10 Fascinating Facts About the 10 Most Popular National Parks in America

iStock/Bkamprath
iStock/Bkamprath

The U.S. is home to 61 national parks, and each one has something special about it. If you're pressed for time, though, you may want to turn your attention to the 10 most popular parks. These destinations saw the highest attendance of any national park in 2018, according to a list compiled by the National Park Service. From Acadia to Zion and the Rockies to the Smokies, here are just some of the factors that make the 10 most-visited parks so unique.

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the salamander capital of the world.

iStock/Betty4240

Location: Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee
Total visitors in 2018: 11,421,200

This sprawling national park in the Smokies might be the most visited because it's also one of the most accessible, considering that it's located roughly within a day's drive of one-third of the U.S. population. The biodiversity is also undoubtedly a draw. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been dubbed the "salamander capital of the world," and it's home to 30 different species of "spring lizard," as they're called in Appalachia, including the largest one in North America—the hellbender.

2. Grand Canyon National Park visitors could see a sea of clouds.

Erin Huggins, Grand Canyon National Park, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Northern Arizona
Total visitors in 2018: 6,380,495

Everyone knows the Grand Canyon, and for good reason—but did you know that its drastic landscape is capable of influencing the weather? Sharp changes in elevation mean that different parts of the park experience totally different weather conditions. North Rim is the coldest, wettest area in the region at an elevation of more than 8200 feet, but just 8 miles away lies Phantom Ranch, the hottest and one of the driest areas at 2460 feet. If you’re lucky, you may be able to witness a rare weather phenomenon called "total cloud inversion," which sometimes occurs at the Grand Canyon when cool air gets trapped beneath a layer of warm air creating a virtual sea of clouds.

3. Rocky Mountain National Park has the highest continuous paved highway in the U.S. running right through it.

iStock/SeanXu

Location: Northern Colorado
Total visitors in 2018: 4,590,493

As the third most-visited park in the U.S., Rocky Mountain sees a lot of foot traffic. Visitors can also drive along the scenic Trail Ridge Road, which has been called the "highway to the sky" because it soars two miles above sea level at its highest point. This 48-mile strip connects Grand Lake and Estes Park and delivers unparalleled views of the forests, tundra, and meadows below.

4. Zion National Park has its very own "Subway."

iStock/jezdicek

Location: Southwest Utah
Total visitors in 2018: 4,320,033

Only the adventurous can traverse The Subway in Zion National Park. To get to this tunnel carved out of rock, visitors must hike for 9 miles (round-trip), scramble over boulders, climb down waterfalls, and swim through creeks—"and the water is cold," according to Utah.com. The tubular landmark not only looks like a subway tunnel, but it also sounds like one, with the rushing water resembling the roaring sound of a subway as it pulls up to the station.

5. Yellowstone National Park once had a "bear lunch counter."

Yellowstone National Park, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Location: Northwest Wyoming, Southern Montana, and Eastern Idaho
Total visitors in 2018: 4,115,000

Hungry black and grizzly bears used to feast on trash at an open-air dump in Yellowstone. These "bear shows" were a popular tourist activity between 1890 and the 1940s, and the park eventually installed wooden bleachers for spectators and a sign that read "Lunch Counter—For Bears Only." Unsurprisingly, this set-up was a recipe for disaster. Several park visitors were injured, and the feeding grounds ultimately closed to the public during World War II. The dump itself was shuttered in the '70s, and all waste is now removed from the park.

6. Yosemite National Park's "Firefall" was a huge spectacle for nearly a century.

Scfry, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Location: Central California
Total visitors in 2018: 4,009,436

In 1872, a local hotel owner by the name of James McCauley tossed campfire embers over the top of Yosemite's Glacier Point, inadvertently creating a cascading "firefall" that looked pretty spectacular from a distance. Thus, a tradition was born, and each summer evening at 9 p.m. sharp, someone would shout "Let the fire fall!" before pushing embers over the edge. These shows were banned from 1913 to 1917, and again during World War II, but they weren't officially eliminated until 1968. The National Park Service said the man-made attraction was better suited to Disneyland than the natural world, and reasoned that the huge crowds also damaged local meadows.

