Discover the 10 Most Popular National Parks (And When to Avoid Crowds)

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Updated: July 16, 2022
Image Credit sumikophoto/Shutterstock.com
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Suppose you’re a lover of great adventures and fancy yourself a bit of a discoverer. In that case, you will want to know about the most popular national parks in the United States – from habitats with unique natural wonders to spectacular terrain and icy glaciers.

A visit to national parks offers an excellent opportunity to find solace and inspiration in a natural environment. They are an oasis amidst concrete jungles, with majestic animals, stunning scenery, jungle bridges, and nature trails. 

Choosing which natural wonders to visit is challenging, with 423 parks in the National Park System. To help, the National Park Service compiled a list of the most popular national parks using expert insights and reader votes, as well as factors like breathtaking natural landmarks and accessibility.

This article will look at the 10 most famous national parks that are perfect for relaxing your mind and getting close to nature. Read on to discover when it’s the best time to visit to avoid crowds.

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Laurel Falls
Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers stunning views of waterfalls, streams, rivers, and wildlife.

Weidman Photography/Shutterstock.com

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
LocationNorth Carolina and Tennessee
Size522,427 acres
Animals to SeeBlack Bear, salamanders, elks, coyotes, and white-tail deer 
Attractions to SeeClingman’s Dome and the Appalachian Trail

Want to stroll along the meandering paths or hike into the forest trails to soak in the serenity and lush greenery? The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a perfect choice to steal a few hours in a sprawling landscape that’s surrounded by lush forest and an abundance of wildflowers that bloom year-round.

The park offers stunning views of waterfalls, streams, rivers, and wildlife. Summer and fall are the best times to visit the park, though July is the busiest month of the summer season, while October is less crowded.

2. Zion National Park

zion national park
Zion National Park is a haven for nature lovers due to its rich biodiversity and thriving ecosystems.

Asif Islam/Shutterstock.com

Zion National Park
LocationSouthwest Utah
Size146,597 acres
Animals to SeeMountain lions, rock squirrels, bighorn sheep, foxes, and mule deer
Attractions to SeeVirgin River, Steep Red Cliffs, Emerald Pools, Angels Landing, and the Observation Point

Zion National Park is a haven for nature lovers due to its rich biodiversity and thriving ecosystems. The place is covered with steep red cliffs, making it one of the best parks to unravel the mysteries of nature. The park is less crowded between December and April, allowing you to enjoy the spectacular vistas in the fresh, crisp winter air.

The expansive canyon is the highlight of the park. It’s around 2,000 ft deep and offers hikers an opportunity to explore its floors, also known as “The Narrows.” Visitors are permitted to swim in the Virgin River.

3. Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park - John Moulton Barn
Grand Teton National Park is home to moose, bison, black bears, elk, grizzly bears, and pronghorns.

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Grand Teton National Park
LocationWyoming
Size310,000 acres
Animals to SeeMoose, bison, black bears, elk, grizzly bears, pronghorn
Attractions to SeeSnake River Overlook, Moose Wilson Road, Schwabacher Landing, Jenny Lake Trail, Signal Mountain, and the Hidden Falls

Grand Teton National Park is among the best places to visit if you want the freedom to take more rugged trails. Float the Snake River and explore hundreds of miles of trails along the mountains that led to the park’s creation. Rising above a scene rich with pristine lakes, breathtaking alpine terrain, and unique wildlife, the park stands as a monument to the people who fought to protect it.

Fall is the best time to visit the park. It’s less crowded, and all park activities are open and accessible. You will also be able to see how the fall season brings out a burst of bright colors and enjoy the quiet of this amazing place.

4. Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited parks in the country.

Anna Krivitskaya/Shutterstock.com

Rocky Mountain National Park
LocationColorado
Size265,461 acres
Animals to SeeMountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, deer, pikas, marmots, elks, and bighorn sheep
Attractions to SeeBear Lake, Longs Peak, Sprague Lake, Alberta Falls, and Dream Lake

World-renowned for its gorgeous scenery, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited parks in the country. Make sure you hike or drive through the famous Old Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road and get stunning views of the park from the overlooks.

Many people visit the park between June and September when the snow has already melted, and the hiking trails and attractions are also accessible. It’s also less crowded during these months. Many trails are accessible by snowshoe during the winter.

5. Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park in Winter
Grand Canyon National Park is located in Arizona.

Kobby Dagan/Shutterstock.com

Grand Canyon National Park
LocationArizona
Size1,218,375 acres
Animals to SeeMountain lions, desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, gray foxes, and coyotes
Attractions to SeeMather Point Overlook, Havasu Falls, South Rim Trail, Grand Canyon Railway, and Yavapai Observation Station

The Grand Canyon National Park is, without a doubt, the most popular national park in the country. It’s home to the immense Grand Canyon, with its layered red rock formations that reveal millions of years of geological history.

