Last year more than 318 million people were recorded visiting national parks in the United States, an impressive number that is roughly equal to the entire population of the country. While that’s also 13 million fewer visits than were made in 2017, 2018 was a year in which national park traffic had a lot going against it.
Giant chunks of the West were covered in wildfire smoke for lots of the summer, likely putting plans on national park plans on hold for many campers. Yosemite was closed for two entire weeks, taking a giant bite out of visitation numbers. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was closed four months because of the eruption of the Kīlauea Crater, and, in fact, portions of it still are. Parks in the Caribbean and Florida dealt with hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Then, of course, there was the shutdown which surely tamped down numbers over the Christmas week.
“The decline was throughout the year—visitation was down in 10 of the 12 months, and the other two (May and June) were statistically flat compared to last year,” National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterest told National Parks Traveler. “The biggest factor seems to be Mother Nature and closures associated with natural disasters.”
Lots of parks actually saw record turnouts, including Great Smoky Mountains NP (11.4 million) Grand Canyon NP (6.3 million), and Arches NP (1.7 million), among others.
Of course, there’s an argument to be made that the parks can only handle so many visitors before the landscape and wilderness are crushed under the traffic. Anyone going to Yosemite or Yellowstone or Glacier, etc., at least in the heavily touristed parts, has probably wondered what’s so wild about a place filled with more cars and people than mid-sized cities. Natural places can obviously be loved to death, but they can also inspire the sort of wonder that creates a lifelong lover and protector of the outdoors.
Regardless, people are going to keep coming.
2017 was a record year in terms of park admissions. Some 330 million people toured a national park that year. Despite widescale closures and natural disasters, nearly as many bought a pass to visit a park this year too.