By Tacy Lambiase

This week, the National Park Service released a list of the most visited National Parks during 2012. The total number of national park visitors for the year — over 282 million people — was the sixth highest number of annual visitors in the history of the National Park Service.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Credit: Miguel Vieira/Flickr
Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Credit: Miguel Vieira/Flickr

Great Smoky Mountains National Park maintained its status as the most visited national park in the country, welcoming over 9 million visitors last year. The list also includes Yellowstone National Park, America’s first national park, and Zion National Park, a biologically diverse preserve in Utah.

“The National Park Service strives to represent all that America has to offer,” says National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “People come to national parks for many reasons — for recreation and to learn about American history by strolling through a battlefield. They come to listen to a park ranger at Independence National Historical Park and marvel at the Continental Congress. And people come to national parks for old-fashioned enjoyment of the great outdoors.”

Below is the list of the most visited National Parks in 2012:

1.    Great Smoky Mountains National Park (9,685,829 visitors)
2.    Grand Canyon National Park (4,421,352 visitors)
3.    Yosemite National Park (3,853,404 visitors)
4.    Yellowstone National Park (3,447,729 visitors)
5.    Rocky Mountain National Park (3,229,617 visitors)
6.    Zion National Park (2,973,607 visitors)
7.    Olympic National Park (2,824,908 visitors)
8.    Grand Teton National Park (2,705,256 visitors)
9.    Acadia National Park (2,431,052 visitors)
10. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (2,299,722 visitors)

National champion Western redcedar.
National champion Western redcedar.

Millions of people travel to these sites every year to go hiking, camping, exploring and to simply enjoy the beauty of nature. While it’s obvious that trees enhance the landscapes of many of our national parks, it’s not very well known that several of these parks are home to some of our nation’s “Big Trees.” For more than 70 years, American Forests’ National Big Tree Program has kept a record of the largest trees of each species in the United States. Several of the program’s champion trees are located in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Olympic National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park draws huge crowds and big trees. On the North Carolina side of the park, a national champion red spruce tree stands 147 feet tall. This national park is also home to the national champion cinnamon tree. At just 33 feet tall, this tree is considered a “tiny titan” among the larger trees on the register.

Located in Washington, Olympic National Park boasts several national champion Big Trees. If you visit the park, you can marvel at two pacific silver fir trees which stand over 200 feet tall. Another of Olympic’s Big Trees, a Western redcedar, was a contender in American Forests’ Big Tree Madness competition this past month. (Though the redcedar has been eliminated, you can still vote for the remaining contenders through Monday.) This popular tree was first nominated for the register in 1945.

Want to visit a Big Tree? Curious about which Big Trees may be located near you? Stay tuned — the spring 2013 National Register of Big Trees will be released later this month!