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Are National Parks Getting Too Overcrowded To Visit? 

Published on May 5th, 2023 by Lynne Fedorick

crowded national parks

Are National Parks Getting Too Crowded To Visit?

It’s well-known that some national parks have been victims of their own popularity in the last few years. Traffic congestion and lack of parking are two of the biggest problems cited by visitors and park wardens in the past year. It seems everyone wants to get out and enjoy the diverse natural experiences that our amazing national parks have to offer. However, it’s pretty difficult to commune with nature when you’re sitting in traffic, unable to find a parking spot.

The situation seems desperate in some cases. There was even a popular video of visitors fighting over a parking spot in Yellowstone National Park that made its way around social media. And humans aren’t the only ones losing their cool over the crowds.

Every year, tourists get injured and/or killed by fed-up bison in national parks when they get too close. In a recent attack that resulted in serious injuries to a man and a boy, park officials noted that the bison had spent the day grazing with constant crowds of people approaching him for photos. The bison showed amazing self-restraint all day. However, by the end of the day, the bison was starting to show definite signs of agitation before finally charging at a man and boy who ventured too close.

The crowds at national parks have left many Americans wondering if it’s even worth checking them out anymore.

What were the busiest national parks in 2022?

The National Park Service reports that in 2022, national parks received 312 million recreation visits. That adds up to 15 million more visitors than they had in 2021. It’s a real onslaught of people for the parks to deal with. But let’s look closer at the numbers. All told, the US has 424 national park sites, including national monuments. Of all of those parks, just eight parks got 81,120,000 (26%) of the total visitors in 2022. So it seems a few parks are getting a lot of usage.

Furthermore, visitors tend to flock to these parks for a few key attractions close to parking lots and roadways. This mass migration to certain areas leaves many of the thousands of square miles of these parks unused.

The most popular parks in the US

These eight parks attracted 26% of national park visitors in 2021. Each of them offers a spectacular and unique natural experience that everyone wants to enjoy. However, nobody goes to a national park to experience the crowds. It’s safe to say that most of us visit these amazing places to escape crowds and enjoy the wonders of nature in relative solitude.

  1. Great Smoky Mountains NP, 12.94 million visitors
  2. Grand Canyon NP, 4.73 million visitors
  3. Zion NP, 4.69 million visitors
  4. Rocky Mountain NP, 4.30 million visitors
  5. Acadia NP, 3.97 million visitors
  6. Yosemite NP, 3.67 million visitors
  7. Yellowstone NP 3.29 million visitors
  8. Joshua Tree NP, 3.06 million visitors

While these parks are definitely busy, you definitely shouldn’t avoid them. There are ways you can still enjoy these parks without having to endure crowds.

1. Try visiting in shoulder seasons or during the off-season

National parks are often busiest in the summer months. If you visit between November and May, you’ll avoid the biggest crowds.

2. Arrive early in the morning

Most people arrive at the parks mid-morning to early afternoon. That can mean that you can often find parking and avoid the crowds by arriving before 9 am.

National parks are often huge. As a result, they usually have multiple entrances. Where possible, find out which entrances are the least popular. When it’s practical, you might be able to use an alternate park entrance to beat the crowds.

As mentioned before, crowds usually flock to the same breathtaking park attractions. It’s said that the majority of park visitors stay within 100 feet of a roadway. However, most parks have multiple attractions that are worth visiting. Plan your trip ahead of time on the NPS website and with RV LIFE Trip Wizard to find places off the beaten path.

National parks that don’t get crowded

Alternatively, you can always visit one of the 416 national park sites that aren’t as popular. They all boast at least one thing that’s so amazing that the National Park Service thought it was worth preserving. Here are 11 less popular national park sites that you’ll want to check out.

  1. Isle Royale, Michigan
  2. Dry Tortugas, Florida
  3. Saratoga NHP, New York
  4. Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska
  5. Oregon Caves National Monument, Oregon
  6. City Of Rocks, Idaho
  7. Lava Beds National Monument, California
  8. Congaree, South Carolina
  9. Guadalupe Mountains, Texas
  10. Voyageurs, Minnesota
  11. Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico

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1 thought on “Are National Parks Getting Too Overcrowded To Visit? ”

  1. My wife and I spend 6 to 8 months on the road each year and have visited about 80% of our national parks. As you have mentioned yes they are getting harder to visit, but not necessarily due to the crowds. In many NP in order to enter, one has to have a concessionaires reservation! It seems to me that the concessionaires are running the national parks. I have tried to visit a number of our national parks, especially out west, and without a reservation with a concessionaire and I am NOT allowed into the NP. Concessionaires have grown so powerful that they seem to control the parks. It boils down to money like so many other things.
    Our national parks are great landmarks to this great country, and our government needs to take back control of the national parks. We send billions of dollars to other countries when we could spend some of that money here in our own nation in our national parks.
    This is my observation and wonder if others feel the same. I am a strong believer in the National Park system and it saddens me to see what is happening to our National Parks!
    I live by : “DLIA– Discover Life In America”


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