If you’re a national park lover, or just enjoy getting outdoors, you may already know California is home to more National Park Service units — 28 — than any others. From Redwood to Joshua Tree, it’s hard not to appreciate the natural beauty of California’s national parks.
That seems to be especially true for one particular site that received the most recreational visits of all the California national parks, though it isn’t technically a national park.
Late last month, the National Park Service (NPS) released its annual report on recreational visits it served last year across the 395 units that count visitors. Visitation was up in 2022 across the park system compared to 2021, with dozens of parks serving more than 1 million visits each.
Only two NPS units — neither bearing the title “national park” — received more than 15 million recreational visits in 2022: Virginia and North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway, and California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Blue Ridge Parkway edged out Golden Gate by slightly more than 72,000 visits to be the most-visited national park for the third year in a row.
It’s true that Golden Gate may not be the first California national park that comes to mind when you’re looking for a unit to visit. But it has been the state’s most visited since the 1970s, according to NPS data.
Golden Gate, which marked its 50th-anniversary last year, is one of the largest urban parks in the world, NPS says. Located north of San Francisco, the recreation area offers stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and attractions like Alcatraz Island.
It’s also a fantastic place for birds and plants: park officials say over half of the continent’s avian species and one-third of the Golden State’s plant species can be found in the park.
Technically, California’s most visited national park in 2022 — recreation areas and other NPS units excluded — was Yosemite, which recorded more than 3.6 million visits. It edged out the second-most visited, Joshua Tree, by more than 600,000 visits.
Here are the five NPS units in California that saw the most recreation visits last year:
- Golden Gate National Recreation Area
- Yosemite National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park
- San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
- Point Reyes National Seashore
Golden Gate stands as the second-most visited NPS site on record with roughly 697 million visits. That’s about 265 million shy of Blue Ridge Parkway.