Return of the National Parks

After more than a year of COVID-19-related restrictions and limited travel, rising attendance figures across national parks show Americans are eager to explore the great outdoors.

June 16, 2021, 12:00 PM PDT

By clementkhlau @clemusc

National Park Campgrounds

Good luck finding open campsites in Yellowstone in 2021. | RaksyBH / Shutterstock

New data released by the National Park Service shows just how much Americans miss and love national parks, as reported by Andy Rose of CNN. Yellowstone National Park, for example, hosted 483,159 recreation visits in May 2021, which is an 11% increase from May 2019 (434,385 recreation visits) and the park’s most visited May on record. It should be noted that May 2020 should not be used as a good year-to-year comparison because the park was closed until May 18. Only two of the park's five entrances were open for the rest of the month. So far in 2021, the park has hosted 658,513 recreation visits, up 14% from 2019.

In 2020 outdoor experiences provided refuge from the COVID-19 pandemic for 237 million visitors to America’s national parks. The number actually represents a 28% decrease from 2019 due largely to temporary park closures and restrictions implemented in response to the pandemic. Although overall visitation fell, several parks experienced record crowds and attracted new visitors. The top ten most visited national parks in 2020 were:

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park 12.1 million.

  2. Yellowstone National Park 3.8 million.

  3. Zion National Park 3.6 million.

  4. Rocky Mountain National Park 3.3 million.

  5. Grand Teton National Park 3.3 million.

  6. Grand Canyon National Park 2.9 million.

  7. Cuyahoga Valley National Park 2.8 million.

  8. Acadia National Park 2.7 million.

  9. Olympic National Park 2.5 million.

  10. Joshua Tree National Park 2.4 million.

For an in-depth look at 2020 visitation statistics, please visit the National Park Service Social Science website. For national summaries and individual park figures, please visit the National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics website.

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