NPS Visitor Use Statistics Definitions

Official Statistics

Visits

The entry of any person, except NPS and service personnel, onto lands or waters administered by the NPS. Same-day reentries, negligible transit, and entry to a detached portion of the same park on the same day are considered to be a single visit. Such adjustments are made insofar as practicable for noncontiguous parts of the same park. However, visits are reported separately for two contiguous, independently authorized parks.
The entry of a person onto lands or waters administered by the NPS except for non-reportable and non-recreation visits. Funeral parties at National Cemeteries, school groups, etc. are reportable as ‘recreation visits’ since their use aligns with the purpose for which the park was established. Visits originating on surface vehicles (trains, boats, other) and aircraft may be counted if they stop and disembark passengers on NPS administrated territory. The applicable rule is that one entrance per individual per day may be counted.

Non-recreation visits are generated by visitors using park territory, roads, and facilities for their own convenience or as a part of their occupation. Reportable non-recreation visits include:

  • Persons going to and from inholdings across significant parts of park land;
  • Commuter and other traffic using NPS-administered roads or waterways through a park for their convenience;
  • Trades-people with business in the park;
  • Any civilian activity a part of or incidental to the pursuit of a gainful occupation (e.g., guides);
  • Government personnel (other than NPS employees) with business in the park;
  • Citizens using NPS buildings for civic or local government business, or attending public hearings;
  • Outside research activities (visits and overnights) if independent of NPS legislated interests (e.g. meteorological research).

Visitor Hours

The presence of one or more persons, excluding NPS personnel, in a park for continuous, intermittent, or simultaneous periods of time aggregating one hour (e.g., one person for one hour, two persons for one-half hour, etc.).
A visitor hour associated with a recreation visit. (See visitor hour definition above)

Although same day attendance at detached parts of the same park are considered duplicate counts and not reported as separate visits, the time involved at detached units is added together for the visitor hour estimate.
A visitor hour associated with a non-recreation visit. (See visitor hour definition above)

Overnight Stays

One night within a park by a visitor. Overnights by concession employees, inholders, NPS employees and their families are non-reportable. A party of 2 visitors staying over for 3 nights yields 6 overnight stays. There are seven categories of overnight stays:
Persons staying overnight in concessioner operated lodges, cabins, motels and hotels.
Persons staying overnight in concessioner operated trailer courts (trailers not provided by concessioner), RV parks and tent campgrounds
Campers in soft-sided tents, sleeping bags or tents attached to a vehicle in NPS operated campsites
Campers in recreational vehicles including tent trailers at NPS operated campsites (see definition of Recreation Vehicle for more detail)
Campers in sleeping bags or soft-sided tents erected at undeveloped walk-in campsites not accessible by road. This does not include camping areas having walk-in sites with nearby parking, nor does it include developed campgrounds solely because they happen to be located on an island (e.g., at Isle Royale NP).
Campers in group camping areas, on board transport or boats, at trailside shelters, in youth or elder hostels, in undeveloped overflow areas, or in other areas not otherwise described above (except inholders) are reported as Miscellaneous Overnight Stays
Any overnight associated with non-recreation visits (e.g., nights on board commercial fishing vessels off shore but within boundaries of NPS areas or researchers on non-NPS government business who stay overnight). All nonrecreation overnight stays should be captured in this category regardless of whether they occurred in concessioner lodging or NPS campgrounds, etc. Overnight stays on private inholdings are non-reportable.

Other Defintions Used in Visitor Use Statistics

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Backcountry

One or more primitive or wilderness areas which are reached primarily by hiking, boating, or horseback. This does not include developed campgrounds solely because they happen to be located on an island (e.g. at Isle Royale NP).

Campground

An area of land designated and developed for use as a camp.

Concessioner

A private company or an individual granted the privilege of providing facilities and services considered necessary by the NPS for accommodating visitors.

Concessioner Campground

An element of a concessioner operation involving services for overnight camping such as RV parks, tent campgrounds and trailer courts where trailers are not provided by concessioner.

