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? To find out, we look to the most popular parks last year, as tallied by the NPS. Coming in first, by far, is Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Nearly 11.4 million people visited the park that borders North Carolina and Tennessee.
The second most popular park of 2017, but only getting a little more than half the visitors as the No. 1 park, was Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, with 6.3 million visitors.
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Third when it comes to most visitors is Utah’s first national park, 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.