11 Most Popular U.S. Natural Attractions (2023 Visitor Data)

11 Most Popular U.S. Natural Attractions (2023 Visitor Data)

The United States is blessed with some of the world’s most gorgeous landscapes: rugged terrains, lush green grasslands, towering peaks, and snowy mountain ranges, all looking down on even more beautiful bounties of nature.

Here is the 11 most visited natural attractions in the U.S. according to a recent ranking by National Park Services. Hint they are not only the must-visit U.S. national parks.

No. 11. – Yellowstone National Park

Large mountains with pine trees and wide river in the front.
Photo by Austin Farrington via Unsplash.

Yellowstone National Park had 4.5 million recreational visitors in 2023. The park is incredibly popular with tourists and naturalists because it has the world’s highest geysers and hot springs population.

That’s not its only charm; tourists love visiting Yellowstone National Park to watch wildlife, hike trails, and even raft. So which other natural attractions were more popular than Yellowstone in 2023?

No. 10. – Zion National Park

A large post with wooden sign saying zion national park
Photo by Danika Perkinson via Unsplash.

You can spot Zion National Park from afar. This must-visit Utah national park is gem blessed with red canyon cliffs, stunning emerald pools, and even a hanging garden. This explains why it surpassed Yellowstone with 4.6 million recreational visits and ranked at number 14. Zion National Park has lots to do; tourists can enjoy a stunning scenic drive through the carved gorges, hike Zion Canyon, and even take a helicopter ride over the red terrain.

No. 9. – Grand Canyon National Park

Huge red rocky canyon.
Park Photo by Sojy John via Unsplash.

In 2023, Grand Canyon National Park gathered a little over 4.7 million recreational visits, making it one of the best natural attractions in Arizona. The park is home to the Great Uniformity, a geological phenomenon that dates back at least 250 million years.

The park isn’t only an excellent spot for naturalists and geologists; its thrilling curves make for an exciting trail inviting thousands of tourists daily. The Grand Canyon has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, making it a historical and natural gem.

WHERE TO STAY – Search for Arizona eco-lodges nearby.

No. 8. – Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

A river makes an almost 360 turn in a red rocky canyon.
Photo by Oleg Chursin via Unsplash.

Although the Grand Canyon typically overshadows this attraction, Glen Canyon attracts a smidge over 5 million visits yearly. The national recreation area surrounds Lake Powell and the Cataract Canyon, straddling Utah and Arizona and blessing tourists with a stunning rust-red landscape that spans miles.

Tourists flock from all over the world to visit the Glen Canyon Dam, tour Horseshoe Bend, and hike to the Rainbow Bridge National Monument.

WHERE TO STAY – Search for Arizona eco-lodges nearby.

No. 7. – Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Huge mountain with red rocky surface and almost no vegetation.
Photo by Michael Yantis via Unsplash.

With striking blue waters and surrounded by dark cliffs, Lake Mead is the U.S. largest reservoir in terms of water capacity and attracts more than 5.7 million visitors.

Nature lovers can’t help but feel drawn to the national recreation area, where gorgeous hiking trails, stunning ravines, and scenic points await them. Tourists can even canoe along its watery canyons, soaking in the sights.

WHERE TO STAY – Search for Arizona eco-lodges nearby.

No. 6. – Natchez Trace Parkway

A small creek in the middle of the forest with a slight drop from above to a tiny pond.
Photo credit: Stephen Olmo via Unsplash.

Beating Lake Mead with a staggering difference of one million visits, Natchez Trace Parkway reported a bit over 6.7 million trips in 2023, and one look is enough to explain why.

This Tennessee attraction is home to the 18th-19th century Natchez Trail woodland path but also boasts a stunning expanse of dark blue waterways and creeks. Tourists visiting Natchez Trace can fish, swim, boat, hike, or even camp out at night.

No. 5. – Gulf Islands National Seashore

Ocean with a pier.
Photo by Simon Ray via Unsplash.

Sporting stunning white beaches, twinkling emerald waters, deep, fertile marshes, and luscious green landscapes, Gulf Islands National Seashore is one of the most popular national attractions, garnering over 8.2 million visits in the past year alone.

The national seashore isn’t only open to visitors hoping to soak in its calm waters; the Gulf Islands even offers ferry cruises, camping spots, bird-watching tours, hiking trails, fishing spots, and some fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities.

No. 4. – Gateway National Recreation Area

Wetlands with water and grass and forest veil.
Photo by Hunter Reilly via Unsplash.

This humble national reserve in Middletown, New Jersey, attracted about 8.7 million visits in 2023, ranking it number four. Gateway National Recreation Area offers a variety of indoor and outdoor activities for visitors.

Tourists can join guided programs to learn about the reserve and its surroundings, visit Sandy Hook lighthouse, tour Fort Wadsworth, and spot over 300 birds at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. It’s also famous for boating, cycling, camping, fishing, and swimming opportunities.

No. 3. – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Large mountains at the back covered with fall colored forest. Horses are eating the grass in front of the trees.
Photo by David Hertle via Unsplash.

With a whopping 13 million visitors in 2023, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the third most visited national attraction in the U.S.

Boasting lush forests, stunning streams, gurgling waterfalls, misty cliffs, and fantastic hiking routes along the Appalachian Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is North Carolina and Tennessee’s finest destination. Tourists worldwide love heading here to hike, tour, explore, and learn about its surroundings.

No. 2. – Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Long red chain bridge connecting to lands separated by a large body of water.
Photo by Paulius Dragunas via Unsplash.

Is anything more iconic than seeing the rust-hued bridge span over the ocean and disappear into the sky? The Golden Gate National Recreation Area gathered over 14.9 million visitors in 2023, making it the second-best national attraction in the U.S.

Apart from its prominent engineering masterpiece, the Golden Gate Bridge Recreation Area is also stellar for naturalists, who can’t help but marvel over San Francisco Bay.

No. 1. – Blue Ridge Parkway

Gorgeous fall-colored forest and a road in the middle.
Photo by Nathan Anderson via Unsplash.

Stretching along the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway comes with stunning views of the mountains, gorgeous trees peeking out from the depths, and a sky that could put the best artists out of commission.

The Blue Ridge Parkway isn’t just a drive out of town; it’s an adventure with hiking opportunities, picnic spots, gorgeous biking trails, and breathtaking scenic viewpoints. With all this under its belt, it is no wonder it gathered over 16 million visitors and is ranked number one.

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Emese Maczko is a travel blogger behind Eco Lodges Anywhere. Having explored several destinations around Europe, the US, Indonesia, and Australia, and resided in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Luxembourg, Emese possesses a keen understanding of diverse cultures and an appreciation for the beauty of each destination she visits. She advocates for sustainable travel and ecotourism.