After a year of isolation and limited travel possibilities due to the coronavirus pandemic, travelers are coming out in record numbers to the nation’s national parks.
Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park both recorded major increases in visits during April, setting records for the number of visitors in the month.
“I predicted a record season, and I think we’re on track for that,” Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly told the Billings Gazette.
In April, Yellowstone had 67,000 visitors enter the park from the two entrances that are open — 34,000 from the north and 33,000 from the west. The previous high for April was 59,000 visitors in 2016.
Likewise, Grand Teton had a 48 percent increase in April visitors over 2019 with 87,700 visitors, shattering the old mark of 60,500 set in April 2018.
Glacier National Park also came close to an April record with more than 53,000 visitors, just shy of the 55,000 mark set in 2016.
All three parks were closed last April as the National Park Service dealt with the start of the pandemic. As parks across the country began to reopen in 2020, visitors flocked to them as a source of outdoor recreation with so many other options limited.
Sholly expects the trend to continue as more residents get vaccinated and are ready to go out in the world. But the Parks Service is concerned about overwhelming the parks. There have been discussions about limiting entry to protect the natural beauty and wildlife.
“We’ve got a solid amount of data, now we need to translate it into what actually makes the most sense … and improve the visitor experience,” Sholly said. “At some point you have got to look at what the capacity of your staff is. It can’t be a free for all.”
For those hoping to go to Yellowstone, most of the campgrounds have gone to a reservation system. Normally five of the 12 campgrounds require reservations, but this year that number is eight, with two to remain closed for 2021. Only Indian Creek Campground and Lewis Lake Campground are available without reservations.
Like Yellowstone, its sister park to the south is also preparing for an extremely busy summer, Grand Teton Superintendent Chip Jenkins said.
“National parks and public lands were extremely important to everyone this past year, providing fresh air, open space and respite from the pandemic,” Jenkins said. “We anticipate that we will see continued high interest in visiting Grand Teton National Park.”
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