7. For part of the year, Acadia National Park's Cadillac Mountain is the first place in the U.S. to see the sunrise.

iStock/Ultima_Gaina

Location: Maine's Mount Desert Island
Total visitors in 2018: 3,537,575

If you want to be the first person in America to see the sunrise, visit the top of Acadia's Cadillac Mountain between October 7 and March 6. The 1528-foot peak is the highest point along the North Atlantic, making it a great vantage point to watch the Atlantic Ocean's glistening waters as they're bathed in sunlight. At other points in the year, the first sunrise can be viewed from either West Quoddy Head or Mars Hill, both of which are also in Maine.

8. Grand Teton National Park's name is a reference to boobs.

iStock/KenCanning

Location: Northwest Wyoming
Total visitors in 2018: 3,491,151

To 19th-century French-Canadian fur trappers, three of the highest mountain peaks in what is now Grand Teton National Park apparently looked like the female form. They called them les trois tétons, which translates to "the three breasts" or "the three teats." It's believed that the trappers were referring specifically to Grand Teton, Teewinot Mountain, and Mt. Owen. At any rate, the name stuck and was later anglicized.

9. Olympic National Park is home to one of the world's few temperate rainforests.

iStock/laytonjeff

Location: Washington's Olympic Peninsula
Total visitors in 2018: 3,104,455

Temperate rainforests can be found in just a few places around the world, including Chile, New Zealand, Australia, and America's Pacific Northwest. Thanks to all the moisture coming from the nearby Pacific Ocean, swathes of Olympic National Park are a lush oasis of mosses, ferns, lichens, and Sitka spruce.

10. Glacier National Park has some residents who love visitors: the mountain goats.

iStock/RhondaSuka

Location: Northwest Montana
Total visitors in 2018: 2,965,309

Mountain goats are perfectly at home along the rugged terrain of Glacier National Park. They can scale slopes at a 60-degree angle and withstand temperatures as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit, plus winds of 100 mph. (Confusingly, though, they're not actually goats at all. Rather, they're more closely related to gazelles and African antelope.) If you want to see these nimble mascots of Glacier National Park, you can head to Goat Lick Overlook, where the animals come to lick the salty, mineral-rich cliffs. Or, just go about your merry way and you'll surely see a few—the Glacier goats have learned that staying in the general vicinity of humans keeps them safer from predators.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

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11 Fascinating Facts About Mark Twain

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mark Twain is widely considered the author of the first great American novel—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—but his rollicking tales aren’t the only legacy he left behind. His poignant quotes and witticisms have been told and retold (sometimes erroneously) over the last century and a half, and his volume of work speaks for itself. Over the course of his legendary career, Twain—real name Samuel Langhorne Clemens—wrote more than a dozen novels plus countless short stories and essays and still found time to invent new products, hang out with famous scientists, and look after a house full of cats.

1. Mark Twain is a nautical reference.

Like many of history’s literary greats, Mark Twain (né Samuel Langhorne Clemens) decided to assume an alias early on in his writing career. He tried out a few different names—Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Sergeant Fathom, and, more plainly, Josh—before settling on Mark Twain, which means two fathoms (12 feet) deep in boating jargon. He got the idea while working as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River—a job he held for four years until the Civil War broke out in 1861, putting a halt to commerce. (However, another popular theory holds that he earned the nickname in a bar. According to reports in a couple of 19th-century newspapers, he’d walk into a pub and call out “mark twain!,” prompting the bartender to take a piece of chalk and make two marks on a wall for twain—two—drinks. Twain denied this version of events, though.)

2. In addition to being a steamboat pilot, Mark Twain also worked as a miner.

Shortly after his stint on The Big Muddy, Twain headed west with his brother to avoid having to fight in the war. He took up work as a miner in Virginia City, Nevada, but the job wasn't for him. (He described it as "hard and long and dismal.") Fortunately for Twain, he didn’t have to work there long. In 1862, he was offered his first writing job for Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise newspaper, where he covered crime, politics, mining, and culture.

3. A story Mark Twain heard in a bar led to his “big break.”

Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress), Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1864, Twain headed to Calaveras County, California in hopes of striking gold as a prospector (he didn’t). However, it was during his time here that he heard the bartender of the Angels Hotel in Angels Camp share an incredulous story about a frog-jumping contest. Twain recounted the tale in his own words in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. It was published in 1865 in The New York Saturday Press and went on to receive national acclaim.

4. It took Mark Twain seven years to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Twain started writing the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, but he wasn’t too pleased with his progress. After writing about 400 pages, he told a friend he liked it "only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn" the manuscript. He put the project on the back burner for several years and finally finished it in 1883 following a burst of inspiration.

5. Mark Twain invented a board game.

While Twain was putting off writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he was busy working on a game he dubbed Memory Builder. It was originally supposed to be an outdoor game to help his children learn about England’s monarchs, but he ended up turning it into a board game to improve its chances of selling. However, after two years of work, it was still too convoluted to be marketable and required a vast knowledge of historical facts and dates. That didn’t stop him from patenting the game, though.

6. Mark Twain created "improved" scrapbooks and suspenders.

Memory Builder wasn't Twain's only invention; he also patented two other products. One was inspired by his love of scrapbooking, while the other came about from his hatred of suspenders. He designed a self-adhesive scrapbook that works like an envelope, which netted him about $50,000 in profits. His “improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments” also ended up being useful, but for an entirely different purpose than Twain originally intended. According to The Atlantic, “This clever invention only caught on for one snug garment: the bra. For those with little brassiere experience, not a button, nor a snap, but a clasp is all that secures that elastic band, which holds up women's breasts. So not-so-dexterous ladies and gents, you can thank Mark Twain for that."

7. Thomas Edison filmed Twain at home.

Only one video of Twain exists, and it was shot by none other than his close friend Thomas Edison. The footage was captured in 1909—one year before the author died—at Twain’s estate in Redding, Connecticut. He’s seen sporting a light-colored suit and his usual walrus mustache, and one scene shows him with his daughters, Clara and Jean. On a separate occasion that same year, Edison recorded Twain as he read stories into a phonograph, but those audio clips were destroyed in a fire. No other recording of Twain’s voice exists.

8. Mark Twain did wear white suits, but not as often as you might think.

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

When you think of Mark Twain, you probably picture him in an all-white suit with a cigar or pipe hanging from his lips. It’s true that he was photographed in a white suit on several occasions, but he didn’t start this habit until later in life. According to The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, “In December 1906, he wore a white suit while appearing before a congressional committee regarding copyright. He did this for dramatic emphasis. Several times after that he wore white out of season for effect.” He also refused to trade his white clothes for “shapeless and degrading black ones” in the winter, no matter how cold it got. So take that, people who subscribe to the “no white after Labor Day” rule.

9. At one point, Mark Twain had 19 cats.

Twain really, really liked cats—so much so that he had 19 of them at one time. And if he was traveling, he would “rent” cats to keep him company. In fact, he had a much higher opinion of felines than humans, remarking, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” He also had a talent for coming up with some great cat names; Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Sour Mash, Zoroaster, Soapy Sal, Pestilence, Bambino, and Satan were just a few of the kitties in his brood.

10. Mark Twain probably didn’t say that thing you think he said.

Twain is one of the most misquoted authors in history. According to one quote wrongfully attributed to him, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” What Twain actually said was, “[He] was endowed with a stupidity which by the least little stretch would go around the globe four times and tie.” There are many, many examples of these.

11. Mark Twain accurately predicted when he would die.

When he was born on November 30, 1835, Halley’s Comet was visible from Earth. It appears roughly every 75 years, and Twain predicted he would die the next time it graced the sky. As he put it in 1909, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’ Oh, I am looking forward to that.” He ended up passing away at his Connecticut home on April 21, 1910, one day after Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky once again.

This story has been updated for 2020.