More than 305 million people visited national parks in 2015, eclipsing the all-time visitation record that the National Park Service saw in the previous year. The unofficial visitation numbers for 2015 were announced by National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, as the National Park Service (NPS) is celebrating its centennial year.
Record visitation tests the capacity of the park system and challenges parks to continue to provide great experiences for all visitors. Jarvis said park managers are adjusting to make sure they have sufficient staff to provide interpretive programs, answer visitor questions, respond to emergencies and to keep restrooms, campgrounds and other facilities clean.
Park visitors can plan their trips to avoid peak crowds by visiting the most popular parks in spring and fall and by visiting early in the morning or later in the day. Visitors can also take advantage of shuttles and walking trails at some parks, including the Great Smoky Mountains, Glacier, Rocky Mountain and Grand Teton national parks.
"Even with record breaking visitation, visitors can still find quiet places in the parks for those willing to seek them out," Jarvis said. "I can take you to Yosemite Valley on the Fourth of July and within five minutes get you to a place where you are all alone."
Much of the increase in national park visitation is the result of the National Park Foundation's "Find Your Park" media campaign. The campaign has sparked interest from travelers and also from communities near national parks, state tourism agencies and Congress. In late December 2015, Congress approved a nine percent funding increase for the National Park Service, which will help the agency continue to provide excellent visitor services as visitation increases.
"The increase in Congressional appropriations comes at a critical time for the National Park Service and will help us to serve the growing number of visitors,"Jarvis said. "We look forward to continuing to work with Congress as it considers additional legislation in support of the National Park Service Centennial, which would further improve the national parks by encouraging philanthropy and volunteerism, while also allowing us to improve visitor services and connect with a new generation of national park visitors."
By the Numbers: Unofficially, the NPS recorded more than 305 million visits during 2015. That is an increase of more than 12 million visits, and more than four percent, over the 2014 figure of 292.8 million visits. About 365 of 409 parks in the national park system record visitation numbers. The NPS has recorded more than 13 billion visits to parks since park managers began counting visitors in 1904, some 12 years before the NPS was created. Official statistics including the most-visited parks of the national park system and the most-visited national parks will be released in late February.