America’s Most Visited City Parks

America’s Most Visited City Parks

Despite the pandemic in 2020, 237 million people trekked to one of the nation’s more than 400 national park sites, the National Park Service reports. To make that trip, most drove or flew hundreds of miles to view the grand vistas of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone or to peek into history at the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania. 

Yet many park-goers decided to forgo the hassle of plane travel or a long car ride to visit a recreational area in their hometown or a nearby city. The country’s 100 largest cities are home to numerous cityland parks filled with nature, recreational facilities, and historic commemorations. All told, 495 public and private parks and recreational organizations in these metro areas oversee about two million acres of parkland, according to The Trust for Public Land’s “2021 City Park Facts,” the latest edition of the nonprofit’s annual parks data compilation.  

To identify the most visited parks in America’s largest cities, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the visitation data from the TPL’s report. Topping the list is New York City’s iconic Central Park, where 42 million visitors stroll through its pathways and lakes each year. 

A rectangular oasis of green surrounded by a towering urban landscape, the park traces its origins to 1853, when the city, pushed by wealthy merchants who wanted an area resembling the public parks in London and Paris, acquired 700 acres in the middle of Manhattan by the power of eminent domain. 

A Central Park Commission was appointed, and after a landscape design contest, a plan submitted by Frederick Law Olmsted, the park’s superintendent at the time, and Calvert Vaux, an English-born architect, got the nod. Some 20,000 laborers worked on this massive 1public project, which opened to the public in 1859. (These are the oldest city parks in America.)

The 1,000-plus acre Golden Gate Park in San Francisco also began in the 19th century. In 1870, William Hammond Hall, California’s first state engineer, turned an area dominated by sand dunes into a peaceful place of gardens and playgrounds, which later came to include the De Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences. After the devastating 1906 earthquake, the park sheltered 200,000 homeless San Franciscans. (See the worst natural disaster in every state.)

Not all city parks date back that far. Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta Park was launched (literally) in 1972 when 13 hot air balloons took to the skies from a mall parking lot. The event’s popularity soared, and now it’s held every October, when about 600 balloons rise from its own permanent 350-acre site in a stunning display of colorful airborne floats.

With the pandemic keeping people close to home, these urban parks offer a respite from cramped quarters and busy streets. And they’re usually just a walk or short car ride away. 

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30. Balloon Fiesta Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico
> Annual visitation: 1,300,000
> Park agency: Albuquerque Parks and Recreation Department

Source: Courtesy of Chesapeake City Park via Yelp

29. Chesapeake City Park, Chesapeake, Virginia
> Annual visitation: 1,500,000
> Park agency: Chesapeake Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism

Source: Kruck20 / iStock via Getty Images

28. Mecklenburg County Sportsplex, Charlotte/Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
> Annual visitation: 1,527,988
> Park agency: Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation

Source: Christa Boaz / iStock via Getty Images

27. Gray’s Lake Park, Des Moines, Iowa
> Annual visitation: 1,750,000
> Park agency: Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department

Source: deberarr / iStock via Getty Images

25. City Park, Denver, Colorado
> Annual visitation: 2,000,000
> Park agency: Denver Parks and Recreation

Source: vspycc / Flickr

25. James River Park, Richmond, Virginia
> Annual visitation: 2,000,000
> Park agency: Richmond Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities

Source: Mike Worley / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

24. Louisville Waterfront Park, Louisville, Kentucky
> Annual visitation: 2,200,000
> Park agency: Louisville Waterfront Park

Source: kitpfish / Flickr

23. Schenley Park & Plaza, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
> Annual visitation: 2,250,000
> Park agency: Pittsburgh Departments of Public Works and Parks & Recreation

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

22. Boston Common, Boston, Massachusetts
> Annual visitation: 2,500,000
> Park agency: Boston Parks and Recreation Department

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

21. Belle Isle Park, Detroit, Michigan
> Annual visitation: 2,600,000
> Park agency: Detroit Recreation Department

Source: boisechamber / Flickr

20. Julia Davis Park, Boise, Idaho
> Annual visitation: 2,737,500
> Park agency: Boise Parks and Recreation

Source: cedricbonhomme / Flickr

18. Lake Eola, Orlando, Florida
> Annual visitation: 3,000,000
> Park agency: Orlando Families, Parks and Recreation Department

Source: ddbell / iStock via Getty Images

18. Riverfront Park, Spokane, Washington
> Annual visitation: 3,000,000
> Park agency: Spokane Parks and Recreation Department

Source: Courtesy of Rocky River Reservation via Yelp

17. Rocky River Reservation, Cleveland, Ohio
> Annual visitation: 3,145,203
> Park agency: Cleveland Metroparks (within Cleveland)

Source: halbergman / E+ via Getty Images

16. Washington Park, Portland, Oregon
> Annual visitation: 3,200,000
> Park agency: Portland Parks & Recreation

Source: iip-photo-archive / Flickr

15. Como Regional Park, St. Paul, Minnesota
> Annual visitation: 3,800,000
> Park agency: Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Department

Source: zrfphoto / iStock via Getty Images

14. Independence National Historic Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
> Annual visitation: 4,500,000
> Park agency: Independence National Historical Park

Source: dszc / E+ via Getty Images

12. Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California
> Annual visitation: 5,000,000
> Park agency: Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks

Source: jimratliff / Flickr

12. Lakeside Park, Oakland, California
> Annual visitation: 5,000,000
> Park agency: Oakland Office of Parks and Recreation

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

11. Garden of the Gods Park, Colorado Springs, Colorado
> Annual visitation: 5,800,000
> Park agency: Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services

Source: nakrnsm / Flickr

10. Hermann Park, Houston, Texas
> Annual visitation: 6,000,000
> Park agency: Houston Parks and Recreation Department

Source: dszc / E+ via Getty Images

8. San Antonio Riverwalk, San Antonio, Texas
> Annual visitation: 7,000,000
> Park agency: San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department
> Total park spending in fiscal 2020: $136.7 million — #6 highest on list

Source: TylerFairbank / Getty Images

8. Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
> Annual visitation: 7,000,000
> Park agency: National Park Service, Region 1 – National Capital Area

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

7. Chain of Lakes Regional Park, Minneapolis, Minnesota
> Annual visitation: 8,000,000
> Park agency: Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Source: Art Wager / E+ via Getty Images

6. Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri
> Annual visitation: 10,000,000
> Park agency: St. Louis Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry

Source: infrogmation / Flickr

5. City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana
> Annual visitation: 12,000,000
> Park agency: New Orleans City Park Improvement Association

Source: f8grapher / iStock via Getty Images

4. Mission Bay Park, San Diego, California
> Annual visitation: 18,000,000
> Park agency: City of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

3. Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois
> Annual visitation: 20,000,000
> Park agency: Chicago Park District

Source: Medioimages/Photodisc / Photodisc via Getty Images

2. Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California
> Annual visitation: 24,000,000
> Park agency: San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department

Source: Andrew Bertuleit / iStock via Getty Images

1. Central Park, New York, New York
> Annual visitation: 42,000,000
> Park agency: New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

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