The 15 Best States for National Park Trips

Zion National Park
Fotos593 / Shutterstock.com

This story originally appeared on Outdoorsy.

With air travel down, many Americans are hitting the roads during the COVID-19 pandemic. Assuming local regulations allow for it, exploring the outdoors can be a good way to vacation safely. 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.

During 2020, there was almost a 25% decline in visits to the National Park System. 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.

15. Tennessee

Tennessee
Alexander Narraina / Shutterstock.com
  • 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)

14. Colorado

Grand Lake, Colorado
By marekuliasz / Shutterstock.com
  • 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)

13. Utah

Woman hiking in Zion National Park
EB Adventure Photography / Shutterstock.com
  • 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)

12. Texas

Port Arthur Texas
Matias Wilson / Shutterstock.com
  • 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)

11. New Mexico

Elephant Butte Lake
By Judd Irish Bradley / Shutterstock.com
  • 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)

10. Washington

Washington
By vagabond54 / Shutterstock.com
  • 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)

9. Massachusetts

Lighthouse in Massachusetts
Newcastle / Shutterstock.com
  • 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)

8. Maryland

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park
KhanIM / Shutterstock.com
  • 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)

7. Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania
Frontpage / Shutterstock.com
  • 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)

6. Arizona

Arizona
Bryan Neuswanger / Shutterstock.com
  • 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)

5. Virginia

Man looking at mountains
Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock.com
  • 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)

4. Alaska

Alaska's Denali National Park
Martina Birnbaum / Shutterstock.com
  • 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)

3. New York

Lake Placid
By Alexey Smolyanyy / Shutterstock.com
  • 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)

2. District of Columbia

Washington, D.C.
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • 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)

1. California

The Pacific Crest Trail near Silverwood Lake in San Bernardino County, California
Gestalt Imagery / Shutterstock.com
  • 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 and detailed findings

Man studying data on his computer
Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com

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).”

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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