What comes to mind when you think about our national parks? Do you envision the amazing vistas of the Grand Canyon, or perhaps wild and wonderful Yellowstone? America’s national parks are a travel destination for millions of us year-to-year. Let’s check out some numbers:
- There are currently 61 national parks in the United States. If you also count the monuments and historic properties, there are actually 419 individual units that the National Park Service (NPS) oversees.
- In 2018 alone, our national parks welcomed 318 million visitors. This is the third biggest year for visits since the park service began counting people in the parks.
- Since the inception of the National Park Service in 1904, over 14 billion visits have been registered.
The Top Ten National Parks for 2018
Each year, NPS ranks the parks and the service sites by the number of recreation visits. The large western parks routinely appear on that list year-to-year. But it might surprise you to learn that The Great Smoky Mountain National Park, with its grassy mountain views, a popular water trail and beautiful fall foliage, is the one that tops the list. Here are the Top Ten among the national parks.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park — 11,421,200 visits
- Grand Canyon National Park — 6,380,495 visits
- Rocky Mountain National Park — 4,590,493 visits
- Zion National Park — 4,320,033 visits
- Yellowstone National Park — 4,115,000 visits
- Yosemite National Park — 4,009,436 visits
- Acadia National Park — 3,537,575 visits
- Grand Teton National Park — 3,491,151 visits
- Olympic National Park — 3,104,455 visits
- Glacier National Park — 2,965,309 visits
Some of the parks charge an admission fee – but there are some that don’t, including the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. NPS also manages historic, military and monument sites. It’s easy to include these places in your travel plans if you go to the NPS web site and find properties listed there by state and territory.
If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident over the age of 62, you might want to check out the lifetime Senior Pass. A one-time purchase of $80 will give entrance or access to the pass owner and accompanying passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle at federally operated recreation sites across the country. You can buy them in-person at the visitor centers in most recreation sites, or order a pass online.
Closer to Home
Ohio is home to one federal park, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. For those of us in Oberlin, it’s just about an hour away. Of the 61 national park sites, Cuyahoga Valley ranks #13, with a 2018 visitor count of 2,096,043 people. It’s one of the smaller parks, with about 33,000 acres. Its location between Cleveland and Akron offers a lush green oasis between 2 urban regions.
CVNP does not charge admission fees, so it’s a favorite place for local residents to run, walk or bike. Some do so several times a week, making this a “park for the people.”
One of the key features in the park is the Towpath Trail, part of historic Ohio and Erie Canalway. Biking and hiking are favorite things to do. And the park service is committed to a plan that will once again make the Cuyahoga River and safe and enjoyable water trail.
If hiking, biking and paddling are not for you, how about exploring CVNP by rail? The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad offers its National Park Scenic rides nearly all year round. Beginning in June and through October, the train will run three round trips every Wednesday through Sunday. The train operates with a variety of historic (circa the 1940s to 1960s) equipment, including one car that is fully accessible for people in wheelchairs on each run.
Volunteers Support the Parks
I count myself among those who enjoy the Cuyahoga Valley National Park on a regular basis. And I’m glad to be one of the many volunteers that support CVNP. According to the Volunteer Management Office of the Conservancy for CVNP, a total of 5,977 volunteers contributed 202,878 hours of service and made 174,189 visitor contacts in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in 2018.
We believe we’re making a difference by helping park visitors access resources, learn the history of the area and enjoy the simple beauty of the park safely. And by doing this, we hope to help preserve this natural treasure for generations to come. CVNP may not have the jaw-dropping landscape of the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. But in my opinion, it’s still pretty spectacular.
Our national parks are treasures, and they belong to all of us. Have you found your park yet?
Ready to Plan Your Next Adventure?
Visit unusual, educational, and exciting travel destinations with the help of Kendal at Oberlin's free eGuide, Planning Your Next Adventure: Must-Sees and Travel Tips.