Yellowstone National Park saw a record number of visitors last year, despite fewer hotel rooms and campsites available due to the coronavirus pandemic and construction projects.
The number of visits increased to about 4.86 million in 2021, breaking the earlier record in 2016. This is one million more than the number of people visited in 2020.
Known around the world for its wolves, bears and other wildlife and thermal features such as the Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2022. It borders northwestern Wyoming, southern Montana, and eastern Idaho.
Visiting national parks has been trending across America in recent years. Others, such as Utah’s Zion National Park, also set new visitor records in 2021 as tourism made a comeback from closures imposed in the early days of the pandemic.
In Yellowstone, crowds affected staff and park services from May to September last year. Park officials said it came as the park was down in the summer due to worker housing caps and difficulty recruiting new employees.
There were also 20% fewer campsites and hotel rooms in 2021 compared to previous years. This meant that hundreds of thousands of visitors left the park at night and re-entered after staying elsewhere. Each time they entered the park they were counted as a separate visit.
Park officials said they are trying to find a way to differentiate between new visits and people entering the park multiple times on the same visit.
Yellowstone’s street corridors and parking lots can be crowded, but they make up less than 1% of its 8,903 square kilometers (3,400 sq mi) – an area about 150 times the size of New York’s Manhattan Island.
According to park officials, most visitors stay within half a mile of those roads. The park’s crowds drop sharply during the winter when much of it is inaccessible except for snowmobiles or skiing.