August 2021 Yellowstone visitation

Yellowstone September 2021 visitation sets more records

Yellowstone National Park exceeds 4 million visitors in the year to date, Yellowstone’s September 2021 visitation is an all-time record for any September, and Grand Teton National Park reports the second-busiest September ever.

Yellowstone September 2021 visitation totaled 882,078 recreation visits in September 2021, a 5 percent increase from September 2020 and a 27 percent increase from September 2019. The biggest number, however, is 4,472,982:   This is the busiest September on record and the first time the park hosted over 4 million visits year-to-date. That year-to-date total is up 32 percent from the same period last year, and up 17 percent from 2019.

The list below shows the year-to-date trend for recreation visits over the last several years (through September): 

2021 – 4,472,982
2020 – 3,393,642*   
2019 – 3,807,815  
2018 – 3,860,695  
2017 – 3,872,775  
2016 – 3,970,778  

The same story was told in Grand Teton National Park, where September 2021 was the second busiest on record for the month of September. The park hosted an estimated 570,584 recreation visits in September 2021. This is a 10 percent increase from September 2019 and a 5.5 percent decrease from the record-setting September 2020.

Camping in the park increased 25 percent in September 2021 (74,348 overnight stays) compared to September 2019 (59,340 overnight stays). Backcountry camping increased 49 percent in September 2021 (7,229 backcountry camper nights) compared to September 2019 (4,837 backcountry camper nights). Trail use in the park increased 30 percent in September 2021 compared to September 2019, on trails that use is counted. September recreation visits over the last several years:

September 2021: 570,584
September 2020: 603,789
September 2019: 517,265
September 2018: 558,788
September 2017: 482,661
September 2016: 492,451

These sorts of numbers will further the discussion of how to manage so many visitors in a region set aside as a national park — a challenge made more complicated by COVID-19.

“Never in Yellowstone’s history have we seen such substantial visitation increases in such a short amount of time,” said Superintendent Cam Sholly in a press statement. “We will continue working with our teams and partners to develop and implement appropriate short- and long-term actions for managing increasing visitation across the park. My thanks to our teams here for working through a record visitation year, especially with the continued workforce challenges presented by COVID-19.”

Though geographically Yellowstone National Park is huge — some 2.2 million acres, larger than both Delaware and Rhode Island — the vast majority of visitors limit themselves to within a half mile from the 1,500 acres of roads, parking areas and facilities. That means you have plenty of areas of congestion — Old Faithful, Midway Geyser Basin, Norris, Canyon rims and Lamar Valley — with the rest of the park free of humans. And that’s where Yellowstone officials are focusing their efforts, while also working closely with Grand Teton National Park officials on future solutions. Right now things are in the studying phase, with a focus on shuttle systems. (Not reservations–at this point, anyway.) A pilot driverless shuttle programs at Canyon Village ended up serving around 10,000 visitors at Canyon Village, and that technology could be used in other busy Yellowstone areas, such as the Midway Geyser Basin corridor. The assumption, which seems to be a safe one, is that Yellowstone National Park visitation will continue to climb in coming years, and that planning must be done now to address the trend.

Photo of crowds at Old Faithful by Jacob W. Frank, taken Sept. 13, 2021, courtesy National Park Service.

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