Get ready to road trip, because all national parks will offer free admission in honor of Veteran’s Day next Saturday.
The United States National Parks Service hosts several Free Entrance Days, and Nov. 11 is the last one in 2023. The NPS has a total of 423 park sites, including 63 national parks and dozens of national monuments, historical sites and recreation areas. While some of these sites are free to visit year-round, the majority require entrance fees.
Fall is always a great time to visit a national park, as they tend to be much busier during the summer months. With the addition of free admission, that makes next weekend a great time to visit a national park site.
Top five national parks
Although everyone’s personal preferences vary, these are the five most popular national parks in the United States, according to the NPS’s 2022 Annual Park Ranking report.
1. Great Smoky Mountains
America’s most-visited national park is located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. According to the NPS report, it recorded a whopping 12,937,633 visits last year, and it’s easy to see why — with scenic vistas of ancient mountains, thick forests and roaring waterfalls, it’s one of the most beautiful locations in America.
2. Grand Canyon
This is the largest national park on this list, as it spans 1,218,375 acres in Arizona, per the NPS. According to Hopi mythology, two brothers built the Grand Canyon by shooting lightning bolts and stacking piles of mud, per the Grand Canyon Conservancy. The canyon certainly looks as though it has been carved by lightning, and you can get great views of it from the park’s lookout points or one of the hikes that will take you through the canyon itself.
Utah has five national parks, and Zion is the most popular, with a recorded 4,692,417 visits last year. It’s known for a range of incredible hikes, such as Angel’s Landing, in which visitors must cling to a chain as they traverse a thin ridge to the formation’s summit. However, make sure to plan your trip ahead of time, as some campgrounds and hikes require you to obtain a permit to avoid overcrowding the area.
4. Rocky Mountain
As its name suggests, Rocky Mountain spans a mountainous area in northern Colorado. This park has something for everyone, even those who don’t like climbing mountains — it also contains beautiful meadows and valleys, and you can even drive through the Trail Ridge Road and the Old Fall River Road to see spectacular views of the surrounding landscape.
This coastal park welcomed 3,970,260 visitors last year, according to NPS data. Located on Mount Desert Island, Maine, it borders Bar Harbor, a popular bayside resort town. Although it’s known for its rocky shoreline, it also boasts thick forests and soaring mountains and 158 miles of hiking trails, per its website.