Congestion can happen at many different places within parks: parking lots, trailheads and trails, visitor centers, entrance stations or waiting to board a bus. It may also happen in gateway communities, or on roadways leading into a park.
Because congestion often has impacts to safety, visitor experience, resources, emergency response times, and park operations, reducing congestion is an important management topic for the National Park Service.
The Congestion Management Program encourages parks to use a wide variety of activities to manage congestion, including adding/changing services, changing how roads and parking are managed, and expanding infrastructure if appropriate.
Congestion Management ToolkitTraffic congestion and visitor use patterns are evolving at national parks. Once traffic congestion is persistent, a park enters a new management era, requiring a new, holistic approach. A balance of operational changes, adjusting capacity (or using existing capacity more effectively), and adding capital investments/new services help parks invest wisely and minimize unintended consequences. The 2020 revised toolkit offers parks a variety of choices to improve congestion management, featuring over 40 tools across nine categories. The Toolkit is available here.
These new report formats short-term, low-cost efforts available to parks who have minor to moderate congestion. As of 2018, Congestion Assessments have been completed for:
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Capital Reef National Park
- Cedar Breaks National Monument
- Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
- Chickasaw National Recreation Area
- Colorado National Monument
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park
- Devil’s Tower National Monument
- Fort McHenry National Monument
- George Washington Memorial Parkway (Great Falls only)
- Glacier National Park (does not include Going-to-the-Sun-Road)
- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
- Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Minute Man National Historical Park
- Montezuma Castle National Monument
- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
- Virgin Islands National Park
- White Sands National Monument
Examples of Congestion Assessments
Congestions Assessment: Cuyahoga Valley National Park August 2017 (pdf | 3.3 mB)
Congestion Assessment: White Sands National Monument December 2018 (pdf | 6.4 mB)
Congestion Assessment: Joshua Tree National Park September 2017 (pdf | 0.713 mB)
Transportation Advisory Group Report: Skagway, Alaska & Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park November 2018 (pdf | 1.2 mB)
NPS transportation planning typically covers opportunities and impacts related to managing multimodal traffic (recreational and non-recreational) to reduce impacts on visitor experience, resources, park operations and local gateway communities. Plans respond to a problem (or a series of problems) and offer a range of possible solutions appropriate to each park’s conditions, enabling legislation, and management challenges.
Millions of visitors each year seek out public lands for a variety of recreational experiences. To ensure that everyone can enjoy the benefits of recreation, managers need effective ways to manage use so these special places, and the benefits they provide, persist for current and future generations. Visitor use management offers flexible tools and strategies that support appropriate public access while ensuring long-term viability of resources that make quality visitor experiences possible.