In 2012, national parks received nearly 283 million recreational visitors, an increase of nearly 4 million visitors over the 2011 figures. Visits to national parks have been trending upward throughout the decade, and NPS personnel believe that park visitation will continue to increase in the coming years, as members of the baby boom generation retire, giving them more time to travel. In addition, population increases along the coasts and in the West will place more Americans closer to large national parks such as Yosemite, Olympic, and Mount Rainier.
As the number of visits increases, park roads will increasingly experience traffic congestion. The NPS has not been building new roads or adding lanes to alleviate congestion. Instead, it has been pursuing alternative transportation systems, which frequently include high occupancy vehicles (shuttle buses, trolleys, ferries) as a means to add capacity, alleviate congestion, improve visitor experience, and protect resources.
Transportation Modes and System Characteristics
The NPS transportation system provides essential public access to parks, provides visitor mobility within parks, and allows the staff to conduct park operations. While most park visitors use private automobiles during their visits, many others use a combination of:
- trains, shuttles and other alternative transportation
This means that the park transportation systems must accommodate a host of travel modes in addition to maintaining roads and parking lots for automobiles. The NPS transportation system currently includes:
- 5,450 miles of paved roads (of which 1,100 miles are parkways)
- 4,100 miles of unpaved roads
- 1,414 bridges
- 63 tunnels
- 110 alternative transportation systems in 81 park units
- 18,600 miles of trails, of which 690 miles (4%) are paved