Yellowstone National Park on pace to shatter visitation record

By: - October 13, 2021 5:17 pm

Visitors to Yellowstone Park walk around Old Faithful after an eruption on the park’s opening day in May 2020. (Photo by Jacob W. Frank, courtesy of National Park Service)

Yellowstone National Park reported that it’s on track to have the most yearly visitors in its history. For the first time, the park eclipsed the 4-million-visitors mark in September, a level it had come close to once, in 2016, but never broken.

Through September, Yellowstone recorded the 4,463,599 recreation visits, putting it on pace to shatter a yearly record while seeing an increase over a year ago. Yellowstone hosted 872,695 visits in September, a 4 percent increase over a year ago and 26 percent increase from the COVID-19-restricted 2019 as well.  Even using 2019 as a comparison, park visits are up 17 percent overall and 26 percent from 2020.

“Never in Yellowstone’s history have we seen such substantial visitation increases in such a short amount of time,” said Superintendent Cam Sholly. “We will continue working with our teams and partners to develop and implement appropriate short- and long-term actions for increasing visitation.”

The increase in visitors throughout the United States’ national parks has spurred some Congressional concern, with Yellowstone and Glacier National Park receiving much of the attention. For example, Glacier piloted a ticketed-entry system for part of the summer tourist season and park officials said they’re still reviewing the results. Also, Congress has expressed concern for the backlog of maintenance and facilities needing updating to handle more traffic.

The most affected areas, Yellowstone National Park said through a press release, are the corridor and parking areas, which total less than 1,750 acres of the park’s overall 2.2 million acres.

“Most visitors stay within a half mile of these corridors,” the press release said.

This means the park is divided into two parts – the highly traveled, often congested parking areas and corridors; and the nearly vacant other parts of the park.

Yellowstone, as well as the entire park system, has focused on relieving that pressure in the high-traffic areas, including looking at the visitor experience and staffing and infrastructure. The most congested areas of the park are Old Faithful, Midway Geyser Basin, Norris, Canyon rims and Lamar Valley.

The park piloted a shuttle system in 2021, moving more than 10,000 visitors at Canyon Village, testing technology that could be used in the future. The park announced it is considering a shuttle system in the Midway Geyser Basin as well as working with Grand Teton National Park for combined solutions since both parks “substantially share” visitation each year.

Park officials have also said that the park has received more than $100 million in improvements and updates in the past two years, with additional projects being planned through 2023 and the Great American Outdoors Act.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.