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Visit the Most Popular National Parks for Free

April 21 kicks off National Park Week

Man and woman hiking in Zion National Park


Hiking is one of the many things to do at Zion National Park.

You can get into all U.S. national parks, including the most popular ones, for free on Saturday, April 21, as the National Park Service (NPS) marks the beginning of National Park Week. The NPS has special events planned through Sunday, April 29, including celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22. But free admission is offered only on the first day at the 118 national parks that charge an entry fee.

So where might we see the biggest crowds? According to the NPS tally from last year the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is by far the most popular. Nearly 11.4 million people visited the park that borders North Carolina and Tennessee. The second most popular park of 2017 was Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, with 6.3 million visitors.

Third is Utah’s Zion National Park. Visitors have grown from 2.4 million to 4.5 million since 1998. What’s nice about this park is a free shuttle bus that stops at nine locations throughout the park.

Coming in fourth with 4.4 million visitors last year is Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. A big attraction there is Trail Ridge Road, which crests at over 12,000 feet.

Yosemite National Park in California welcomed 4.3 million visitors, making it the fifth most popular park. While the unique landscape can make it difficult to see parts of it, the park has made accessibility improvements and offers a free shuttle bus in Yosemite Valley.

While currently sixth in popularity with 4.1 million, Yellowstone National Park was originally the first and only national park. President Ulysses S. Grant made the declaration in 1872. The park borders Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. A must-see there is the Old Faithful geyser.

Rounding out the top 10 list:

  • Acadia National Park, 3.5 million
  • Olympic National Park, 3.4 million             
  • Grand Teton National Park, 3.3 million
  • Glacier National Park, 3.3 million        

The National Park Service is opening its gates for free on two other days this year: Sept. 22 and Nov. 11, Veterans Day.

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