America’s National Parks are More Popular Than Ever (and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is #1)

Sunset in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the crown jewel of America's national parks.
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With its 100th birthday fast approaching, the National Park Service has plenty to celebrate. A recent analysis of last year’s data found that over 300 million people visited America’s national parks and other NPS sites in 2015 – an all time high. When compared to 2014, that’s an increase of 14 million visitors!

Here at Visit My Smokies, we were thrilled to hear that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was once again the most visited national park in the country. Let’s take a look at what is making the nation’s parks, and the GSMNP in particular, more popular than ever.

What Made 2015 a Great Year for Visiting National ParksFall leaves line the path to a scenic bridge in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

What explains the National Park Service’s record numbers in 2015? Low gas prices definitely didn’t hurt. Most people who travel to a national park drive there, so visitation tends to be linked to the cost of gas. With fuel prices below $3 for most of the country, people were ready to hit the road last year.

The great weather also likely played a role. Most of America’s national parks had a lovely spring and fall season last year – the GSMNP certainly did! When the weather is nice, it’s hard to pass up a chance to spend some time in the great outdoors.

Additionally, the National Park Service has put more effort into its social media outreach. In anticipation of the centennial, the NPS has encouraged Twitter and Instagram users to share pictures of their adventures in national parks with #FindYourPark. With more and more of our leisure time taking place online, the Internet is the best place to reach potential park visitors, particularly millennials.

A male elk making a mating call in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.Top 10 National Parks in the United States

With 10,712,674 visitors in 2015, the GSMNP was by far the most popular national park in the United States. The country’s second most popular national park, the Grand Canyon, had only half as many visitors. The dominance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been a long standing trend, as you can see in this look at America’s top 10 national parks over the past 20 years:

National Park Average Annual Visitors (1996 – 2015)
Great Smoky Mountains (NC, TN) 9,572,089
Grand Canyon (AZ) 4,449,030
Yosemite (CA) 3,615,372
Olympic (WA) 3,216,918
Yellowstone (WY, MT, ID) 3,155,627
Rocky Mountain (CO) 3,061,745
Cuyahoga Valley (OH) 2,803,247
Zion (UT) 2,674,496
Grand Teton (WY) 2,620,022
Acadia (ME) 2,421,256

Why the GSMNP is America’s Favorite Park

A number of factors have made the Great Smoky Mountains National Park #1. The GSMNP has benefited from a wonderful location near Interstate Highway 40, making the park very accessible from cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, and Louisville. In fact, the Smokies are a day’s drive from roughly 60% of the nation’s population!

The GSMNP is also one of the few national parks that does not have an entrance fee. Regardless of their financial situation, anyone and everyone can enjoy the Smokies. To learn the story behind the GSMNP’s free status, check out our blog: Why is There No Great Smoky Mountains National Park Entrance Fee?.

Of course, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s immense popularity can also be attributed toLaurel Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. the sheer number of things to see and do in the park. With over 800 miles of hiking trails, 2,900 miles of fishing streams, dozens of picnic areas, and a variety of scenic drives, there is never a dull moment when you visit the GSMNP. For an in depth guide to the Smokies, check out our Great Smoky Mountains National Park page!

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