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How many people visited National Park Service sites in 2021

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More than 297 million people visited the country’s national parks in 2021, the National Park Service announced Wednesday, Feb. 16. That’s 60 million more people than in 2020.

NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Some national parks across the country are overflowing with tourists — and the data shows it.

More than 297 million people visited national parks in 2021, the National Park Service announced Wednesday, Feb. 16. That’s 60 million more people than in 2020.

At 44 of the nation’s 63 national parks, tourists blew visitation records out of the water.

Parks such as Zion, Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon had a record number of visitors in 2021.

Zion National Park in Utah overtook Yellowstone as the second-most visited park in the country, while Yellowstone saw a million visitors in a month for the first time. Great Smoky Mountains National Park led the way with 14.1 million visitors.

Three National Park Service sites had more than 10 million visitors in 2021, and 11 had more than 5 million.

While it may seem visitation was booming across the country, that’s not the case, park rangers said. Overall visitation hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, the National Park Service said.

“While some of the most well-known national parks again had record visitation in 2021, numbers across the entire National Park System remained below pre-pandemic totals,” the National Park Service said in a news release. “Of 423 parks in the National Park System, just 25 received more than 50 percent of the system’s total 297.1 million recreation visits in 2021.”

Though the trend may seem unexpected to people who watched tourists flock to parks on social media, the National Park Service expected this.

Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, National Park Service assistant director of communications, told McClatchy News halfway through 2021 that while visitation levels at the most-popular parks seemed to soar, the lesser-known parks weren’t following the trend.

“We are anecdotally seeing record levels of visitation in many of the most-popular destination national parks, and those places are the big parks you think of like Yellowstone and Yosemite and Grand Teton and Acadia, the Great Smoky Mountains,” Anzelmo-Sarles told McClatchy News in June.

Officials at some parks are starting to shift the focus to develop short- and long-term solutions to protect the parks while visitation in some areas booms.

Park officials are focusing on how park resources, staffing and infrastructure are being impacted by more people visiting the area. Additionally, there could be an impact on towns near the park.

The parks also continue to change as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Some national parks, such as Arches and Rocky Mountain, have operated at limited capacity or implemented a timed-entry reservation system to help reduce crowds in packed areas.

“We’re happy to see so many visitors returning to iconic parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite, but there are hundreds more that should be on everyone’s bucket list,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said in the release.

Maddie Capron is a McClatchy Real-Time News Reporter focused on the outdoors and wildlife in the western U.S. She graduated from Ohio University and previously worked at CNN, the Idaho Statesman and Ohio Center for Investigative Journalism.




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