How Crowded Are America’s National Parks? See for yourself.

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Largely freed from domestic travel restrictions, Americans are flocking to the national parks in record numbers this spring and summer. Several parks – included Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park – we have already set monthly visit records. Many sites are preparing for the busiest years in their history.

And so, instead of serenity, many visitors found crowded parking lots, cramped trails, overcrowded campsites, and endless lines.

hikers Zion National ParkWe met in Utah four hour waiting times Visitors to access certain trails Kemerler National Park, in the same situation, they are turned away from the door – Parks Service’s Twitter feed “Park is currently full” routinely announces – and later asked to return.

We sent photographers to four parks to capture the crowds over the Fourth of July weekend: Acadia National Park in Maine; Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona; Joshua Tree National Park in California; and Yellowstone National Parklargely in Wyoming.

Here is what they saw.


Maine • Visitors in 2020: 2.7 Million

Acadia’s high Cadillac Mountain is popular with visitors as a prime spot to watch the sunrise for its panoramic views. This July morning, 4:53 p.m. did not deter the crowds.

To reduce overcrowding at the summit and conserve natural resources, the park has set up a reservation system for all vehicles that go up the mountain between May 26 and October 19. The restrictions helped keep congestion somewhat under control and reduced the rate of illegal parking beyond the site’s 150 parking spaces.

Overlooking twin mountain peaks known as the Bubbles (North Bubble and South Bubble), Jordan Pond serves as a starting point for hikers and cyclists. However, many visitors only come for a glimpse – and, of course, for the famous popovers served. Jordan Pond House.

Visit numbers in Acadia have increased by nearly 60 percent over the past decade. The park actively encourages visitors to use alternative modes of transportation, including bicycles and the free Island Explorer bus, to limit traffic.

The extension of the 27-mile Park Loop Road between Sand Beach and Otter Cliff – seen in the background above – is one of the most heavily trafficked areas in Acadia National Park. Visitors park in small spaces or along the road and walk to attractions such as the Thunder Hole shown below.

There, under the right tidal conditions, waves crashing through a rift and into a small cave can produce a rumbling sound and a dramatic spray of water – much to the delight of those on the heavily trafficked walkway on July 5.


Arizona • Visitors in 2020: 2.9 million

Cars lined up early in the morning at the South Shore entrance of the Grand Canyon, one of the park’s three gated entrances.

The waiting time to enter the park in the late morning was about 30 minutes and it was getting bigger.

Home to some of America’s most iconic landscapes, Grand Canyon National Park consistently tops the list of the country’s most visited national parks. It reduced the number of visitors from 5.97 million in 2019 to 2.9 million in 2020.

Mather Point, pictured above, offers many visitors a first view of the canyon despite the crowded platform.

Also, masks are required outside where a six-foot distance cannot be maintained with people outside the home, as well as for unvaccinated visitors in public areas.


California • Visitors in 2020: 2.4 million

Keys View above is a popular destination at sunset. On July 3, visitors ventured beyond the gorge to take in breathtaking views of the San Andreas Fault, San Jacinto Mountain, San Gorgonio Mountain and the Salton Sea.

Hikers on the Hidden Valley trail above made their way through a one-mile loop winding through huge boulders, where a cattle thief was rumored to be hiding.

After breaking new attendance records each year between 2014 and 2019, visit numbers at Joshua Tree have dropped significantly last year, in part due to temporary closures in March, April and May. Still drew the park 2.4 million visitors It was ranked 10th in the list of the country’s most visited national parks in 2020.

Skull Rock is a granite rock formation with two depressions that resemble hollow eye sockets. Its easy access – the site is just off the park’s main road – helps make this a high-traffic landmark.

Although visitors had to wait to take pictures as seen above, the crowd here was not overwhelming.


Wyoming, Montana, Idaho • Visitors in 2020: 3.8 million

Above, visitors await the eruption of Old Faithful, one of the park’s biggest draws, on July 4.

yellow stone set this may visit recordshosted 483,159 visitors, an increase of 11 percent compared to May 2019. (The park was closed for most of May last year.)

Above, in the Midway Geyser Basin, the last visitors of the evening walk on a crowded boardwalk next to Grand Prismatic Spring.

June, July, and August are usually the busiest months in Yellowstone.

Above, patriotic dressed visitors near Old Faithful.

The area around the geyser was most congested just after the eruption as people left the viewing platform. Then, the crowd reminded them of Disneyland.

Above is a crowded boardwalk to Grand Prismatic Spring.

Within the park, queues were not very long as park attendants effectively guided the crowd in places such as the cafeteria and visitor centre.


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