NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, Wyo – Yellowstone National Park hosted 4,860,537 recreation visits in 2021, up 28 percent from 2020 (3,806,306 visits), making it the busiest year on record.
In 2021, visitation for May, June, July, August and September were the busiest on record. July was also the most-visited month on record in Yellowstone’s history and the first time visitation exceeded 1 million visits in a single month.
The list below shows the year-to-date trend for recreation visits over the last several years:
2021 – 4,860,537
2020 – 3,806,306*
2019 – 4,020,288
2018 – 4,115,000
2017 – 4,116,524
2016 – 4,257,177
Although the park accurately counted 4.86 million visits in 2021, a close analysis of visitor use data shows that over 350,000 vehicles re-entered the park in 2021 compared to 2019, before COVID-19. This is likely due to approximately 20 percent fewer overnight stays in the park during the year.
Due to a variety of factors including construction projects and COVID-19, the park had approximately 20 percent fewer campsites and hotel rooms available in 2021 compared to previous years. This translated to more visitors leaving the park to overnight elsewhere and then returning than in previous years.
Additionally, statistical categories the park tracked, including trail counters, tonnage of trash, water usage and public safety calls showed visitor-use levels more comparable to 2019, when the park counted 4 million visits. The park is evaluating improved software that can more reliably and accurately differentiate new visits versus the same visitors entering the park multiple times.
Affected areas: developed corridors
Yellowstone’s road corridors and parking areas equate to less than 1,750 (0.079 percent) acres of the park’s 2.2 million acres. Most visitors stay within a half mile of these corridors.
Visitor use strategy
Yellowstone’s visitor use strategy, developed in 2019, focuses on the impacts of increasing visitation on: 1) park resources; 2) staffing, infrastructure and operations; 3) visitor experience; and 4) gateway communities, including economic and recreational access. The park is concentrating on the most congested areas including Old Faithful, Midway Geyser Basin, Norris, Canyon rims and Lamar Valley.
The park has developed a comprehensive resource tool to monitor and respond to impacts on resources. The park piloted an AV shuttle system in 2021, moving over 10,000 visitors at Canyon Village and testing technology that could be used in the future. A major shuttle feasibility study is underway to analyze the viability of a shuttle system in the Midway Geyser Basin corridor. The park is also taking advantage of data derived from recent major visitor surveys and transportation studies to inform future decisions and is working closely with Grand Teton National Park on future solutions since both parks substantially share visitation each year.
Yellowstone has completed over $100 million in projects over the past two years to improve transportation infrastructure, reduce traffic congestion and enhance visitor experiences. Substantial additional investments will continue in 2022 and 2023 in multiple areas of the park as part of funding received from the Great American Outdoors Act.
More data on park visitation, including how we calculate these numbers, is available on the NPS Stats website.
Editor’s note: *The park was closed March 24-May 18, 2020, due to COVID-19. Two entrances were open May 18-31 and the remaining three opened on June 1.