Data shows that there are more visits in the spring and fall, traditionally off seasons

By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Content Agency
Taking the Kids

I’ve been there. No parking places left at the trailhead at Rocky Mountain National Park. Trails as busy as a New York Street at rush hour at Zion National Park in Utah. Bear Jams (tourists stopping to view bears by the side of the road) in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming.

It’s no wonder. The National Park Service reported 325.5 million recreation visits i n 2023. This is an increase of 13 million recreation visits. Just as significant, NPS data shows that there are more visits in the spring and fall, traditionally off seasons, with 20 parks, many of them less visited, breaking visitor records. What a great way to celebrate National Park Week from April 20 through 28, 2024.

Kaloko-Honokohau National Park in Hawaii
Kaloko-Honokohau National Park in Hawaii

“From Kaloko Honokōhau National Historical Park in Hawai’i to Congaree National Park in South Carolina, parks are attracting more visitors each year to learn about our shared history,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said. “Our national parks tell our shared American story. I’m glad visitors are finding hidden gems, exploring in the off-season, and finding new ways to have a great time in our national parks.”

The Visitation Statistics Dashboard on provides recreational visit statistics for every park in the US for 2023.

You may be disappointed if you try to plan a last-minute trip to the most popular national parks. In fact, some will require as much planning as a Disney trip.

Glacier National Park

During the busiest visitor times, some of the most popular national parks, including Rocky Mountain National Park in ColoradoArches National Parks in Utah, and Yosemite National Park in California have timed- entry reservation systems. Others, including Acadia National Park in Maine and Glacier National Park in Montana also have timed- entry reservations for certain roads like Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier, perhaps the most scenic road in the huge park and the Cadillac Summit Road in Acadia.

For the first time ever, Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state will implement a pilot timed-entry reservation system for vehicles entering through the Paradise Corridor and the Sunrise Corridor. Outside has a guide to the latest reservation requirements.

Undercanvas glamping site
Undercanvas glamping site

If you can, you will want to reserve campsites either in or near the park you want to visit. KOA, with more than 480 locations in North America has cabins and RV sites near many national parks. Under Canvas provides seasonal glamping tents, activities, and food in a growing number of locales, including Zion and Bryce Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, and Glacier.

Keep in mind that natural disasters and increasingly severe weather events can affect visitation. Summer heat, wildland fires, storms, and natural disasters, floods and landslides required a number of parks to close for periods of time in 2023. For example, Death Valley National Park was entirely closed Aug. 20 until Oct. 15 due to flood damage.

Still, there are plenty of ways to avoid the hassles and the crowds. There are 429 national park sites in the U.S., though just 63 have the “National Park” designation in their names. The others fall into several categories, including National Battlefields, National Historic Sites, National Monuments, National Seashores, and National Recreation Areas.

While America’s most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains, had nearly 13.3 million visitors last year, America’s least visited national park and preserve, Gates of the Arctic in Alaska, recorded just over 11,000 recreational visits across its 8.5 million acres.

Sunrise Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Sunrise Great Smoky Mountains National Park .

Or try other Alaska National Parks, including Lake Clark National Park & Preserve, (with less than 17,000 visitors and two National Natural Landmark volcanoes, Kobuk Valley National Park, (just over 17,000 visitors famous for the Caribou migration) Katmai National Park & Preserve, (less than 34,000 visitors and famous for its thousands of brown bears) and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, (78,305 visits to America’s largest national park. Wrangell-St. Elias encompasses 13.2 million acres — or about the size of Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park and Switzerland combined!)

But you don’t need to go as far as Alaska to get away from the crowds. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, had less than 28,965 recreation visits last year. The isolated archipelago in Lake Superior, open mid-April through October, boasts more than 150 miles of trails and more than 30 campgrounds.

North Cascades National Park, Washington, had just over 40,000 recreation visits last year and boasts more than 300 glaciers, 1,600 species of plants and 400 miles of plants.

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida – though with under 90,000 recreation visits, broke visitation records last year. Accessible by boat or plane and about 70 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas is mostly open water with seven small islands. Garden Key is home to one of the nation’s largest 19th-century forts, Fort Jefferson. The park is host to nearly 300 species of birds.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada – with 143,265 recreation visits, is home to 40 caves and hiking trails for all levels with elevation starting at 5,000 feet.

Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine
Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine

If you have a child in fourth grade, the complimentary Every Kid Outdoors Annual 4th Grade Pass covers park entry for all children under 16 and up to three adults per passholder and includes the vehicle entrance fee. If you plan to visit more than one park in a year, save with an annual America the Beautiful pass ($80) that also covers all federal recreation sites. Look for Senior Passes (ages 62+) and free passes for military and those with permanent disabilities.

Check your park’s website to book ahead for special free activities, guided hikes and talks, and the Junior Ranger program with age-appropriate activities that will keep the kids engaged and enable them to earn a park patch.

Got your backpacks ready? Don’t forget rain jackets!

(For more Taking the Kids, visit and also follow TakingTheKids on TwitterFacebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The fourth edition of The Kid’s Guide to New York City and the third edition of The Kid’s Guide to Washington D.C. are the latest in a series of 14 books for kid travelers published by Eileen.)

©2024 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.