America’s 58 national parks feature some of the country’s most amazing views, natural formations and wildlife. These include Yellowstone’s world-famous geysers, Olympic’s rain forests in Washington and Arches’ sweeping rock formations in Utah.
Each year, millions travel to these parks. Here are the 20 most-visited. America’s most popular park may surprise you. It’s not Yosemite, the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone.
-- Jason La and Deborah Netburn
Pictured: Half Dome and fall leaves are reflected in the Merced River on a postcard-perfect fall day at Yosemite National Park.
Visitors in 2009 (through August): 719,061
Established in 1890, Sequoia is the nation’s second-oldest national park after Yellowstone. The 406,425-acre park is home to some of the world’s largest trees, including the famous Gen. Sherman tree. Avoid the crowds by visiting in the spring and fall. Park traffic peaks in July and August.
Arches National Park features more than 2,000 sandstone arches carved by millions of years of erosion. Prominent formations in the park include Delicate Arch, Balanced Rock and Landscape Arch. Beyond the breathtaking views, park visitors will find numerous hiking trails and a campground.
Haleakala, on the east end of Maui, is for nature lovers and stargazers. The park is home to more endangered species than any other national park in the United States. The 10,023-foot summit of Haleakala volcano offers conditions ideal for viewing the night sky.
Hundreds of thousands of years of erosion carved Badlands National Park’s extraterrestrial-like landscape of multicolored canyons, buttes and spires. Beyond its amazing views, the park contains rich fossil deposits from the Oligocene Epoch dating 28 million to 37 million years ago. Bison, foxes and bighorn sheep roam its prairies.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the state’s only World Heritage site, contains some of the world’s most active volcanoes, including Kilauea, which has been erupting since 1983. The park was established as a national park in 1916 on land that has been settled since the 15th century. The park encompasses more than 150 miles of trails and features lava tubes accessible to the public.
Hot Springs National Park is not what the uninitiated visitor may expect. You can take baths here, but not quite in a natural hot spring. Instead, the park collects hot water from its springs and distributes it to bathhouses open for public use. The park’s Bathhouse Row features eight historic bathhouses dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Of the eight, Buckstaff and Quapaw remain open as bathhouses. Ozark bathhouse reopened as the Museum of Contemporary Art of Hot Springs in early 2009.
Pictured: Quapaw Baths, a bathhouse on Bathhouse Row
FOR THE RECORD:
Bathhouse Row: An earlier version of this caption described Buckstaff bathhouse as the only bathhouse on Bathhouse Row that remains open. Quapaw Baths reopened in July 2008 and Ozarks bathhouse reopened as an art museum in early 2009.
(Beth Harpaz / Associated Press)
Visitors in 2009 (through August): 857,026
Established in 1899, Rainier is the country’s fifth-oldest national park. In the summer, wildflowers abound. In spring, waterfalls reach their powerful zenith, and in the fall, changing leaves put on a show. At a towering 14,410 feet, Mt. Rainier, an active volcano that last erupted in the 1800s, dominates the park’s landscape.
Pictured: Dave Uberuaga, superintendent of Mt. Rainier National Park
(E.B. McGovern / Associated Press)
Visitors in 2009 (through August): 874,267
Known for its unusual geology, Bryce Canyon’s jagged landscape is formed from millions of years of erosion. Alternating periods of frost and thaw carved an impressive collection of hoodoos and spire-shaped formations into the park. Relatively free from light pollution, Bryce Canyon is also popular with astronomy buffs. In June, the park hosts an annual four-day astronomy festival.
Joshua Tree is home to an impressive collection of wildflowers, world-class rock-climbing and amazing rock formations. On the park’s nearly 800,000 acres are 501 archaeological sites, a dozen self-guided nature hikes and 700 species of vascular plants and 88 historic structures.
Acadia was the nation’s first national park east of the Mississippi. It features 125 miles of hiking trails, two beaches and two campgrounds. Water sports such as kayaking and canoeing are popular here.
Glacier National Park is named after the glaciers that carved its landscape millions of years ago. Native Americans know it as the “Backbone of the World.” The park has 13 campsites and more than 700 miles of hiking trails. Glacier celebrates its centennial anniversary in 2010.
For the record: The previous image shown with this caption was of Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, not Glacier National Park.
( Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
Visitors in 2009 (through August): 1.8 million
With its hiking and horse trails, bike paths, waterways and railways, Cuyahoga National Park offers myriad ways to get around. Sightseers can hop on and off the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which operates year round. The park has five campgrounds and a historic bed-and-breakfast where guests can stay.
Zion’s many multicolored canyons, mesas and towers frame its first-rate scenery. The park’s most popular formation is Zion Canyon. Besides camping sites, Zion Lodge offers rooms, cabins, suites and a restaurant. From April to October, a free shuttle service whisks visitors on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
Grand Teton National Park straddles 485 square miles of mountains, rivers and wilderness in northwest Wyoming south of Yellowstone. The park is famous for its wildlife. Visitors can see bald eagles, otters and beavers in Oxbow Bend, elk on Timbered Island and bison along Snake River. Grand Teton features a range of lodges, cabins and ranches for overnight visitors.
Rocky Mountain National Park is nestled in the Colorado Rockies northwest of Boulder. Its 416 square miles of mountainous terrain features 359 trails for hikers, 150 lakes for anglers, 60 mountains taller than 12,000 feet for climbers and a slew of elk, bighorn sheep and moose.
Pictured: An elk in the Moraine Park area of Rocky Mountain National Park.
(Glenn Asakawa / Associated Press)
Visitors in 2009 (through August): 2.4 million
Olympic National Park is 95% wilderness, making it an ideal spot for nature lovers. The park offers beaches, rain forests, glaciers and miles of hiking trails. Several lodges, resorts and campgrounds cater to overnight visitors. Make sure you check the weather before your visit. Parts of the park get as much as 12 feet of rain a year.
Established in 1872, Yellowstone is the nation’s oldest national park. It’s known for its geysers and hot springs. Indeed, Yellowstone contains 60% of the world’s geysers, including Old Faithful, its most famous, and the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, America’s largest hot spring. The park also houses a rich collection of historical artifacts in its museum, library and research centers.
Yosemite National Park lies east of San Francisco in the Sierra Nevada and offers visitors a varied landscape of deep valleys, vast meadows and groves of giant sequoia trees. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated as wilderness. It’s best known for its spectacular waterfalls, which are at their most robust in spring.
National parks: A previous version incorrectly said that Yosemite National Park lies west of San Francisco. The park is located in the Sierra Nevada east of the city.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Visitors in 2009 (through August): 3.2 million
Established in 1919, the Grand Canyon is perhaps the most famous of America’s national parks. It is an enormous stretch of canyon: 277 miles long (measured by the length of the river at its bottom), 6,000 vertical feet at its deepest and as much as 18 miles across in some places. It takes about two days to get to the bottom of the canyon and back on foot. And it receives close to 5 million visitors each year.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which sits between North Carolina and Tennessee, is a wonderland of waterfalls, wildflowers and wildlife. It offers visitors 800 miles of maintained trails where they may see bears, turkeys, woodchucks, raccoons and even elk, which were reintroduced to the park in 2001. It is home to more than 1,660 kinds of flowering plants, more than any other national park in America, earning it the moniker “the wildflower park.”