World to explore: Check out these national parks

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Big Bend National Park (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

GREENVILLE, N.C. (Stacker.com) — Approximately 237 million people visited American national parks in 2020, representing a 28% year-over-year decrease attributed to the coronavirus pandemic. Many parks were forced to close to combat the spread of the virus, but that’s not the whole story—when the parks were open, many of them saw record crowds as throngs of people desperate to safely enjoy nature descended onto parks when they reopened.

President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 signed the act creating the National Park Service to leave natural and historic phenomenons “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Since then, our national parks have welcomed visitors from around the world to experience some of the best the country has to offer and showcase the country’s natural beauty and cultural heritage. Today, the country’s 63 national parks contain at least 247 species of endangered or threatened plants and animals, more than 75,000 archaeological sites, and 18,000 miles of trails.

Stacker compiled a list of some of the top national parks in the eastern part of the US that you can explore. National parks are ranked by closest straight line distance, measured from representative points in Greenville, NC Metro Area and each national park. Estimated driving times are from Here and are only available within the lower 48 states. All featured distances and driving times are estimated using representative locations from the center of each metro and national park—for some places within the metro area, the actual distance may be slightly shorter or longer to reach the closest entryway to a park.

Be sure to check with individual parks before you visit to find out about ongoing, pandemic-related safety precautions at www.nps.gov/coronavirus.

1 / 63Jon Bilous // Shutterstock

#1. Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

– Distance: 210 miles
– Driving time: 4.7 hours
– Date founded: December 26, 1935
– 2020 visitors: 1,666,265 (#14 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 199,223.77 acres

2 / 63Jtmartin57 // Wikimedia Commons

#2. Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

– Distance: 231 miles
– Driving time: 5.0 hours
– Date founded: November 10, 2003
– 2020 visitors: 119,306 (#51 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 26,476.47 acres

3 / 63Steve Heap // Shutterstock

#3. New River Gorge National Park (West Virginia)

– Distance: 267 miles
– Driving time: 5.7 hours
– Date founded: December 27, 2020
– 2020 visitors: 1,054,374 (#19 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 7,021 acres

4 / 63Aviator31 // Wikimedia Commons

#4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina, Tennessee)

– Distance: 347 miles
– Driving time: 7.1 hours
– Date founded: June 15, 1934
– 2020 visitors: 12,095,720 (#1 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 522,426.88 acres

5 / 63Zack Frank // Shutterstock

#5. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)

– Distance: 451 miles
– Driving time: 9.7 hours
– Date founded: October 11, 2000
– 2020 visitors: 2,755,628 (#7 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 32,571.88 acres

6 / 63Wangkun Jia // Shutterstock

#6. Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

– Distance: 499 miles
– Driving time: 10.6 hours
– Date founded: July 1, 1941
– 2020 visitors: 290,392 (#41 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 54,011.91 acres

7 / 63Delmas Lehman // Shutterstock

#7. Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)

– Distance: 669 miles
– Driving time: 14.0 hours
– Date founded: February 15, 2019
– 2020 visitors: 2,293,106 (#11 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 15,349.08 acres

8 / 63NPS // Wikimedia Commons

#8. Biscayne National Park (Florida)

– Distance: 704 miles
– Driving time: 13.3 hours
– Date founded: June 28, 1980
– 2020 visitors: 402,770 (#36 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 172,971.11 acres

9 / 63Paul Brady Photography // Shutterstock

#9. Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri)

– Distance: 737 miles
– Driving time: 13.7 hours
– Date founded: February 22, 2018[47]
– 2020 visitors: 486,021 (#31 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 192.83 acres

10 / 63Simon Dannhauer // Shutterstock

#10. Everglades National Park (Florida)

– Distance: 739 miles
– Driving time: 14.3 hours
– Date founded: May 30, 1934
– 2020 visitors: 702,319 (#25 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 1,508,938.57 acres

11 / 63Romiana Lee // Shutterstock

#11. Acadia National Park (Maine)

– Distance: 775 miles
– Driving time: 16.6 hours
– Date founded: February 26, 1919
– 2020 visitors: 2,669,034 (#8 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 49,076.63 acres

12 / 63U.S. National Park Service // Wikimedia Commons

#12. Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

– Distance: 823 miles
– Driving time: 16.4 hours
– Date founded: October 26, 1992
– 2020 visitors: 48,543 (#55 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 64,701.22 acres

