Visitor Use Management

several vehicles line a paved roadway through a valley as animals dot the landscape
Annual visitation has increased close to 40% since 2008, leading to traffic jams like this one in Hayden Valley.

NPS / Jacob W. Frank

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.

Graph showing increasing visitation and flat staffing.

Since 2008, annual visitation to Yellowstone has increased 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 (2014-2016), coupled by an even greater rise in motor vehicle accidents (+90%), ambulance use (+60%), and search and rescue efforts (+130%) over the same time period. Meanwhile, staffing levels and funding have remained flat over the last 10 years (see graph).

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. Many visitors 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.The challenges posed by high levels of summer visitation and changing visitor use patterns are comprehensive, complex, and affect not only Yellowstone visitors and employees, but gateway communities, surrounding public lands, and other national and regional stakeholders. 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 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.

Preparing for the Future

Yellowstone has not begun a formal planning process for visitor use management. The park has been working to understand the impacts of increasing visitation on: 1) park resources, 2) staffing, operations, and infrastructure, 3) the visitor experience, and 4) gateway communities and partners. We’re focusing our efforts in the near term on how we can improve our own operations to protect resources and provide a better visitor experience in key congested areas. If visitation continues to rise, future management strategies could include (but aren’t limited to): operational and staffing changes; communication and traffic management systems; shuttle systems or other transportation alternatives; and reservations or timed-entry systems at specific sites where demand exceeds capacity.

Below are details about past and current work that will help the park gather the data it needs to address visitation challenges and inform future management strategies.

Upcoming Work

Pilot Projects

The park continues to test a range of pilot projects around the park, such as altering traffic, parking, and visitor flow configurations and adding staff to highly congested areas to improve resource protection, safety, operations, and the visitor experience.

Past Work


Visitor Use Studies


Transportation Studies


More Information

several visitors listening to a park ranger give a program
Delivering a World-Class EXPERIENCE

Learn how Yellowstone is providing a high-quality visitor experience for millions who visit yearly while ensuring resources are protected.

two park rangers walking with bison seen in the background

Learn about the current natural and cultural resource issues that Yellowstone is managing for this and future generations.

Last updated: May 31, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168



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