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The best states for national park trips
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The best states for national park trips

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Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

With air travel down, many Americans are hitting the roads during COVID-19. Assuming local regulations allow for it, exploring the outdoors can be a good way to vacation safely during this turbulent time. Fortunately, many National Park System parks remain open with fewer visitors than during a normal year.



The National Park System is managed by the National Park Service (NPS), which oversees 422 different parks that span over 80 million acres across all 50 states. While some of the most visited parks are recreational areas, parkways, and national parks, the National Park System is comprised of many different types of parks, including monuments, memorials, battlefields, and historic sites. In fact, less than one-third of annual visits are visits to the 62 parks with “national park” in their name.



In a typical year, there are over 330 million visitors to parks in the National Park System. Last year, travel to these parks netted over $40 billion in economic benefit across the U.S. and supported over 340 thousand jobs. This enormous amount of tourism and travel helps to support many “gateway towns” near parks throughout the country. Money spent by tourists at hotels and motels, restaurants, RV parks, campgrounds, and gas stations is often the lifeblood of these small economies.



During 2020, there’s been almost a 25 percent decline in visits to the National Park System, which will impact these communities and their economies. However, even with social distancing orders in place, outdoor recreation and visiting these areas can be a COVID-safe activity.

To find the states that offer the best access to the National Park System, researchers at Outdoorsy looked at data from the National Park Service’s National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics. They ranked states based on the number of NPS-managed parks that are partially or fully contained within the state. They also included the annual visits to the NPS parks in each state, a measure of the economic benefit from NPS park tourism, and the name of the most visited park in each state.

Here are the states that offer the best access to the National Park System.


The 15 States With the Most National Park System Parks

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

15. Tennessee

  • Number of NPS parks: 12
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 9,979,139
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $995,900,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): Great Smoky Mountains NP (7,026,734)

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

14. Colorado

  • Number of NPS parks: 13
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 7,761,213
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $771,700,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): Rocky Mountain NP (4,670,053)

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

13. Utah

  • Number of NPS parks: 13
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 15,285,200
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $1,868,700,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): Zion NP (4,488,268)

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

12. Texas

  • Number of NPS parks: 14
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 5,834,681
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $492,000,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): Lake Meredith NRA (1,328,340)

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

11. New Mexico

  • Number of NPS parks: 15
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 2,139,674
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $155,000,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): White Sands NP (608,785)

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

10. Washington

  • Number of NPS parks: 15
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 8,776,096
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $709,800,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): Olympic NP (3,245,806)

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

9. Massachusetts

  • Number of NPS parks: 15
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 10,003,220
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $1,285,400,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): Cape Cod NS (4,096,104)

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

8. Maryland

  • Number of NPS parks: 18
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 6,854,872
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $312,800,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): Chesapeake & Ohio Canal NHP (3,888,758)

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

7. Pennsylvania

  • Number of NPS parks: 19
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 10,153,809
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $711,300,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): Independence NHP (4,532,459)

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

6. Arizona

  • Number of NPS parks: 22
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 12,463,772
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $2,015,900,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): Grand Canyon NP (5,974,411)

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

5. Virginia

  • Number of NPS parks: 22
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 22,815,596
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $1,669,100,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): George Washington MEM PKWY (7,487,265)

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

4. Alaska

  • Number of NPS parks: 24
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 3,218,301
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $2,192,900,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): Klondike Gold Rush NHP (1,116,161)

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

3. New York

  • Number of NPS parks: 24
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 21,013,245
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $1,060,200,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): Gateway NRA (7,803,348)

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

2. District of Columbia

  • Number of NPS parks: 25
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 39,687,383
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $830,700,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): Lincoln Memorial (7,808,182)

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

1. California

  • Number of NPS parks: 28
  • Annual visitors to NPS parks: 39,620,672
  • Economic benefit from NPS park tourism: $4,276,200,000
  • Most visited NPS park (& visits): Golden Gate NRA (15,002,227)

Methodology & Detailed Findings

The data used in this study is from the National Park Service’s (NPS) National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics. The study includes all 422 NPS-managed parks, including 19 different park types, such as national parks, national battlefields, national monuments, national memorials, national historic sites, and national parkways, among others.

States were ranked based on the number NPS parks that are partially or fully contained within the state. Some parks are listed in multiple states. In the event of a tie, the state with the greater number of annual recreation visitors to its NPS parks was ranked higher. The economic benefit from NPS park tourism “is a measure of the total estimated value of the production of goods and services supported by NPS visitor spending. Economic output is the sum of all intermediate sales (business to business) and final demand (sales to consumers and exports).”

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