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Blue Ridge Parkway saw 16.7 million visitors in 2023 – more than Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite

The Blue Ridge Parkway as seen from Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower.
Felicia Sonmez
The Blue Ridge Parkway as seen from Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower.

A total of 16.7 million people traversed the Blue Ridge Parkway last year, a 6% increase over 2022, according to preliminary numbers from the National Park Service.

While official numbers have not been released yet, the 469-mile-long parkway, which winds atop the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina, likely saw more visitors in 2023 than any other national park.

The uptick in visitors came even as a stretch of the parkway near Asheville was temporarily shut down last fall after several visitors fed and tried to hold a young bear.

The nonprofit Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation noted that the 16.7 million visitors represents “more visitors than the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite national parks combined for the same year.”

Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw nearly 13.3 million visitors last year, according to the preliminary figures.

Despite the year-over-year increase, 2023 did not mark the Blue Ridge Parkway’s highest-ever year for visitors. According to National Park Service statistics, the parkway saw more than 17 million visitors for most years from 1985 to 2007, with visitation reaching a peak of 21.5 million in 2002.

The parkway, the longest U.S. road planned as a single unit, has 300 miles of hiking trails, eight campgrounds and 13 picnic areas, according to the NPS.

Felicia Sonmez is a reporter covering growth and development for Blue Ridge Public Radio.