Park

Opening day at the East Entrance this past May. (NPS photo by Jacob W. Frank)

Yellowstone National Park has broken its all-time visitation record with three months still remaining in the year.

A record 4,472,982 million visitors have come through the Park in 2021 so far, shattering the previous full year record set in 2016 of 4.2 million visitors.

Year-to-date, Yellowstone has seen a 32% increase from last year and 17% increase from 2019.

The new record was set after a seventh consecutive month of record monthly visitation was reached in September. In September, 882,078 people visited the Park, a 5% increase in attendance from the previous record set last year and a 27% increase from September 2019.

That visitation total is more similar to August attendance in recent years, and what July traffic amounted to about 10 years ago.

Park superintendent Cam Sholly attributed this growth to tour buses making their return to the Park after being prohibited because of the pandemic last year. Sholly said 900 tour buses entered Yellowstone in September alone.

Sholly said he anticipates Yellowstone finishing out the year at around 4.6-4.7 million for attendance, as he said October remained busy until the recent cold snap arrived.

“That’s busy,” he remarked.

Sholly commended his staff for handling the crowds despite having difficulty filling positions and ongoing COVID-19 concerns.

“Overall, considering record levels of visitation it was successful,” he said, “but I would also say the staff is under substantial amount of stress that comes with managing that level of visitation.”

Sholly said the Park will work to fill its allotted quota of employees in 2022 but must consider the added pressures that come with increasing crowds each summer. After a roughly 20-year gap between each million more visitors who come to the Park, Yellowstone is now on pace to reach that new benchmark in half the time.

Yellowstone wasn’t the only national park to experience high numbers in 2021. Badlands National Park in South Dakota also broke its annual record after September. Zion National Park in Utah is on pace to break its annual record as well. Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee and Acadia National Park in Maine were also on pace to break their annual visitation records as of August.

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