This parkway ranks as the most-visited national park again in 2023: new NPS data

(NEXSTAR) — The U.S.’s national parks saw yet another year of increased visitation, despite severe weather at many of them, continuing a trend that started during the pandemic.

The National Park Service released 2023 visitation figures for the 400 sites that track visitors on Thursday. Across them, 325.5 million recreation visits were recorded last year. That’s up 13 million over 2022 but about 2 million shy of 2019’s total.

Almost two dozen parks (the broad term to describe all NPS sites, even if they aren’t a park) broke visitation records — that includes some you may have yet to visit.

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“From Kaloko Honokōhau National Historic Park in Hawai’i to Congaree National Park in South Carolina, parks are attracting more visitors each year to learn about our shared history,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said in a news release. “Our national parks tell our shared American story. I’m glad visitors are finding hidden gems, exploring in the off-season and finding new ways to have a great time in our national parks.”

Those that broke previous visitation records include Joshua Tree and Dry Tortugas, both national parks, as well as these 18 sites:

Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site

Kaloko Honokōhau National Historic Park

Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Memorial

Congaree National Park

Keweenaw National Historic Park

Minidoka National Historic Site

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Mojave National Preserve

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Lincoln Memorial

New River Gorge National Park & Preserve

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

Longfellow House Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site

Nez Perce National Historic Park

John Muir National Historic Site

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park

Ninety Six National Historic Site

While more than 70 sites received over 1 million visits in 2023, there is, of course, only one that had the most visits: Blue Ridge Parkway.

More than 16.7 million recreation visits were reported at the park, which features a series of forested lands connected by a 469-mile stretch of roadway traipsing through the Appalachian Highlands of Virginia into North Carolina’s western tip. That’s roughly 1 million more visits than Blue Ridge Parkway saw in 2022, and almost 2 million more visits than the next site, the Golden Gate National Recreational Area.

Blue Ridge Parkway may not be the first national park that comes to your mind when you envision them, but it has consistently been among the most frequented for the last two decades. The site saw its most visits in 2002 with more than 21 million guests. Since then, 2014 is the only year visitation has dipped below 14 million for the parkway. Between 2011 and 2023, Blue Ridge Parkway was the most visited eight times — the Golden Gate National Recreation Area topped the list during the five other years.

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Unsurprisingly, Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited national park on record, according to NPS data. And if that isn’t enough, the park is the longest road planned as a single unit in the U.S., according to NPS.

If you follow the parkway to its southernmost end it will bring you to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the third-most visited national park in 2023.

Great Smoky Mountains is the only site with “national park” in its title that landed among the 10 most-visited NPS sites in 2023. That full list is:

  1. Blue Ridge Parkway: 16.7 million visits

  2. Golden Gate National Recreational Area: 14.9 million visits

  3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 13.3 million visits

  4. Gateway National Recreational Area: 8.7 million visits

  5. Gulf Islands National Seashore: 8.3 million visits

  6. Lincoln Memorial: 8.1 million visits

  7. George Washington Memorial Parkway: 7.4 million visits

  8. Natchez Trace Parkway: 6.8 million visits

  9. Lake Mead National Recreational Area: 5.8 million visits

  10. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: 5.2 million visits

When ranked based on the park unit type, the NPS reports 28% of its total visits were to true national parks, while 16% were to national recreation areas. You can view the NPS’s full data here, but it’s worth noting that the data is preliminary.

The agency said that it saw more visits in the spring and fall than in years past, and that the “recent trend in recreation visits suggests a return to more typical visitation patterns post-pandemic.”

Hoping to check out a new national park (or parkway, or recreational area, or seashore, or some other site type) this year? There are five days left this year in which the NPS will waive entrance fees at sites that would otherwise have one.

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