SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's state parks are poised for another banner year.
The Utah Division of State Parks reported this week that nearly 6.7 million people visited its parks from May through August. That's about 1.7 million more than during the same four-month span in 2019.
Not only was it a 36% increase from the pace set in 2019, it's nearly the same number of visitors to state parks throughout all of 2018, according to the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute data.
A record 7.4 million people visited state parks in 2019, which was a 10.6% increase from 2018. With the update provided for 2020, the division now reports 7.8 million visitors through August, per the agency's data.
Eugene Swalberg, a spokesperson for the Utah Division of State Parks, said the agency expects September and October numbers to closely align with previous trends. More than 1.3 million people visited state parks during those months last year.
The late spring and summer numbers released by the division this week show that a trend in state parks popularity isn't dying off.
"People are still coming, and enjoying the parks and amenities we're known for. Hiking, camping, fishing, exploring, we have it all; and we're happy to continue to offer this essential resource to our customers," said Utah State Parks director Jeff Rasmussen, in a prepared statement.
The division reported decreases in the early months of the year partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the first few weeks of the pandemic, state parks were open only to people from the county the parks were located in. That changed in April.
Any decreases were quickly erased as many flocked to parks. In some cases, park officials had to stop letting people into the parks because they were full.
Per the division's data, Jordanelle State Park was the summer's top state park draw. More than 780,000 people visited the park from May through August.
Utah's national parks, which were closed temporarily earlier this year, are now experiencing a visitation rebound that began much later in the year.
The state's most popular park, Zion National Park, reported far less visitation through the first half of 2020 compared to 2019. About 1.514 million people visited Zion National Park from January through July — roughly 1.1 million below the first six months of 2019.
Now that the rebound is underway, a little more than half of the park's total visitation through October this year came in the last three months. Park officials reported nearly 1.531 million visitors from Aug. 1 through Oct. 31. That's a little more than 68,000 more visitors than the same period in 2019 despite August 2020 numbers over 85,000 below August 2019.
It's because the parks September and October numbers shattered previous park visitation records for those months. For example, 559,342 people visited the park last month, which is nearly 130,000 more than October 2019.
The total number of visitors at the park is expected to be significantly down in 2020 compared to the nearly 4.5 million visitors in 2019. The park now reports 3.04 million visitors with two months left to report in the year.
Meanwhile, visitation is also down at the state's other national parks — although only one other park had numbers updated through October. That said, Capitol Reef reported more visitors than 2019 in June and September; Canyonlands exceeded 2019 in July; and Bryce Canyon's October 2020 figures were close to October 2019.
All of the data shows that outdoor parks continue to be a draw for millions even during a pandemic.