You will discover a lot of fantastic vistas and a protected natural environment during your canyon visit. The park is extremely crowded in June when schools close, so plan your visit before then if possible.

6. Glacier National Park

Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve
Glacier National Park is home to spectacular lakes and alpine meadows.

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Glacier National Park
LocationMontana
Size1,013,322 acres
Animals to SeeGrizzly bears, coyotes, mountain goats, beavers, and pikas
Attractions to SeeLake McDonald, Avalanche Lake, Going-to-the-Sun Road, Logan Pass, and Grinnell Glacier

Glacier National Park is also known as the land of “vast wilderness and glacier-curved peaks.” The park is home to spectacular lakes and alpine meadows. It’s one of the best places to tour if you are seeking wilderness steeped in human history.

Visit the park from late June to mid-September to relive old days through historic chalets and get ample time to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Prepare to be awestruck by the magnificent vistas as you explore the photogenic Hidden Lake and the backcountry Chalet.

7. Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is well known for its glacier-scoured granite peaks, rocky beaches, and wildlife.

Eric Urquhart/Shutterstock.com

Acadia National Park
LocationMaine
Size49,075 acres
Animals to SeeOtters, fishers, coyotes, bobcats, porcupines, beaver, foxes, minks, snowshoe hares, and raccoons
Attractions to SeeThunder Hole, Jordan Pond, Cadillac Mountain, Sand Beach, Schoodic Peninsula, and Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Acadia National Park is an epic national treasure on the coast of Maine. It’s well known for its glacier-scoured granite peaks, rocky beaches, and wildlife. It’s one of the top 10 most popular national parks in the United States. Around 3.5 million people visit the park every year. To avoid crowds, you need to know some insider information, especially during peak seasons.

September through November is the ideal time to tour Acadia when it’s crowd-free. Visitors enjoy 45 miles of carriage roads, 200 miles of hiking trails, and 27 miles of historic motor roads. In winter, you can also enjoy the park’s serenity under a blanket of snow.

8. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is home to Canada lynx, bears, wolves, moose, foxes, otters, badgers, and herds of bison.

Lillac/Shutterstock.com

Yellowstone National Park
LocationWyoming, Montana, and Idaho
Size2,219,791 acres
Animals to SeeCanada lynx, bears, wolves, moose, foxes, otters, badgers, and herds of bisons
Attractions to SeeGrand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone Lake, Norris Geyser Basin, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Old Faithful

Yellowstone National Park offers excellent opportunities to explore gushing geysers, dramatic canyons, lush forests, hot springs, and alpine rivers. It’s also home to numerous species of animals, including bears and wolves.

The park offers the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. April, September, October, and November are the best months to visit Yellowstone. These off-season months will give you more chances to enjoy thinner crowds and catch a glimpse of local wildlife.

9. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is famed for its giant ancient trees, vast wilderness, granite cliffs, meadows, and tunnel views.

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Yosemite National Park
LocationCalifornia
Size759,620 acres
Animals to SeeBlack bear, bighorn sheep, mule deer, bobcat, coyote, mountain lions
Attractions to SeeHalf Dome, El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, Ansel’s Dam Gallery, Yosemite Museum

If you’re searching for a real adventure, look no further than Yosemite National Park in California. It’s not just a great valley but an icon of America’s natural beauty. Yosemite is famed for its giant ancient trees, vast wilderness, granite cliffs, meadows, and tunnel views.

You should visit Yosemite if seeing wildlife is at the top of your list since the place is more prominent with less foot traffic. So, you will have a chance to see many different species of animals in their natural habitats.

Yosemite National Park is open throughout the year, but most visitors tour the place between May and October when all activities and roads are accessible. You can visit the site from November to April when it’s less crowded.

10. Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park
Indiana Dunes National Park features more than 350 bird species and more than 1,100 flowering plants.

Jon Lauriat/Shutterstock.com

Indiana Dunes National Park
LocationIndiana
Size15,349 Acres
Animals to SeeWolves, chipmunks, squirrels, and cottontails
Attractions to SeeDeep River Waterpark, The 3 Dune Challenge, Mount Baldy, and Portage Lakefront & Riverwalk

Having been designated as the nation’s 61st national park on February 15, 2019, Indiana Dunes National Park is a treasure trove of nature, featuring more than 350 bird species and more than 1,100 flowering plants. The park also has some of the highest unique dunes over the lake.

Are you looking to avoid crowds? Visit the park in the spring and fall when it’s less crowded. There are usually fewer visitors mid-week throughout the year. Explore the Heron Rookery Trail to check out the spring wildflowers, or look for fall colors on the Glenwood Dunes Trail.

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