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National Park Visitation in 2011: Heavy Spring Snow Probably Had an Impact

Do you see yourself in the chart below? It lists the top 20 of 58 national parks within the National Park Service system that attracted the most "recreational visits" in 2011. The NPS defines recreational visitors as people who enter a park neither to work nor to commute to work.

Of the nearly 400 units the National Park Service administers, from national seashores to national military parks, the Blue Ridge Parkway attracted the higest number of visits (15,382,447), followed by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (14,567,487). Great Smoky Mountains National Park, always the leader among natural national parks, places third on the overall NPS list.

National parks attracted 62,614,260 recreational visits in 2011, more than any other property category administered by the NPS, followed by national recreation areas (47,365,896). Overall, visitation to NPS sites dropped for the second straight year, from 281,303,769 in 2010 and 285,579,941 in 2009. Still, 2011 visitation was higher than all years between 2002 and 2008.

The order of the top 20 national parks rarely changes, though late-spring snowfalls that lingered deep into summer likely altered visitation patterns a bit in 2011. A friend and I wound up scratching a mid-August visit to Yellowstone and the Tetons, where high-country trails were still largely snow-covered, and headed to Zion and Bryce Canyon instead. Good call. Zion, I was reminded, is just a fantastic place.

Did you visit any of the top 20 last year? Are you targeting any of these parks in 2012?

Rank    Park 2011 visitors     2010 rank
   1 Great Smoky Mountains        9,008,830        1
   2 Grand Canyon    4,298,178        2
   3 Yosemite    3,951,393        3
   4 Yellowstone    3,394,326        4
   5 Rocky Mountain    3,176,941        5
   6 Olympic    2,966,502        6
   7 Zion    2,825,505        8
   8 Grand Teton    2,587,437        7
   9 Acadia    2,374,645        9
 10 Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio)    2,161,185      10
 11 Glacier    1,853,564      11
 12 Hot Springs (Ark.)    1,396,354      13
 13 Joshua Tree    1,396,237      12
 14 Hawaii Volcanoes    1,352,123      14
 15 Bryce Canyon    1,296,000      15
 16 Shenandoah    1,209,883      16
 17 Arches    1,040,758      19
 18 Mount Rainier    1,038,229      17
 19 Sequoia    1,006,583      20
 20 Haleakala       956,989      18

2011 Visitor Count Flucuation in the Top 20

Park Compared to 2010
Rocky Mountain          up 221,121
Zion          up 162,533
Olympic          up 121,941
Hot Springs (Ark.)           up 84,547
Yosemite           up 49,985
Hawaii Volcanoes           up 47,457
Arches           up 17,932
Bryce Canyon           up 10,510
Sequoia             up 3,604
Joshua Tree       down 38,739
Shenandoah       down 43,502
Haleakala       down 72,656
Grand Canyon       down 90,207
Grand Teton       down 95,136 
Acadia     down 129,563
Mount Rainier     down 153,525
Yellowstone     down 254,859
Cuyahoga Valley     down 322,455
Glacier     down 373,191
Great Smoky Mountains      down 454,708

Source: National Park Service Public Use Statistics Office

Photo of Double Arch, Arches National Park, by T.D. Wood

Posted on at 8:08 PM

Tagged: national parks and visitation

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