U.S. National Parks Attendance Hit Record High in 2016
More than 325 million people headed outdoors to celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th birthday.
The U.S. national parks had a banner year in 2016. The Park Service turned a century old. They made it onto our 16 Places to Go in 2016 list. And there were two whole weeks of free days for visitors to stop by the 127 parks, including the Everglades, Yellowstone, and Crater Lake, that usually charge admission (there are just 10 free days in 2017). Let’s just say it paid off: For the third year in a row, park attendance shot up to an all-time high, at 325 million visitors compared to a record-breaking 307 million in 2015.
The winners? Without December numbers, which haven’t come in yet, the Grand Canyon had 5.9 million visitors, Yellowstone came in at 4.3 million visitors, Rocky Mountain National Park had 4.5 million, and Zion National Park rounded out the top five with 4.3 million visitors.
But with all those visitors comes more trail erosion, more trash, and longer lines, leading Zion and Yellowstone to reassess their crowd control plans. Utah’s Zion National Park has seen its visitor count nearly double since 2010, according to the Associated Press, and is actually considering daily visitor limit. Rocky Mountain National Park, located outside of Denver, may limit the number of cars allowed on two popular roads during summer in the park for the first time in its 101-year history.
Another thing that’s seemingly increased? Vandalism and trash. “The level of frustration, we’ve certainly seen an increase in that,” Kyle Patterson, Rocky Mountain National park spokeswoman told the AP. “Sometimes they take it out on each other and sometimes they take it out on park.”
So, here are your words of warning for 2017: Don’t stop going to national parks just because they’re getting more crowded, but remember that there are plenty of equally breathtaking but underrated parks around the country. Stay on the path. Pick up your trash. Don’t mess with the animals, no matter how cute. Just don’t do it, because you’ll end up doing more harm than good, like the couple whose actions caused a baby bison to be euthanized last year or the selfie-taking tourist who was gored by an adult bison. Most of all, enjoy yourself, and bring the kids along. These parks have withstood the economic and political odds for a hundred years, some even more, and they deserve our attention.