My blog posts likely contain affiliate links, including for the Amazon Associates program.
You love national parks, right? I mean, who doesn’t? They are undoubtedly one of the best parts of the U.S., and protect some of the most incredible natural wonders in this country. I love visiting them, and I love learning about them too.
Every year, I download all of the visitation data from the National Park Service and like to review it; I use it to put together a list of the most visited and least visited national parks. I also like to look at the data as a whole, seeing if any patterns, trends, or other numbers jump out at me. As you might imagine, the pandemic certainly had an interesting impact – and provided me with some really fascinating recovery data that probably reflects the travel industry as a whole.
As part of crunching the numbers on all national park visitation in 2022 now that we’re a few years beyond the pandemic, I made a few new observations based on the data. If you find facts and figures as interesting as I do, read on for some interesting national park visitation facts from the 2022 data.
In this post, I promote travel to national parks, nearly all of which are the traditional and/or sacred lands of many Native American and Indigenous groups. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Facts About National Park Visitation
- The National Park Service has been gathering visitation data since 1904! Since then, the national parks have received 1,857,082,454 visitors; all sites within the NPS have received 15,703,311,966 visits in total!
- Five national parks have complete data going back to 1904: Yellowstone (1872), Mount Rainier (1899), Crater Lake (1902), Wind Cave (1903), and King’s Canyon (1940). (The year in parentheses is the year each one became a park.)
- Becoming a national park typically boosts visitation – but not always! For the 23 parks with enough data, 34% actually saw fewer visitors in the five years following recognition as a national park.
- 28% of all visitors to National Park Service sites occurred at National Parks themselves. For exact numbers, 88,662,181 people visited national parks of 311,985,998 total visitors to all NPS sites.
- On average, park visitation was almost the same from 2021 to 2022. Visitation increased just 9% from year to year.
- Average park visitation was 27% lower than the maximum it has ever been. Parks have recorded maximum visitation in different years, but on the whole, most parks saw less visitation individually – and less overall, than the max that has ever visited.
- 27 of 63 national parks saw higher visitation in 2022 than in 2019. Following the popularity of visiting parks during the pandemic, many parks continue to grow in visitation.
- 87% of the parks on the most-visited and least-visited lists have been the same for the past decade. This number is comprised of two figures: 81% of the most-visited list and 93% of the least-visited list are the same dating back to 2013 – including 2020 and 2021 when the pandemic disrupted everything travel related!
- Only one national park saw record visitation in 2022: Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. Apparently, people are loving that park lately! Have you been?
- One national park saw record low visitation in 2022: National Park of American Samoa. This park recorded its lowest visitation since data began being collected twenty years ago (in 2002).
- The top 10 most visited national parks comprise over 50% of total visitation in 2022! Over 46 million people visited the top 10 parks, of 88 million visitors in total.
- The 10 least visited national parks comprise just 0.4% of total visitation. If you want to escape the crowds, those parks are where to go – but be warned: they take a lot more effort to reach, usually by planes or boats.
- On average, a new national park is established every 2-3 years (2.38 years) – it’s been 3 years since the last national park was established (New River Gorge National Park), so maybe 2023 will be the year when we add the 64th national park to the list! Any guesses about which one it might be? (I’m working on a list – I plan to share it soon!)
I hope you found these facts as fascinating as I did; have any other questions about national park visitation that I could try to answer with this year’s data? Let me know in the comments below!