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National Parks release 2018 statistics; Zion remains in top 10 most popular

By Cara MacDonald, KSL.com | Posted - Mar. 8, 2019 at 1:40 p.m.

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SPRINGDALE — Anyone who enjoys Utah’s national parks knows they’ve only gotten busier in recent years. The Delicate Arch hike alone experiences an almost-constant stream of visitors each day.

The United States National Park Service released 2018 visitation statistics about the country’s parks on Wednesday. The results showed Zion National Park as the fourth most popular in the nation, with slightly decreased numbers from 2017.

America’s national parks exceeded 300 million recreational visitors for the fourth year in a row in 2018. The number, 318.2 million, was the third highest since record keeping was initiated in 1904.

“From 1990 to 2013, NPS annual recreation visits varied from about 255 million to about 287 million,” National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson told KSL.com. “The trend for these 24 years was quite 'flat' compared to the most recent five years (only a slight increase over time). Visitation in 2014 was at 293 million and passed 300 million in 2015; it has remained above 300 million since then.”

The past five years showed a very steep increase in visitation that peaked in 2016 and has come down somewhat since then, Olson said.

Statistics for individual parks showed declines in visitation for some and record-breaking years for others. The top 10 most visited national parks in 2018 were as follows:

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 11,421,200
  2. Grand Canyon National Park - 6,380,495
  3. Rocky Mountain National Park - 4,590,493
  4. Zion National Park - 4,320,033
  5. Yellowstone National Park - 4,115,000
  6. Yosemite National Park - 4,009,436
  7. Acadia National Park - 3,537,575
  8. Grand Teton National Park - 3,491,151
  9. Olympic National Park - 3,104,455
  10. Glacier National Park - 2,965,309 Though Zion National Park remained in the top 10, it actually declined somewhat in visitation from 2017. It had an estimated 4,320,033 recreational visits in 2018, which lowered its ranking from third place in 2017 (with 4,504,812 visits) to fourth place in 2018. Arches, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, on the other hand, all broke previous visitation records.

Daily national park visitation was lower than 2017 in every month of 2018 except in May and June, Olson said.

“Some parks and areas of the country had naturally lower visitation in 2018 because of the 2017 boost from the solar eclipse,” he added. “There were also lingering closures in the Florida and Caribbean after the 2017 hurricanes, park closures on the west coast from large wildland fires and a months-long eruption of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.”

The National Park Service expects a minimum of 300 million visitors each year going forward, but it believes the parks will maintain the ability to manage growing populations.

“We give out as much real-time information as we can — through social media, news reports and in-park signage — about how many people are in parks, which parking lots have room and how many vehicles are in line at entry stations,” Olson explained.

They also encourage people to visit parks in the mornings (they are busiest in the middle of the day) or during fall, winter and spring to experience slower times and discover what the parks look like in different seasons.

Read more about National Park statistics for 2018 here.

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