National Parks Are Bustling as Americans Chase Adventure — What You Should Know Before Going

A total of 237 million visitors made their way to the parks in 2020, and data suggests that the number of visitors will skyrocket this summer

Yellowstone Sees Record Numbers Of Visitors As It Fully Reopens
Visitors watching black bears in Yellowstone National Park. Photo: William Campbell/Getty

Summertime is here — and for many Americans, that means traveling and getting outdoors. But for those hoping to explore the National Parks, officials are advising to plan accordingly as millions of people flock to popular attractions.

"Many national parks are expecting an especially busy season in 2021," the National Park Service (NPS) wrote in a recent press release. "A little trip planning can ensure that your only surprises are happy ones."

According to the NPS, a total of 237 million visitors made their way to the parks in 2020, despite pandemic restrictions and closures. This year, however, a record-breaking number of visitors have already shown up on their grounds, Today reported.

"So far, in 2021, we have set monthly visitation records January through May," a Park Ranger with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee told the outlet.

Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming also saw an increase in numbers, with just under 88,000 visitors in April alone — a 48% increase from the 2019 season, according to the NPS. (The park was closed in 2020 due to the pandemic.)

Yellowstone Sees Record Numbers Of Visitors As It Fully Reopens
Visitors in Yellowstone National Park. William Campbell/Getty

With those numbers expected to rise in the coming months, officials are anticipating issues around the nation related to overcrowding, such as parking and trash pile-up, Today reported.

In Utah, at Canyonlands National Park, a massive line of cars waited outside to get inside the park while some visitors at Arches National Park were turned away due to parking lots becoming full, per Today.

Other areas, like Yellowstone National Park, have already booked almost all nearby camping and lodging sites, with the closest place to stay located hours away, according to NPR.

"It's gonna be a challenging year for all of our staff," the park ranger at Great Smoky Mountains National Park told Today. "With this level of visitation, we simply can't do it on our own. Each person coming to the Smokies has to take some responsibility for their trash and their behavior so that we can take care of this place they're coming to enjoy."

View of Mather Point at the Grand Canyon is seen on April 06, 2021 in Grand Canyon Village, Arizona
Visitors at Grand Canyon National Park. RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

So how can tourists make the most of their trips?

The NPS suggests creating a plan — and a backup plan — for any trips to the National Parks this summer, with an emphasis on flexibility and patience in case of weather conditions, road closures, overcrowding, etc.

Depending on the National Park, some travelers may find that the park is doing its part to limit the number of visitors each day, like Yosemite National Park in California.

According to NPR, Yosemite implemented an entrance reservation system during the pandemic and expects to enforce it through the end of September 2021.

NPS officials also urge visitors to allow themselves ample time to travel, make reservations ahead of time and consider taking a different path than normal.

"There are more than 400 national parks across the country," the NPS wrote in a Facebook post. "We love exploring the lesser-known ones. They can be a great option for travelers looking for all the beauty of nature, hiking trails, and rich history, with fewer crowds and lines."

Additionally, with the NPS overseeing 70 million pounds of waste each year, officials are asking visitors to be mindful of their trash, according to NPR.

This includes cleaning up garbage, food scraps or hygiene products left behind and bringing your own meals to minimize waste from takeout food containers, the outlet reported.

"Leave only footprints," the NPS added in their post. "Whether it's carrying out what we brought in (including our pooch' know), leaving the spots we visit as we found them, or staying on the trail, we're careful to respect these incredible places."

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