US urban park emerges world leader as world's most visited park

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California (Palette7/

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California (Palette7/


, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area around San Francisco has emerged the most visited protected area in the world, according to a new paper charting the most popular national parks and protected areas in the world.

In their joint study, published in PLoS this week, scientists from the University of Cambridge and Princeton University nailed down the nature reserves and protected areas across different continents that receive the most visits and help spur the local economy.

The United Nations Environment Programme defines a protected area as an area of land or sea dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity and of natural and associated cultural resources, managed through legal or other effective means.

The study suggests that more than 8 billion people visit national parks and nature reserves every year, pumping the equivalent of $600 billion into the local tourism economy, and 80 percent of the most popular parks and protected areas can be found in Europe and North America.

With 14.4 million visits a year, Golden Gate National Recreation Area around San Francisco leads as the most popular protected area in North America and the world, followed by Lake Mead National Recreational Area in Nevada and Arizona, which attracts 7.8 million visits.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area includes a major urban center and tourist destination.

Points of interest include Alcatraz Island, Fort Point National Historic Site, Golden Gate Bridge and Muir Woods National Monument.

The Recreation Area, which spreads through a 100 km-swath of coastal land, is home to more than half of North American bird species.

The area is popular for its dramatic cliffs, salt marshes, wetlands, redwood forests and windswept beaches.

CNNTravel breaks down the most visited protected areas across the continents, from the PLoS study which aims to highlight the need for increased funding to the world's parks and reserves:

Table Mountain National Park (formerly Cape Peninsula National Park), South Africa: 1.4 million visits/year
Kruger National Park, South Africa: 1 million visits/year

Seoraksan National Park, South Korea: 3.1 million visits/year
Mount Huangshan, China: 1.3 million visits/year

Gondwana Rainforests of Australia: 510,000 visits/year
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park: 380,000 visits/year

Lake District, UK:  10.5 million visits/year
Peak District, UK:10.1 million visits/year

North America
Golden Gate National Recreation Area, US: 14.4 million visits/year.Lake Mead National Recreational Area, US: 7.8 million visits/year

South America and Caribbean
Tijuca National Park, Brazil: 737,000 visits/year
Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, Peru: 691,000 visits/year.