The list of the most-visited U.S. landmarks is somewhat contentious. Many institutions, both public and private, are vying to be crowned as the most popular, and the very definition of what constitutes a landmark seems to vary.
For this article, we’ll be using this dictionary definition: a landmark is an object or feature of a landscape or town that is easily seen and recognized from a distance.
That counts out some of the most popular tourist destinations because they just don’t stand out from the surrounding landscape. For example, the Mall of America would be number one on this list, but the building — aside from being sprawling — is rather unassuming. We’ll also be leaving out the most popular landmarks that we previously covered; this will be all new material. Onward!
The 5 Most-Visited Landmarks in the U.S.
5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Location: Nevada/Arizona border
Lake Mead is the massive reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam. It certainly qualifies as a landmark, stretching across hundreds of square miles of desolate country on the border of Arizona and Nevada. Since it’s creation in 1930’s, Lake Mead, nearby Lake Mojave, and the surrounding region have attracted throngs of visitors. Many come from nearby Las Vegas to enjoy cooling activities like boating, water-skiing, fishing, and swimming.
Lake Mead is situated at the intersection of three major deserts: the Sonoran, the Mojave, and the Great Basin, and as such the area has a high level of plant and animal biodiversity. The stunning natural landscape, abundant outdoor recreation opportunities, and cool water will undoubtedly attract visitors for many years into the future – as long as the water levels stay high enough.
4. Navy Pier
Location: Chicago, IL
In the heart of downtown Chicago, a pier more than half a mile in length juts into the water of Lake Michigan. Originally built in 1916 as the then largest pier in the world, Navy Pier was built both as a recreational site and to handle cargo and ships plying the Great Lakes.
In the nearly 100 years since it opened, Navy Pier has served as a college campus, naval base during WWII, and entertainment expo. Today, parks, stores, restaurants, and entertainment draws nine million visitors every year to Navy Pier.Highlights of the Navy Pier include a ferris wheel, an IMAX theatre, a Shakespearean theater, the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, and a front-row seat for the annul Air and Water airshow.
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: Tennessee/North Carolina border
The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone – these may be the most famous National Parks, but when it comes to the most visited, none can surpass Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Situated in the heart of the Appalachian Range on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has nearly double the number of annual visitors as the next most popular National Park (Grand Canyon). People flock from across the Eastern U.S. to visit the Smokies, which are named for the mists and fogs that rise from the forests of the park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains the largest old-growth forest east of the Mississippi River, and has an exceptional level of biological diversity due to the range of different habitats to be found in the park. More than 240 bird species and 66 mammal species, including Black bear and elk, can be found in the park.
2. Fisherman’s Wharf / Golden Gate Bridge
Location: San Francisco, CA
Golden Gate is a familiar name around the world. The bridge that crosses this narrow channel is a household name, but few know that the term “Golden Gate” itself originates from the founding of the city of San Francisco, when the Bay was lauded as one of the best in the world for shipping and became known as the gateway to the Pacific.
Today, more than 15 million tourists visit Fisherman’s Wharf and the nearby Golden Gate Brigde each year. The beautiful Golden Gate Park provides views out across the mouth of the Bay to Alcatraz Island and the bridge.
A mile or so to the east, Fisherman’s Wharf is a tourist attraction in it’s own right as the home of San Francisco’s fishing fleet and numerous fresh seafood restaurants. Other popular tourists attractions on the wharf include Ghirardelli Square, Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum, an aquarium, shopping centers, and a colony of Sea Lions who have taken up residence next to Pier 39.
1. The National Mall and Memorial Parks
Location: Washington, D.C.
To top this list, we head to the center of our nation: Washington, D.C. The National Mall and Memorial Parks are a series of memorials, parks, and public buildings near the White House. It ranks as the number one in our list of the most visited U.S. landmarks.
The park, which stretches across various portions of Washington D.C., has the National Mall as it’s centerpiece. The Mall itself is about 300 acres in size, and is anchored on one end by the White House and the other end by the U.S. Capitol Building. The iconic Washington Monument, the 555 foot tall stone obelisk that commemorates the first American president, George Washington, sits at the center of the National Mall.
Other attractions located in the National Mall and Memorial Parks network include the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Constitution Gardens, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
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