The National Park Service (NPS) announced 330,882,751 recreation visits in 2017—almost identical to the record-setting 330,971,689 recreation visits in 2016.
While visitation numbers were steady, visitors actually spent more than 1.4 billion hours in the parks, a 1.4 percent (19 million hours) increase year-over-year at a park, monument, or site part of the national park system.
Some 61 of the 385 reporting parks (the park service has 417 parks and sites across the United States) set new visitation records last year (16 percent of reporting parks).
Many U.S. National Park Service officials have publicly pointed to the negative impact of overtourism during the past year and they are considering reservation systems for some parks and other measures to address visitor growth.
“Our National Parks are being loved to death,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “As visitor rates continue at a high level, we must prioritize much-needed deferred maintenance including aging facilities, roads, and other critical infrastructure.”
President Trump has proposed legislation to establish a Public Lands Infrastructure Fund that would help address the $11.6 billion maintenance backlog in the National Park System. The fund would take new revenue from federal energy leasing and development and provide up to $18 billion to help pay for repairs and improvements in national park service sites and national wildlife refuges.
While officials are mulling reservation systems for some parks to get a handle on overtourism, these aren’t imminent, said Donny Leadbetter, tourism program manager for NPS.
At the same time, park officials, operating on budgets that have barely grown in the years since widespread cuts as part of sequestration in 2010, report widespread issues keeping up with repair and maintenance.
That led the Park Service to release a plan last fall recommending that entrance fees more than double during the peak season at some of the nation’s most popular parks.
During roughly a five-month period at 17 parks, the entrance fee would be $70 per vehicle, $50 per motorcycle, and $30 per person on foot. The fees at these parks were last increased in 2015 and are currently $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, and $10 per individual.
The proposal was recommended as a way to help pay down a maintenance backlog that park officials say has reached $11.6 billion nationally, largely due to record numbers of visitors who have come without much in the way of new funding allocations from Congress.
But the idea of more than doubling fees has been controversial, with opponents arguing it would price out lower-income Americans, especially families, and make only a small impact on the maintenance backlog. More than 100,000 comments were received during a public comment period regarding the proposal.
Most-visited national parks
- Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee), 11,338,893.
- Grand Canyon (Arizona), 6,254,238.
- Zion (Utah), 4,504,812.
- Rocky Mountain (Colorado), 4,437,215.
- Yosemite (California), 4,336,890.
- Yellowstone (Wyoming), 4,116,524.
- Acadia (Maine), 3,509,271.
- Olympic (Washington), 3,401,996.
- Grand Teton (Wyoming), 3,317,000.
- Glacier (Montana), 3,305,512.
- Joshua Tree (California), 2,853,619.
- Bryce Canyon (Utah), 2,571,684.
The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.