13 / 63Zack Frank // Shutterstock

#13. Hot Springs National Park (Arkansas)

– Distance: 891 miles
– Driving time: 15.7 hours
– Date founded: March 4, 1921
– 2020 visitors: 1,348,215 (#16 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 5,554.15 acres

14 / 63MDuchek // Wikimedia Commons

#14. Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)

– Distance: 1,036 miles
– Driving time: 21.9 hours
– Date founded: April 3, 1940
– 2020 visitors: 6,493 (#59 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 571,790.30 acres

15 / 63BlueBarronPhoto // Shutterstock

#15. Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)

– Distance: 1,191 miles
– Driving time: 24.2 hours
– Date founded: April 8, 1975
– 2020 visitors: 263,091 (#44 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 218,222.35 acres

16 / 63Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#16. Virgin Islands National Park (U.S. Virgin Islands)

– Distance: 1,419 miles
– Date founded: August 2, 1956
– 2020 visitors: 167,540 (#46 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 15,052.53 acres

17 / 63Matt Ragen // Shutterstock

#17. Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

– Distance: 1,446 miles
– Driving time: 27.0 hours
– Date founded: November 10, 1978
– 2020 visitors: 916,932 (#21 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 242,755.94 acres

18 / 63Zack Frank // Shutterstock

#18. Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota)

– Distance: 1,491 miles
– Driving time: 28.1 hours
– Date founded: January 9, 1903
– 2020 visitors: 448,405 (#33 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 33,970.84 acres

19 / 63Laurens Hoddenbagh // Shutterstock

#19. Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)

– Distance: 1,557 miles
– Driving time: 28.8 hours
– Date founded: November 10, 1978
– 2020 visitors: 551,303 (#28 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 70,446.89 acres

20 / 63Kris Wiktor // Shutterstock

#20. Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado)

– Distance: 1,564 miles
– Driving time: 28.6 hours
– Date founded: September 24, 2004
– 2020 visitors: 461,532 (#32 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 107,341.87 acres

21 / 63Anna Krivitskaya // Shutterstock

#21. Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)

– Distance: 1,568 miles
– Driving time: 27.1 hours
– Date founded: January 26, 1915
– 2020 visitors: 3,305,199 (#4 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 265,807.25 acres

22 / 63Doug Meek // Shutterstock

#22. Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico)

– Distance: 1,569 miles
– Driving time: 26.5 hours
– Date founded: May 14, 1930
– 2020 visitors: 183,835 (#45 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 46,766.45 acres

23 / 63Eric Foltz // Shutterstock

#23. Big Bend National Park (Texas)

– Distance: 1,569 miles
– Driving time: 29.3 hours
– Date founded: June 12, 1944
– 2020 visitors: 393,907 (#37 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 801,163.21 acres

24 / 63ShuPhoto // Shutterstock

#24. Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

– Distance: 1,598 miles
– Driving time: 27.6 hours
– Date founded: October 15, 1966
– 2020 visitors: 151,256 (#49 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 86,367.10 acres

25 / 63Galyna Andrushko // Shutterstock

#25. White Sands National Park (New Mexico)

– Distance: 1,655 miles
– Driving time: 28.7 hours
– Date founded: December 20, 2019[111]
– 2020 visitors: 415,383 (#34 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 146,344.31 acres

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#26. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado)

– Distance: 1,682 miles
– Driving time: 30.5 hours
– Date founded: October 21, 1999
– 2020 visitors: 341,620 (#39 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 30,779.83 acres

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#27. Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)

– Distance: 1,730 miles
– Driving time: 31.6 hours
– Date founded: June 29, 1906
– 2020 visitors: 287,477 (#42 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 52,485.17 acres

28 / 63Manamana // Shutterstock

#28. Arches National Park (Utah)

– Distance: 1,781 miles
– Driving time: 31.2 hours
– Date founded: November 12, 1971
– 2020 visitors: 1,238,083 (#17 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 76,678.98 acres

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#29. Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

– Distance: 1,803 miles
– Driving time: 38.2 hours
– Date founded: September 12, 1964
– 2020 visitors: 493,914 (#30 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 337,597.83 acres

30 / 63Felix Lipov // Shutterstock

#30. Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)

– Distance: 1,823 miles
– Driving time: 30.0 hours
– Date founded: December 9, 1962
– 2020 visitors: 384,483 (#38 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 221,390.21 acres

