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This new national park ranking will absolutely surprise you

Why are Yosemite and Yellowstone so low on the list?

Erika Mailman
Written by
Erika Mailman

One of the best vacations you can have is a trip to a national park. It fills you with awe, connects you with nature, costs less and helps support the parks. Plus, you often have a more active vacation than you would otherwise, hiking and exploring, so that you return home feeling good and not as if you overindulged. There are a few standout national parks that everyone talks about, and two of them start with the letter Y, but the online travel guide Travel Lemming has created a list of national parks ranked by data...and it upends what we usually think.

Data, you say? Yes. This report crunches info in seven categories: crowds, reviews across Google Maps, Yelp and Tripadvisor, weather, affordability, jobs (this one seems perhaps odd, tabulating the number of jobs linked to the park), accessibility—referring to how close it is to an airport or a population hub rather than referring to disability access—and biodiversity.

First of all, Yellowstone lands No. 16 on this list, tied with Mount Rainier National Park, while Yosemite ties for No. 22 with Sequoia National Park (out of 63 parks). Why did these two well-loved parks fall so low on this particular report? For Yellowstone, data shows that it’s kind of crowded (20th) and was only the 20th best-reviewed of the national parks. It fared pretty poorly for affordability (40th), accessibility (38th), and weather (56th)—remember when flooding closed it a few years ago?

For Yosemite, it was the 37th least crowded and the 36th best reviewed. Ouch. Its weather was 45th (probably because of snow that closes parts of the park in winter), its affordability was 46th and it’s the 21st for accessibility.

And now, to announce which national park jumped into the top ranking: Shenandoah National Park in Virginia! It was the 23rd best reviewed and the 40th least crowded (worse than Yosemite), and the 17th most affordable, with the 18th best weather. This park is about an hour and a half from Washington, D.C., and has waterfalls, spring wildflowers, incredible vistas and woodlands. You can explore 200,000 acres home to songbirds, deer and black bears, available for hiking and camping. Right now, there are “wildflower weekends” that include guided hikes and programs.

Second was Joshua Tree National Park in California, and third was Olympic National Park in Washington.

Winning for least crowded? Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.

Winning for best reviewed? Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Best weather? Haleakalā National Park in Maui, Hawai’i.

Most affordable? Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio.

Most accessible? Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri.

And for the dubious distinction of most jobs? Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.

Adjust your travel plans accordingly! The full list is here, but here's the top 10:

1. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

2. Joshua Tree National Park, California

3. Olympic National Park, Washington

4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

5. North Cascades National Park, Washington

6. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

7. Channel Island National Park, California

8. New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

9. Everglades National Park, Florida

10. Redwood National Park, California

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