Ranking the National Parks on the West Coast from Most to Least Popular

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The West Coast of the United States is filled with wild lands that have been preserved for generations to come through the creation of the national park system. From rocky coastlines in Washington to bubbling volcanic mud pots in California to the deepest lake in the country in Oregon, these national parks offer up a little something for every adventurer and sightseer out there.

While some of the parks draw in millions of visitors per year, others only see, on average, a couple thousand people per month. So, if you’re looking to get away from the crowds, know that there are national parks out there that offer just that!

Without further ado, here are the most to least popular national parks on the West Coast.

Yosemite National Park (3,897,070 visitors)

Beautiful Cloudy Sunrise on Yosemite Valley View, Yosemite National Park, California
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Yosemite is one of the crown jewels of the national park system, with iconic landmarks like Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Glacier Point. But it is these attractions, plus the park’s proximity to major population centers in California, that make it the most visited park on the West Coast.

During the summer months, the park has had to institute a time entry permit system to help reduce the hours-long wait times to get into the park and find parking along the valley floor.

Luckily, there is far more to the park than just the valley attractions where you can get away from the crowds. On your next trip pay a visit to Mariposa Grove for its giant sequoias, Tuolumne Meadows and its high alpine granite domes, or Olmstead Point for its unique views into the valley.

Joshua Tree National Park (3,270,404 visitors)

Joshua Tree National Park in California. The cloudy sunset was shot just after a big storm. This situations leaded to a breathtaking cloudy sky that took fire during sunset.
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The wide open spaces and funky flora of Joshua Tree National Park have been drawing in visitors from nearby Los Angeles and San Diego for generations. In recent years, though, the park has seen an explosion in popularity, making it nearly as popular as Yosemite.

Some may want to blame it on the rise of social media or the increased popularity of hiking, but whatever the reason, there are far worse places to spend your time than out in the deserts and mountains on Joshua Tree.

Did you know that the funky, namesake trees of the park are not actually trees at all but instead a member of the agave family?

Olympic National Park (2,947,503 visitors)

Hall of Mosses trail in the Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park, Washington, USA
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Olympic National Park, located in the far northwestern corner of Washington state, is easily one of the most diverse national parks in the country. With glaciated peaks, old-growth forests draped in thick carpets of moss, and wild beaches where the sea stacks outnumber people, there is a little something for everyone in the Olympics.

The park’s proximity to Seattle, along with its 360-degree access, makes it a perfect spot for day hikers, backpackers, beachcombers, and national park enthusiasts alike. If you live close by, it’s easy to visit a dozen times over the course of the year and never visit the same part of the park twice, so it’s no wonder that the park saw almost 3 million visitors last year.

Mount Rainier National Park (1,674,294 visitors)

A beautiful set of stone stairs along the Skyline Trail in Mt Rainier National Park at sunrise. The 5.5 mile trail in Paradise area provides splendid view of Mt Rainier, Washington USA.
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The sheer size and prominence of Mt. Rainier make it one of the most breathtaking mountains in the National Park system. Even though the mountain dominates the skyline from viewpoints around western Washington, it isn’t until you’re up close to it that you can really appreciate its massive size and beauty.

For this reason, the park is the fourth most visited park on the West Coast, with over 1.6 million visitors in 2023.

With four separate entrance points to the park, it is easy to get in and hike to see the mountain from every angle. Our favorite spot to visit in the park is Paradise, where you can hike the stunning Skyline Loop Trail to get an up-close look at the mountain’s glaciated flanks.

Death Valley National Park (1,099,632 visitors)

Depth of Field Road, Mysterious and Mysterious Death Valley California
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Death Valley National Park exists on the extreme end of what humans can endure. With temperatures that can soar to over 130 degrees during the summer, this park takes the cake as the hottest, lowest, and driest park in the national park system.

These extremes don’t stop visitors from flocking to this historic desert landscape to hike, bike, and experience this extreme heat for themselves.

The park itself encompasses far more than just the valley floor. The mountains rising up on all sides are home to incredible vistas and plenty of history from the mines that dot the hillsides and helped usher in the California gold rush.

Sequoia National Park (980,567 visitors)

girl hugs a huge tree in Sequoia National Park, USA
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Sequoia National Park and the next entrant on this list, Kings Canyon National Park, are often visited in tandem due to their shared border. What puts Sequoia in the lead, though, is its being home to the largest living tree in the world, the General Sherman tree.

