Why collect visitor statistics?
Reliable, ongoing, quantitative knowledge of visitor use is necessary to support and manage federal lands and waters. This responsibility is recognized by legal mandate, various interagency agreements and a 1965 Federal Executive Policy. In addition to satisfying legal and policy mandates, visitor use data are useful for a wide variety of purposes, both within and outside of federal agencies. Within an agency, these data inform operational functions and infrastructure decisions such as facility design, maintenance schedules, and the provision of various visitor services and programs. Outside of the NPS, accurate visitor use information allows local communities and businesses to determine the types and quantities of amenities, goods and services - public water supplies, water treatment, solid waste handling, transportation, and emergency services - needed by park visitors. Visitor use data are also a primary input to estimating the economic benefits of nearby federal lands and waters to communities and the nation (spending, job creation, etc). In summary, a detailed understanding of visitation levels in federally managed properties is essential to the appropriate management of the resources entrusted to a federal agency and to the appropriate management of resources in nearby communities.
Which official visitation statistics are reported by the NPS?
Each month parks are required to report the number of recreation visits, the number of non-recreation visits, the hours of recreation and non-recreation use, and the number of overnight stays. When requested specifically by a park other data, such as number of visits to specific areas of a park or number of visits during special events, are recorded in addition to the required data. These data are displayed in custom reports on the park page in the Visitor Use Statistics Data Portal. See the Definitions page for more information.
What is a visit? Is it the same as a visitor?
A visit is the entry of a person onto lands or waters administered by the NPS. It is not the same as a 'visitor' because visitors can generate more than one visit if they leave a park and return on a different day. 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 as a visit.
What is the difference between a recreation visit and a non-recreation visit?
Recreation visits are generated by visitors using the park 'as a park'. For example, 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.
Non-recreation visits are generated by visitors using park territory, roads, and facilities for their own convenience or as a part of their occupation. Examples include persons going to and from inholdings across significant parts of park land; commuter and other through traffic using NPS-administered roads or waterways through a park for their convenience; civilian activities 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; or outside research activities if independent of NPS legislated interests (e.g. meteorological research)
What is an overnight stay?
An overnight stay is one night in a park by a visitor. Two visitors staying for 3 nights apiece would generate 6 overnight stays.
How do you estimate visits for the NPS?
Each park is issued a set of counting instructions that contain the procedures for measuring, compiling, and recording required visitor use data at that park. The NPS employs a wide-variety of technologies for counting visits. Counts can be automated, such as with traffic counters, door counters, or trail counters, or they can be done manually by hand counting the number of visitors in an area. Where needed and appropriate, mathematical relationships are used to estimate the number of visits to remote areas based on a count of visits in a more accessible area of the park. For larger parks with developed roads or water travel systems, often just the number of vehicles is counted. Vehicle counts are combined with person-per-vehicle multipliers to estimate the number of visits to that area. Person-per-vehicle multipliers can vary by park, by location within a park, by time of year, and by type of vehicle (passenger automobile, bus, plane, boat, canoe, etc).
If you are interested in specifics for each park, we post 'official counting procedures' for each park on our Visitor Use Statistics website: https://irma.nps.gov/STATS/ . Pull up any park and look for the link labeled "Visitor Use Counting Procedures".
When are visitor use statistics available?
Parks report preliminary data every month and most data are available by the 15th of the following month. For example, data for March are usually available by April 15. These preliminary data are subject to change and may be edited by the park until the entire calendar year is finalized and moved to permanent tables in the first quarter of the following year.
How far back are visitor use statistics available?
Annual recreation visits by reporting park are available from 1904 to present.
Monthly visitation data - recreation visits, recreation visitor hours, non-recreation visits, non-recreation visitor hours, concessioner lodging overnight stays, concessioner campground overnight stays, NPS campground tent overnight stays, NPS campground RV overnight stays, backcountry overnight stays, non-recreation overnight stays, and miscellaneous overnight stays - are available for reporting parks from 1979 to present.
Some traffic counts are available from 1985 to present.
Inputs and intermediate calculations for most parks are available from the early 1990s to present, but usually are not available in summary reports and must be requested separately by contacting the Visitor Use Statistics program.
Why are there some parks that have no visitor use statistics?
Not all parks in the National Park System report official NPS visitor use statistics. Newer parks are often awaiting land acquisition, are waiting for facilities to manage visitors, or are waiting for permanent NPS staff. Some parks are not directly administered by the NPS and therefore report use statistics through a different agency or reporting system.
Are demographic and other visitor characteristic data available for all NPS units?
No, although individual parks may have recent visitor studies available that examine demographics. Search the IRMA Data Store for available visitor studies at parks.
Last updated: March 24, 2023