31 / 63Lane V. Erickson // Shutterstock

#31. Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho)

– Distance: 1,847 miles
– Driving time: 34.0 hours
– Date founded: March 1, 1872
– 2020 visitors: 3,806,306 (#2 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 2,219,790.71 acres

32 / 63Zack Frank // Shutterstock

#32. Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)

– Distance: 1,854 miles
– Driving time: 33.0 hours
– Date founded: February 26, 1929
– 2020 visitors: 3,289,638 (#5 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 310,044.36 acres

33 / 63Layne V. Naylor // Shutterstock

#33. Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

– Distance: 1,870 miles
– Driving time: 32.7 hours
– Date founded: December 18, 1971
– 2020 visitors: 981,038 (#20 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 241,904.50 acres

34 / 63kojihirano // Shutterstock

#34. Saguaro National Park (Arizona)

– Distance: 1,908 miles
– Driving time: 32.4 hours
– Date founded: October 14, 1994
– 2020 visitors: 762,226 (#24 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 92,867.42 acres

35 / 63ronnybas frimages // Shutterstock

#35. Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

– Distance: 1,929 miles
– Driving time: 34.7 hours
– Date founded: February 25, 1928
– 2020 visitors: 1,464,655 (#15 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 35,835.08 acres

36 / 63Josemaria Toscano // Shutterstock

#36. Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

– Distance: 1,942 miles
– Driving time: 33.4 hours
– Date founded: February 26, 1919
– 2020 visitors: 2,897,098 (#6 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 1,201,647.03 acres

37 / 63Galyna Andrushko // Shutterstock

#37. Zion National Park (Utah)

– Distance: 1,979 miles
– Driving time: 35.2 hours
– Date founded: November 19, 1919
– 2020 visitors: 3,591,254 (#3 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 147,242.66 acres

38 / 63Arlene Waller // Shutterstock

#38. Great Basin National Park (Nevada)

– Distance: 2,034 miles
– Driving time: 35.2 hours
– Date founded: October 27, 1986
– 2020 visitors: 120,248 (#50 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 77,180.00 acres

39 / 63Pung // Shutterstock

#39. Glacier National Park (Montana)

– Distance: 2,063 miles
– Date founded: May 11, 1910
– 2020 visitors: 1,698,864 (#13 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 1,013,125.99 acres

40 / 63Dennis Silvas // Shutterstock

#40. Joshua Tree National Park (California)

– Distance: 2,183 miles
– Driving time: 37.1 hours
– Date founded: October 31, 1994
– 2020 visitors: 2,399,542 (#10 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 795,155.85 acres

41 / 63Bryan Brazil // Shutterstock

#41. Death Valley National Park (California, Nevada)

– Distance: 2,197 miles
– Driving time: 37.6 hours
– Date founded: October 31, 1994
– 2020 visitors: 820,023 (#22 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 3,408,406.73 acres

42 / 63Patrick Poendl // Shutterstock

#42. Kings Canyon National Park (California)

– Distance: 2,285 miles
– Driving time: 44.4 hours
– Date founded: March 4, 1940
– 2020 visitors: 415,077 (#35 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 461,901.20 acres

43 / 63Virrage Images // Shutterstock

#43. Sequoia National Park (California)

– Distance: 2,297 miles
– Driving time: 43.2 hours
– Date founded: September 25, 1890
– 2020 visitors: 796,086 (#23 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 404,062.63 acres

44 / 63Stephen Moehle // Shutterstock

#44. Yosemite National Park (California)

– Distance: 2,324 miles
– Driving time: 43.3 hours
– Date founded: October 1, 1890
– 2020 visitors: 2,268,313 (#12 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 761,747.50 acres

45 / 63Ethan Daniels // Shutterstock

#45. Channel Islands National Park (California)

– Distance: 2,375 miles
– Date founded: March 5, 1980
– 2020 visitors: 167,290 (#47 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 249,561.00 acres

46 / 63National Park Service/Deby Dixon // Wikimedia Commons

#46. North Cascades National Park (Washington)

– Distance: 2,387 miles
– Driving time: 46.2 hours
– Date founded: October 2, 1968
– 2020 visitors: 30,885 (#56 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 504,780.94 acres

