National Park Travel

15 Fascinating National Park Visitation Facts (from 2023 Data)

My blog posts likely contain affiliate links, including for the Amazon Associates program.
If you click, book, or buy from one of these links, I may earn a commission. Read more in my Privacy Policy.

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.

National Park Visitation Facts Hero
Three of my favorite national parks: Denali, Pinnacles & Redwoods

As part of crunching the numbers on all national park visitation in 2023 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 2023 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.

This post was originally published in March 2023, and was updated most recently in February 2024.

Facts About National Park Visitation

  1. The National Park Service has been gathering visitation data since 1904! Since then, the national parks have received 4,429,919,889 visitors; all sites within the NPS have received 16,028,810,612 visits in total!
  2. Last year, 92,390,204 people visited the 63 national parks, and 325,498,646 people visited all NPS sites.
  3. This means that 28% of all visitors to National Park Service sites occurred at National Parks themselves. National Parks represent just 15% of all NPS sites, so National Parks drive more visitors than other categories of sites (which isn’t really surprising since we all love “collecting” park visits!)
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.
  1. On average, park visitation was almost the same from 2022 to 2023. Visitation increased just 4% from year to year.
  2. 30% of national parks saw less visitation in 2023 than in 2022. The park with the biggest drop in visitation was Glacier National Park – which I finally visited last year – but which had 80% fewer visitors than the previous year… I’m not really sure what explains that!
  3. Average park visitation was 23% 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.
  4. 34 of 63 national parks saw higher visitation in 2023 than in 2019. Following the popularity of visiting parks during the pandemic, many parks continue to grow in visitation. (This is also the same number of parks I’ve visited – though the list is obviously not the same!)
  5. 94% of the parks on the most-visited and least-visited lists have been the same for the past decade. 94% of the most-visited list and 94% of the least-visited list are the same dating back to 2014 – including 2020 and 2021 when the pandemic disrupted everything travel-related!
  1. Five national parks saw record visitation in 2023: Joshua Tree in California, New River Gorge in West Virginia, Glacier Bay in Alaska, Congaree in South Carolina, and Dry Tortugas in Florida.
  2. No national parks saw record low visitation in 2023. All national parks are recovering post-pandemic.
  3. The top 10 most visited national parks comprise 53% of total visitation in 2023! Almost 49 million people visited the top 10 parks, of 92 million visitors in total.
  4. The 10 least visited national parks comprise just 0.5% 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.
  5. On average, a new national park is established every 2-3 years (2.38 years) – it’s been 4 years since the newest national park was established (New River Gorge National Park), so maybe 2024 will be the year when we add the 64th national park to the list! Any guesses about which one it might be? Here are my guesses!

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!

Help others discover this post too!

I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *