WASHINGTON – As the National Park Service (NPS) looks to its 2016 centennial year, visitation to America’s 409 national parks is on pace to set a new record in 2015.
More individuals, families and groups have visited NPS sites in the first 10 months of the year than ever before. The NPS’s Public Use Statistics Office estimated 272.5 million recreation visits to the parks through October, the latest month for complete, though unofficial statistics are available. That compares to 262.7 million visits in the same period of 2014, an increase of 3.7 percent which will mean 300 million visitors in 2015.
“With every visit to national parks, people write themselves a prescription for the health benefits that come when enjoying these natural and historical wonders,” said NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Americans have loved the national parks for a century and more. Our aim now is to help the next generation become not only visitors but park supporters and advocates, too.”
The NPS centennial is expected to extend the visitation surge, bringing even more people to America’s parks. As families gather over the holidays and consider vacation time together, planning ahead for a national park visit in 2016 is essential.
The increased visitation is not confined to one region or type of park. Parks across the U.S., from iconic “crown jewel” sites to lesser-known gems already exceed prior records for visitation. By the end of October 2015, the world’s first national park, Yellowstone in Wyoming and Montana, had smashed its previous annual high (2010) with more than 4 million visits, which represents a 17 percent increase over last year’s visitation to date. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, which is celebrating its own park centennial this year, also may pass 4 million visits in 2015. It already has broken the mark it set last year, with more than 3.9 million visits through October 2015. Each of Rocky Mountain’s 10 busiest days this year saw more than 10,000 vehicles enter the park.
At the same time, tiny Golden Spike National Historic Site in northern Utah, which marks where the first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, had 32 percent more visits through October than in the same period last year. And visitation increased almost every month this year. In southern Utah, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks also have set new visitation highs this year.
Despite difficult winter conditions earlier this year, several East Coast locations have posted significantly higher visitor counts including Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina, Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site in New York, Federal Hall National Memorial in New York and Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina, perennially one of the most visited NPS sites, is also on track to break its visitation record.
Recognizing the importance of providing visitors with great experiences, the NPS is working to meet the challenges that come with increasing visitor numbers. Yosemite National Park has lowered entrance fees in the fall and winter to ease summer congestion. Zion and Arches National Park in Utah both are engaged in careful, public processes to find ways to accommodate visitors and preserve enjoyment of the parks. Yellowstone National Park has held listening sessions with staff and surrounding communities to brainstorm short-term ways to ease vehicle congestion, pedestrian crowding and long lines at some park facilities next summer.
The National Park Service’s 100th birthday is Aug. 25, 2016, but parks across the country are planning hundreds of centennial events throughout the year. The Find Your Park campaign, which rolled out last April, has sparked fresh excitement with thousands of people are sharing stories of their favorite outdoor destinations. Another centennial initiative, Every Kid in a Park, now offers every fourth grader in America a free family pass into federal parks and public lands that collect entrance fees.
About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America's 409 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Visit us at www.nps.gov, on Facebook www.facebook.com/nationalparkservice, Twitter www.twitter.com/natlparkservice, and YouTube www.youtube.com/nationalparkservice.