47 / 63Diane Fetzner // Shutterstock

#47. Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

– Distance: 2,403 miles
– Driving time: 44.3 hours
– Date founded: March 2, 1899
– 2020 visitors: 1,160,754 (#18 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 236,381.64 acres

48 / 63Zack Frank // Shutterstock

#48. Lassen Volcanic National Park (California)

– Distance: 2,406 miles
– Driving time: 42.8 hours
– Date founded: August 9, 1916
– 2020 visitors: 542,274 (#29 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 106,589.02 acres

49 / 63Hank Shiffman // Shutterstock

#49. Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)

– Distance: 2,422 miles
– Driving time: 44.2 hours
– Date founded: May 22, 1902
– 2020 visitors: 670,500 (#26 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 183,224.05 acres

50 / 63Yhelfman // Shutterstock

#50. Pinnacles National Park (California)

– Distance: 2,431 miles
– Driving time: 41.8 hours
– Date founded: January 10, 2013
– 2020 visitors: 165,740 (#48 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 26,685.73 acres

51 / 63f11photo // Shutterstock

#51. Olympic National Park (Washington)

– Distance: 2,488 miles
– Driving time: 46.9 hours
– Date founded: June 29, 1938
– 2020 visitors: 2,499,177 (#9 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 922,649.41 acres

52 / 63Bob Pool // Shutterstock

#52. Redwood National Park (California)

– Distance: 2,529 miles
– Driving time: 47.6 hours
– Date founded: October 2, 1968
– 2020 visitors: 265,177 (#43 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 138,999.37 acres

53 / 63Alan Wu // Wikimedia Commons

#53. Glacier Bay National Park (Alaska)

– Distance: 3,093 miles
– Date founded: December 2, 1980
– 2020 visitors: 5,748 (#60 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 3,223,383.43 acres

54 / 63Sewtex // Wikimedia Commons

#54. Wrangell–St. Elias National Park (Alaska)

– Distance: 3,276 miles
– Date founded: December 2, 1980
– 2020 visitors: 16,655 (#57 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 8,323,146.48 acres

55 / 63National Park Service, Alaska Region // Wikimedia Commons

#55. Kenai Fjords National Park (Alaska)

– Distance: 3,540 miles
– Date founded: December 2, 1980
– 2020 visitors: 115,882 (#52 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 669,650.05 acres

56 / 63Denali National Park and Preserve // Wikimedia Commons

#56. Denali National Park (Alaska)

– Distance: 3,548 miles
– Date founded: February 26, 1917
– 2020 visitors: 54,850 (#53 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 4,740,911.16 acres

57 / 63National Park Service, Alaska Region // Wikimedia Commons

#57. Gates of the Arctic National Park (Alaska)

– Distance: 3,611 miles
– Date founded: December 2, 1980
– 2020 visitors: 2,872 (#63 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 7,523,897.45 acres

58 / 63Ryjil Christianson // Wikimedia Commons

#58. Lake Clark National Park (Alaska)

– Distance: 3,659 miles
– Date founded: December 2, 1980
– 2020 visitors: 4,948 (#61 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 2,619,816.49 acres

59 / 63Katmai National Park and Preserve // Wikimedia Commons

#59. Katmai National Park (Alaska)

– Distance: 3,742 miles
– Date founded: December 2, 1980
– 2020 visitors: 51,511 (#54 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 3,674,529.33 acres

60 / 63LCGS Russ // Wikimedia Commons

#60. Kobuk Valley National Park (Alaska)

– Distance: 3,769 miles
– Date founded: December 2, 1980
– 2020 visitors: 11,185 (#58 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 1,750,716.16 acres

61 / 63jo Crebbin // Shutterstock

#61. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park (Hawaii)

– Distance: 4,790 miles
– Date founded: August 1, 1916
– 2020 visitors: 589,775 (#27 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 325,605.28 acres

62 / 63MH Anderson Photography // Shutterstock

#62. Haleakalā National Park (Hawaii)

– Distance: 4,795 miles
– Date founded: July 1, 1961
– 2020 visitors: 319,147 (#40 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 33,264.62 acres

63 / 63Tavita Togia, National Park Service // Wikimedia Commons

#63. National Park of American Samoa (American Samoa)

– Distance: 6,969 miles
– Date founded: October 31, 1988
– 2020 visitors: 4,819 (#62 highest among all national parks)
– Park area: 8,256.67 acres

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