Although the redwoods may be taller and some trees may be wider than General Sherman, there is no tree that has more mass than this behemoth. And sometimes, a park just needs that singular draw to boost its numbers to nearly 1 million visitors per year, as Sequoia does.

There is so much more to the park, though, as the park extends deep into the Sierras and features stunning hikes, vistas, waterfalls, and camping opportunities.

Kings Canyon National Park (643,065 visitors)

Kings Canyon National Park California
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With geography that is said to rival that of Yosemite it is a wonder that the park only draws just over 600,000 visitors per year. Compare that to the over 3 million that visit Yosemite, and you can quickly realize why hikers and campers prefer Kings Canyon, as getting into and out of the park can be worth the extra drive time from the Bay Area.

The park itself is home to massive mountains that top out at over 12,000 feet, is home to the largest sequoia grove in the world, and even has caverns that are perfect for exploring on a scorching summer day.

Crater Lake National Park (559,976 visitors)

Beautiful Crater Lake National Park with late season snow still lingering into early summer. Bright blue lake with reflections
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Crater Lake National Park is Oregon’s only entrant to the national park system. This park is home to the deepest lake in the country, measuring in at just under 2,000 feet.

Visitors to this park in a remote part of southern Oregon are treated to breathtaking views of the impossibly blue water that fills the crater of Mt. Mazama, which collapsed on itself during an eruption only 7,000 years ago.

The park’s remote location and lack of nearby lodging make it a day trip for most visitors, with the closest cities being Bend, Klamath Falls, and Ashland. Not exactly places with the same level of population that you’ll find near parks at the top of this list!

Lassen Volcanic National Park (418,978 visitors)

Bumpass Hell boardwalk in Lassen Volcanic National Park - California
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Like its volcanic neighbor to the north in Crater Lake National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a fairly out-of-the-way destination with limited lodging options nearby. Despite the efforts required to visit the park still manages to draw in nearly half a million visitors per year who come to see the jagged peaks, mountain lakes, and volcanic features like fumaroles and bubbling mud pots.

The drive in from the park’s southwestern entrance station offers some of the best views of Lassen Peak and the geothermal features that dot the valleys below.

Redwood National and State Parks (409,105 visitors)

Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California, USA
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Redwood National Park may fall low on this list but we feel that is in part because the National Park only encompasses a small portion of the greater redwood park system that dot the northern California area. Either way these parks feel like you’re stepping back in time with prehistoric looking trees and ferns that line the trails throughout the forests.

With no singular major attraction, it allows visitors to spread out and enjoy being in nature rather than flocking from point to point.

Pinnacles National Park (341,220 visitors)

Rock Formations Tower in the High Peaks Area of Pinnacles National Park
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As the newest park in the national park system, Pinnacles National Park offers a wilderness getaway for the nearby Bay Area. The park offers an abundance of natural beauty within its unique landscapes, which were formed by volcanic eruptions.

The park’s cave system is another reason this 11 year old park is already drawing in well over a quarter million visitors per year.

Channel Islands National Park (328,746 visitors)

Mountain Ridges Rise High Over The Pacific Ocean in Channel Islands National Park
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As the West Coast’s only offshore national park (sorry, Alaska and Hawaii), Channel Islands National Park still managed to draw in an impressive number of visitors each year who make their way to these islands off the coast of Los Angeles by ferry or private boat.

The 300,000 annual visitors to these uninhabited islands get a glimpse of the southern California coast as it used to exist. With no services on the islands, a visit to these wild lands is a test in self-reliance. Many avid backpackers or kayakers will circumnavigate the islands and report that once they leave the drop off area they won’t see another person until they return.

North Cascades National Park (40,351 visitors)

Sunrise Illuminates Beautiful Mountains and Ponds.
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Located on the northern edge of Washington with only one road running through the park it is no wonder that this stunning park doesn’t see a ton of visitors. But drawing only 40,351 visits in 2023 is kind of a shock, as this is less people than Yosemite sees in a week!

Use this to your advantage, though, and take the opportunity to experience a truly wild national park where you can go days without seeing another soul if you dare to venture more than a few miles off of the beaten path.

Some of the park’s most popular hikes, like the Heather-Maple Pass Loop, do get crowded during peak wildflower and larch season, but for the rest of the year, you will usually be enjoying the views all to yourself.

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest