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National park tourism in the U.S. - statistics & facts

National parks are areas protected by governments to preserve their natural environment and wildlife for purposes of public recreation and enjoyment or because of their historical or scientific interest. More specifically, an effort is made to ensure that their landscapes, fauna, and flora are kept in their natural state. In 2022, the market size of the national and state park sector in the United States was estimated at approximately 940 million U.S. dollars. That sector also included just over 1,080 businesses and employed over 7,500 people as of 2022.

Visitors to national parks in the United States

Each year, national parks attract millions of visitors and other wilderness enthusiasts seeking new experiences with nature. In 2020, the number of visitors reported by the National Park Service sites in the United States amounted to nearly 240 million, a decrease of almost 100 million visitors compared to the previous year. This loss in attendance results from the dramatic slowdown suffered by the global tourism industry driven by the coronavirus (COVID-19) containment measures. Looking at the direct contribution of national park visitor spending in the United States, figures experienced the same downward trend. In 2020, this contribution accounted for more than seven billion U.S. dollars. Furthermore, in the same year, the main expenditure for national park visitors was accommodation, followed by restaurants and bars.

Most visited national parks in the United States

The United States encompasses more than 400 national parks sites. In 2020, the most visited national park in the country was the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, far surpassing the other sites in the rankings with over 12 million visitors. Established in 1926 and owing to its name to the ever-present morning fog on-site, this park spans Tennessee and North Carolina. Another popular natural site in the United States is the Grand Canyon National Park. This Arizona-based park welcomed nearly three million visitors in 2020. At this national park, tourists have access to an impressive river canyon with a total length of 277 miles and a width of up to 18 miles.

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