Visitation to America’s national parks in 2018 exceeded 300 million recreation visits for the fourth consecutive year, according to officials with the National Park Service. The 318.2 million recreation visits total is the third highest since record keeping began in 1904.
“America’s national parks are national treasures that tell the story of our nation and celebrate its beauty, history, and culture,” said Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt in a news release. “I am pleased that so many Americans and visitors from around the world continue to take advantage of the affordable and accessible recreational opportunities provided by these sites.”
“The visitation to our national parks continues to affirm that Americans are in love with their public lands and hold dear the stories of our nation embodied in the natural, cultural, and historic landscapes we protect in the National Park System,” National Park Service Deputy Director Dan Smith said in the same release.
The National Park Service (NPS) oversees 418 sites covering more than 84 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Those 418 sites include the 61 headliner national parks as well as national recreation areas, seashores, parkways, memorials, battlefields, and more.
They provide a vast array of opportunities for recreation and inspiration for visitors of all ages. With at least one located in every state, national parks are easily accessible and affordable destinations. In the past five years there have been about 1.6 billion recreational visits to national parks.
Many visitors probably stayed away during the recent government shutdown, even though many NPS sites were open. In some previous shutdowns, the park service had closed many of the sites due to lack of funding for staffing.
In the most recent shutdown, from December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019, the gates mostly remained opened but often without sufficient staffing to clean bathrooms. (In several cases, park user fees, state and local governments, non-profits, and businesses helped keep NPS sites open.) Some of the best known national parks, including Joshua Tree and Yosemite, suffered damage.
The National Park Service already faces $11.6 billion in deferred maintenance across the 418 sites, most of which do not charge an admission fee.
In 2018, Golden Gate National Recreation Area reclaimed the top spot for highest visitation in the National Park System from the Blue Ridge Parkway. These two parks have been trading places at one and two since 1979. In the national parks category, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (11.4 million) and Grand Canyon National Park (6.4 million) continue to hold the top two spots, as they have since 1990.
A look at the numbers:
- 318,211,833 recreation visits (385 of 418 parks report visitation figures)
- 1,401,420,191 recreation visitor hours
- 13,950,759 overnight stays
- 28 parks set a new record for visitation (about 7% of reporting parks)
- 17 parks broke a record they set in 2017
- Three parks had over 10 million recreation visits—Blue Ridge Parkway, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Nine parks had over 5 million recreation visits
- 77 parks had over 1 million recreation visits (about 20% of reporting parks)
The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.