Concessioner Lodging

An element of a concessioner operation involving facilities for overnight lodging such as hotels, motels, cabins, cottages, trailer villages, and trailer courts where trailers are available for rent by visitors.

Miscellaneous Area

A property that is neither solely federally owned or directly administered by the NPS, but which utilizes NPS assistance.

Miscellaneous Overnight Stay

Any overnight stay not otherwise defined such as sleeping aboard boats, camping in organized groups campsites, and/or any overnight stays not included in other categories of overnight stays. This excludes overnight stays on private inholdings, which are non-reportable.

National Park Service (NPS)

A Department of the Interior (DOI) bureau which administers approximately two dozen types of federal land, nationally significant for their scenic, natural, scientific, historical, or archeological interest. The agency was established as a Bureau of the DOI by an Act of Congress on August 25, 1916. The NPS does not administer National Forests (United States Department of Agriculture/Forest Service), Wildlife Refuges (United States Department of Interior/Fish and Wildlife Service), or a variety of other lands available for visitor use.

National Park System

The collection of properties managed by the National Park Service. The General Authorities Act of 1970 defines the System thus: “ The 'national park system' shall include any area of land and water now or hereafter administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the National Park Service for park, monument, historic, parkway, recreational, or other purposes.”

Negligible Transit

A brief, incidental entry into a park by passing traffic (vehicular or pedestrian) using NPS-administered grounds, roads, or walkways (See Non-Reportable Visits).

Non-Recreation Overnight Stay

A reportable non-recreation overnight stay is any overnight associated with non-recreation visits (e.g., nights on board commercial fishing vessels off shore but within boundaries of NPS areas or researchers on non-NPS government business who stay overnight) and includes leaseholders, line shacks for ranchers, and government personnel other than NPS employees.

Non-Recreation Visit

A reportable non-recreation visit includes:
  • Persons going to and from inholdings across significant parts of park land;
  • Commuter and other through traffic using Service-administered roads or waterways through a park for their convenience;
  • Trades-people with business in the park;
  • Any civilian activity a part of or incidental to the pursuit of a gainful occupation (e.g., guides);
  • Government personnel (other than NPS employees) with business in the park;
  • Citizens using NPS buildings for civic or local government business, or attending public hearings
  • Outside research activities (visits and overnights) if independent of NPS legislated interests (e.g. meteorological research).

Non-Reportable Visit

The entry into a park by NPS employees, their families, concession employees, members of cooperating associations, NPS contractors, and service personnel are not reportable for visitor use. Specific situations include:
  • Employees of the NPS who are assigned to the park or are visiting the park in connection with their duty assignment;
  • NPS contractors, concessioners, cooperating associations and their employees
  • Temporary or permanent members in household of personnel otherwise included in this definition whose residence is in the park
  • Private tenants within the NPS boundaries (inholders) if not crossing significant NPS territory for access
  • Persons engaged in pursuit of specific legal rights of use (e.g., subsistence hunting and fishing)
  • Any other persons whose presence in the park is to help the Service fulfill its mission (e.g., volunteers in the park, research activities associated with the NPS mission).
In addition, brief, incidental entries into a park by passing traffic (vehicular or pedestrian) using NPS administered grounds, roads, or walkways is considered non-reportable. Civil ceremonies (e.g., ritualistic observances, marriages) are non-reportable unless there is a traditional, legislative or other official and externally imposed requirement bearing on the park, or unless there is a compensatory contract with the activity sponsor as with an authorized special use permit.

Overnight Stay

One night within a park by a visitor. Overnights by concession employees, inholders, NPS employees and their families are non-reportable. A party of 2 visitors staying over for 3 nights yields 6 overnight stays. There are seven categories of overnight stays:
  • Persons staying overnight in concessioner operated lodges, cabins, motels and hotels are reported as Concessioner Lodging Overnight Stays
  • Persons staying overnight in concessioner operated trailer courts (trailers not provided by concessioner), RV parks and tent campgrounds are reported as Concessioner Campground Overnight Stays
  • Campers in soft-sided tents, sleeping bags or tents attached to a vehicle in NPS operated campsites are reported as Tent Overnight Stays
  • Campers in recreational vehicles including tent trailers at NPS operated campsites are reported as RV Overnight Stays (see definition of Recreation Vehicle)
  • Campers in sleeping bags or soft-sided tents erected at undeveloped walk-in campsites not accessible by road are reported as Backcountry Overnight Stays. This does not include camping areas having walk-in sites with nearby parking, nor does it include developed campgrounds solely because they happen to be located on an island (e.g., at Isle Royale NP).
  • Campers in group camping areas, on board transport or boats, at trailside shelters, in youth or elder hostels, in undeveloped overflow areas, or in other areas not otherwise described above (except inholders) are reported as Miscellaneous Overnight Stays
  • Non-Recreation Overnight Stays are any overnight associated with non-recreation visits (e.g., nights on board commercial fishing vessels off shore but within boundaries of NPS areas or researchers on non-NPS government business who stay overnight). All nonrecreation overnight stays should be captured in this category regardless of whether they occurred in concessioner lodging or NPS campgrounds, etc. Overnight stays on private inholdings are non-reportable.

Population Centers

NPS areas are categorized by their proximity to population centers in the following manner:
  • Mixed Area Park – A park located in a mixture of Outlying Area, Rural Area, Suburban Area, and/or Urban area.
  • Outlying Area Park – More than 75% of the park is located within a 2020 Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) with a population of less than one million people but outside of any Urbanized Areas (Urbanized Area as defined by the US Census Bureau).
  • Remote Area Park – A park located outside of any 2020 MSA and requiring special travel arrangements to reach.
  • Rural Area Park – More than 75% of the park is located outside of any 2020 MSA and accessible by paved highway, scheduled air or marine transportation service.
  • Suburban Area Park – More than 75% of the park is located within a 2020 MSA with a population of greater than one million people but outside of any Urbanized Areas (Urbanized Area as defined by the US Census Bureau).
  • Urban Area Park – More than 75% of the park is located within a 2020 Urbanized Area as defined by the US Census Bureau.

Recreation Vehicle

Any enclosed vehicle used for camping which is more elaborate than a simple truck or car, such as pickup truck with camper body, pop-up tent trailer, travel trailer, bus, motor coach, mobile home, etc.

Recreation Visit

The entry of a person onto lands or waters administered by the NPS except as defined above for non-reportable and non-recreation visits. Funeral parties at National Cemeteries, school groups, etc. are reportable as ‘recreation’ use since their use is for the purpose for which the park was established. Visits originating on surface vehicles (trains, boats, other) and aircraft may be counted if they stop and disembark passengers on NPS administrated territory. The applicable rule is that one entrance per individual per day is countable.

RV Overnight Stay

One night within a park by a visitor in an RV in an NPS-owned campground.

Tandem Visitation

A visitor going from one park to another on the same day. Visits to different parks on the same day are counted separately as long as the areas visited are independently authorized units of the National Park System and not just separate portions of the same unit. Visits to separate portions of the same authorized park on the same day are considered same-day reentries and count as one visit to the park.

Tent Overnight Stay

One night within a park by a visitor in a tent in an NPS-owned campground.

Visit

The entry of any person, except NPS and service personnel, onto lands or waters administered by the NPS. There are three categories of visits to parks: (1) visits that are not reported as visitor use; (2) non-recreation visits that are reported as visitor use; and (3) recreation visits that are reported as visitor use. Same-day reentries, negligible transit, and entry to a detached portion of the same park on the same day are considered to be a single visit. Such adjustments are made insofar as practicable for noncontiguous parts of the same park. However, visits are reported separately for two contiguous, independently authorized parks.

Visitor

An individual who may generate one or more visits.

Visitor Day

Twelve visitor hours in a park.

Visitor Hour

The presence of one or more persons, excluding NPS personnel, in a park for continuous, intermittent, or simultaneous periods of time aggregating one hour (e.g., one person for one hour, two persons for one-half hour, etc.). Although same day attendance at detached parts of the same park are considered duplicate counts and not reported as separate visits, the time involved at detached units is added together for the visitor hour estimate.

Last updated: August 11, 2022

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