The numbers are in: We saw the highest Yellowstone May visitation numbers ever in 2018, which will undoubtedly lead to more discussions of how best to handle increasingly larger crowds in America’s first national park.
All in all, Yellowstone National Park hosted 446,875 visits in May 2018. That represents a 6 percent increase over last year (419,635 visits) and surpasses May 2016 (444,630 visits) as the busiest May ever in Yellowstone.
So far in 2018, the park has hosted 570,823 visits, up 3.5 percent from the same period last year. The list below shows the trend over the last five years. Year-to-date visitation in 2018 is 37 percent higher than five years ago in 2014, and that comes after a slightly slower April.
Year-To-Date Recreation Visits (through May)
2018 – 570,823
2017 – 550,486
2016 – 593,755
2015 – 518,087
2014 – 415,185
These numbers are not unexpected: Yellowstone officials have been warning about the problems posed by the increasing visitor numbers and the stress imposed on infrastructure and wildlife. In 2016, nearly 4.3 million people visited Yellowstone National Park, the busiest year on record. The following year, nearly 4.2 million people visited, marking the second-busiest year on record. The current trend shows no stopping the flow of visitors, which has some park officials worried.
Last year, Yellowstone National Park released a pair of visitor use and traffic surveys on current and future visitor trends. Alarmingly, the surveys warned Yellowstone’s roads could become terminally poor by 2023 due to overuse.
As things stand, Yellowstone’s infrastructure needs serious investment, a problem facing the National Park system as a whole. At last estimate, the national park maintenance backlog stands at approximately $12 billion.
Solutions to the issue of overvisitation vary. Some national parks have proposed instituting vehicle quotas to cut down on traffic. Other parks have proposed shifting more toward buses and other forms of transit.
It also remains to be seen whether higher gate fees and a decoupling of joint Yellowstone/Grand Teton admissions will affect visitation.