 national park units and 16 national wildlife refuges reside in the state.
10. Massachusetts ($721 million)
Out of 423 National Park Service sites, an impressive 16 are in Massachusetts. From one of America’s most famous shores, Cape Cod’s National Seashore, to one of the most beautiful stretches of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Massachusetts has a lot to offer NPS seekers. The state’s deep American history also means there’s over a dozen national historic sites and monuments to visit.
9. Montana ($729 million)
In addition to sharing Yellowstone National Park with Wyoming, northwest Montana also hosts the unbelievable Glacier National Park. These are two of the most visited (and breathtaking) national parks in the country, and Montana is an undeniable must-visit destination for NPS seekers.
Montana’s section of Yellowstone also hosts some of the most essential gateway communities of national parks. 2022’s horrific Yellowstone Flood Event continues to illustrate the importance of these surrounding hubs to NPS. Visitors spent $630,282,000 in Yellowstone in 2021. But the park and gateway communities’ economic output bested this with an astounding $834,335,000.
8. Florida ($855 million)
When it comes to Florida, most think of the gorgeous Everglades National Park. But in total, Florida hosts 11 NPS sites. Big Cypress National Preserve offers some of the state’s most unique landscapes, while Biscayne National Park remains one of the most unique national parks in America as a totally marine environment chock-full of history from prehistoric tribes and shipwrecks to pineapple farmers and presidents.
Florida’s Key West also hosts Dry Tortugas National Park, a 100-square mile park of mostly open water with seven small islands – all accessible only by boat or seaplane.
7. Tennessee ($870 million)
As Outsider’s home state, Tennessee holds a special place in our hearts. Growing up just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a life-shaping experience, one that led directly to the writing of this article.
GRSM is also the most visited national park in the world and saw the highest contributions to the U.S. economy with a total of $1,292,745,000 in visitor spending in 2021 alone. The park’s ancient Appalachian Mountains also border some of the most lucrative gateway communities in America like Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Dolly Parton’s #1-voted Dollywood theme park empire.
But as Tennesseans know, the Smokies are just the beginning. Our state hosts 15 NPS sites, including the Natchez Trace Parkway, Big South Fork, and the most-traveled section of the Appalachian Trail.
6. Arizona ($1.1 billion)
Arizona hosts over 20 NPS sites, but to understand its place at #6 takes only four words: Grand Canyon National Park.
As one of the great wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is unlike anything else we can experience. Yet Arizona is also home to Petrified Forest National Park and Saguaro National Park, both of which are beyond worth visiting.
In addition, the desert state holds an impressive list of NPS national monuments unlike anything else in America.
5. Wyoming ($1.1 billion)
It can be a bit confusing for those who haven’t been, but many of Yellowstone National Park‘s most famous sites are in Wyoming, not Montana. Among them is the unbelievable Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River.
The state also hosts the indomitable sights of Grand Teton National Park. Devil’s Tower is an unmissable national monument, as well. You’ll also find Fort Laramie National Historic Site, Bighorn Canyon, Fossil Butte National Monument, and the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway in Wyoming.
4. Virginia ($1.3 billion)
Virginia may not be the first state NPS seekers think of, but the beautiful state is home to 22 National Park Service sites in total. From Shenandoah National Park and Great Falls National Park to The Blue Ridge Parkway and their stunning run of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Virginia has a ton to offer outdoorsfolk.
3. Utah ($1.6 billion)
And then there’s Utah, home to 5 of the most iconic national parks in America. They are: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park , Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park.
Whether your passion is wildlife, outdoors, science, adventure, history, scenery, or all of the above, Utah has it in spades. Dinosaur National Monument is another unmissable NPS site with all of the above in one spot, and there’s another dozen sites to go after it. Utah’s rough mountains, vast carved deserts and untamed rivers host 17 NPS sites in all, making it another top destination state for NPS seekers.
2. North Carolina ($1.7 billion)
If you would’ve told us that North Carolina ranked above states like Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming in NPS spending, we wouldn’t have believed you. But NC’s vast stretch of Great Smoky Mountains National Park accounts for immense visitation each year.
All in all, 12 National Park Service sites call North Carolina home, with the state’s gorgeous stretch of the Appalachian Mountains offering untold adventures. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is also here, alongside a stretch of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
1. California ($2.5 billion)
And here she is, Outsiders, the #1 destination state for U.S. National Parks: California. With a whopping 33 NPS sites, it comes as no surprise that California is the only state to top $2 billion in visitor spending in 2021.
But for NPS seekers, it’s also a no-brainer. Yosemite National Park is one of the finest landscapes on the planet. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks offer the world’s largest living organisms. The ancient, lava-formed landscapes of Pinnacles National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park are otherworldly, as is the desert paradise of Joshua Tree National Park.
Speaking of otherworldly, the wild below-sea-level basin of Death Valley National Park is a place you have to see to believe. And then there’s Channel Islands National Park encompassing five remarkable islands and their ocean environment.
Yet it’s Redwood National & State Parks that top Outsider’s list for California; a land of vast giants and some of the most remarkable National Parks Service work in the country today.
For more data from each state, view the National Park Services’ interactive tool. This fascinating set of charts enables users to explore visitor spending, jobs, labor income, value added, and output effects by sector for national, state and local economies and is updated regularly.
Now get out there and explore our incredible U.S. National Parks. Happy trails, Outsiders!