Yellowstone National Park South Entrance, Yellowstone visitation

May 2016 Visitation Up In Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Parks

No surprise here: visitation to Yellowstone is markedly higher than visitation last year.

By quite a lot, as you can see from the table below.

Month Recreational Visits 2016 Recreational Visits 2015
January 30,621 28,091 +9%
February 36,327 34,343 +5.7%
March 22,924 22,989 -1%
April 59,253 46,600 +27%
May 444,817 383,064 +15.2%
Total Year-To-Date
593,942 518,087 +14.64%

All told, visitation in the first five months of 2016 is up 14.65 percent from the same period last year. Indeed, May saw a huge gain in visitation, from 386,064 in 2015 to 444,817 in 2016, a 15.2 percent increase.

The month of May 2016 also saw an increase in the amount of vehicle traffic, with the most coming through the West Entrance. This May alone, an additional 33,927 vehicles passed through the West Entrance. Most striking of all was the increase in tour bus traffic—which spiked by 48 percent from last year.

Numbers were also up in nearby Grand Teton National Park. According to the Billings Gazette, May visitation to Grand Teton is approximately 300,000; a remarkable number given that the 200,000-mark for Grand Teton visitation was not surpassed until last year. Traditionally, May has been a quiet month in Grand Teton, with visitation rarely surpassing 100,000.

There are a number of factors at play, of course, likely driving the increase in visitor traffic. The National Park Service Centennial is undoubtedly a factor, along with cheap gas prices and increased marketing from Montana and Wyoming tourist offices.

It remains to be seen how many people visit the Park this summer, although we expect it to be enormous. Typically, July and August are the busiest months, followed by June, September, and May.

Last year, approximately 4.1 million people visited Yellowstone National Park, a fact Superintendent Dan Wenk said “tested the capacity of Yellowstone National Park.” Indeed, Yellowstone, along with a number of other national parks, is mulling a visitor cap for future seasons, among other measures, citing high demand and stressed infrastructure.

More Visitors, More Problems?

There’s also considerable anxiety over whether the increase in visitation is leading to more accidents and incidents, especially from people making first-time visits to the Park. In May, a group of Canadian men working for a clothing/lifestyle company were seen walking off the boardwalk in Grand Prismatic Spring; they later received misdemeanor charges and federal warrants for their arrest. The men have not been formally arrested although they reportedly hired a lawyer.

Earlier this month, a Canadian man plead guilty to picking up a bison calf off the side of the road, after it was likely abandoned by its herd. The calf was later put down.

Last week, a 13-year-old boy had to be hospitalized after scalding his ankle and foot. And this week, an Oregon man died after venturing off the boardwalk and slipping into a hot spring in Norris Geyser Basin.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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