News Release

Yellowstone releases 2018 Visitor Use Survey Study

Visitors taking photos in geyser basin
People viewing Grand Prismatic Spring from the boardwalks and overlook

NPS/Jacob W. Frank

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News Release Date: November 7, 2019

Contact: Morgan Warthin, (307) 344-2015

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, WY - A peer-reviewed report summarizing the results of Yellowstone’s 2018 Visitor Use Study is available online today. The National Park Service contracted Otak Inc., RRC Associates, and The University of Montana Institute for Tourism Recreation Research to conduct the study to help better understand how visitors experience the park in real time, across the summer season, and across different parts of the park. More than 4,000 people responded to the surveys, one of the largest in the history of the National Park Service.  

Yellowstone visitation has substantially increased over the past 10 years, ranging from 3.2 million in 2009 to 4.2 in 2016, and 4.1 million in 2018. The survey results provide a variety of park-wide and site specific data that the park plans to use to make decisions in upcoming years. Survey results indicate that 85% of respondents thought their experience in the park was good or excellent, with the top three reasons for visiting being scenery, wildlife, and thermal features. Approximately 67% of the visitors participating in the survey were first-time visitors to the park. Overall, 92% waited less than ten minutes to enter the park and 86% waited less than ten minutes to find parking.

“This study gives us very actionable information on how we can better manage and plan for increasing visitation in Yellowstone,” said Superintendent Cam Sholly. “I largely credit the National Park Service team and our partners for the high visitor satisfaction levels. That said, there is no question that increasing visitation levels are having higher impacts on resources, our staff and infrastructure, and our gateway communities.”

While the 2016 Visitor Use Study surveyed people who visited in early August after their departure from the park, the 2018 Visitor Use Study used in-person interviews and GPS-based tablets to survey visitors in real time as they traveled through the park. It was conducted during one week of each month from May through September 2018.

Researchers summarized key findings from the study:
  • Visitors to Yellowstone almost always rated their trip good to excellent. 
  • Respondents were more likely to experience a greater sense of crowding, traffic congestion, and parking availability at Midway Geyser Basin and Fairy Falls.
  • Of the more popular attraction sites in the park, respondents rated Old Faithful and Canyon Village the least problematic, likely due to sufficient infrastructure to support a high volume of visitors.
  • Visitor experience and frustration ratings appear to have little to no significant correlation with GPS-based average speeds across road segments in the park. Respondents are generally not frustrated, have high experience ratings, and do not perceive major problems on roadways.
  • First-time visitors were less critical of issues at specific sites compared to repeat visitors.
  • The more days respondents spent in the park on their trip, the more likely they were to provide less favorable evaluations of visitor behavior.
Yellowstone is focused to a great extent on constructing a visitor use strategy that understands and responds to increased visitation in the following key areas: 1) impacts on resource conditions; 2) impacts on staffing, operations, and infrastructure; 3) impacts on visitor service levels; and 4) impacts on gateway communities and partners. The park has and will continue to use a range of data, including this survey, to develop actions that improve performance in the four key areas. The following list includes examples of significant recent and upcoming park actions: 
  • Multiple major projects at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone that include Inspiration Point and Brink of the Upper and Lower falls
  • Road improvement projects that include new shoulders and pullouts for visitors to safely stop
  • West Yellowstone Gateway Study – a study done in partnership with a primary gateway to determine best ways to collaborate on traffic management actions
  • Mapping efforts that use satellite imagery and on-the-ground surveys to analyze social trails and resource impacts 
  • A new North Entrance station project to improve wait times and traffic flow for visitors entering the park
  • 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, for instance, better manage roadside bear viewing
  • New and larger restrooms at Norris Geyser Basin and other sites throughout the park
  • An evaluation of the feasibility of local shuttle systems between e.g., Old Faithful to West Yellowstone, Old Faithful to the geyser basin and back, and Canyon Village to various local attractions

Last updated: November 7, 2019

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