Summer Use Planning

Traffic slows to a crawl as people pass some bison in Hayden Valley
Annual visitation has increased by over 40% since 2008, leading to traffic jams like this one in Hayden Valley.

NPS / Neal Herbert


Yellowstone provides a place where people can glimpse primitive America. A place where humans share an open landscape with thousands of wild animals, including bison, bears, elk, and wolves. A place where a volcano’s hidden power rises up in colorful hot springs, mudpots, and geysers. A place where people can see all of these things with relative ease thanks to a road system that connects five entrances with many popular destinations.

And more and more people want to experience it.

Since 2008, annual visitation to Yellowstone has increased by close to 40%, causing overflowing parking lots, a rise in traffic jams, roadside soil erosion and vegetation trampling, and unsanitary conditions around busy bathrooms. Half of this increase in visitation occurred in just two years (2014 to 2016), coupled by an even greater rise in motor vehicle accidents (+90%), ambulance use (+60%), and search and rescue efforts (+130%). Meanwhile, staffing levels and funding have remained flat over the last ten years (see graph below).

The National Park Service mission requires us to provide people the opportunity to enjoy Yellowstone without allowing that enjoyment to damage or diminish the very things they came to see. Most people want a park with fewer people and less traffic, but they don’t necessarily want limits on visitation or the use of private cars in the park. Yet all demographic trends point to the continued growth of annual visitation.

How can we prepare for this future? How has increased visitation affected people’s experiences? What do people expect when they come to Yellowstone? How do they typically move through the park?

We commissioned a number of studies to help us begin to answer these questions:

Visitor Use Study (2018, 2019)
During the summers of 2018 and 2019, researchers will study how people experience and move through the park in real-time, as well as how these patterns vary from May to September. Some people will be surveyed in-person at key attractions, others will be given a digital tablet as they enter the park. These tablets will track their route and other trip characteristics and prompt them to answer specific questions about their experience as they pass through particular road segments or destinations. In 2019 researchers will also survey people's opinions about potential management scenarios that could be used to control visitation in the future.

Visitor Use Study (2016)
This study provides a summary of visitor demographics, experiences, preferences, and opinions about park facilities, resources, and services.

Transportation & Vehicle Mobility Study (2016)
This study provides a detailed breakdown of traffic, parking, capacity, and visitor flow patterns throughout the park.

These studies mark the beginning of our efforts to understand modern visitation and develop strategies to meet the challenges it presents. The strategies might include (but aren’t limited to) communication and traffic management systems, shuttle systems or other transportation alternatives, and reservations or timed-entry systems. These strategies could be implemented at key locations or park wide.

Difficult decisions lie ahead, and we’ll need your help to find compromises that balance the protection of resources with a shared desire to experience the world’s first national park. As we move forward in our planning efforts, we’ll be reaching out to the public, our partners, and nearby communities to get involved. We want to listen to all ideas about managing Yellowstone’s visitation.

Graph showing that as vistation has climbed to over 4 million visits per year since 2000, the number of employees has not changed significantly.
While visitation has climbed dramatically since 2000 (shaded green area), the number of full-time National Park Service employees has not changed significantly (black line with red data points).

Last updated: April 10, 2018

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Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168


(307) 344-7381

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