National Park Service visitation records for 2021 released

Published 7:23 am Monday, February 28, 2022

The National Park Service has published its official annual visitation statistics for 2021.

The 423 parks in the National Park System hosted 297 million recreation visits in 2021. Last year’s visitation increased by 60 million over 2020 when COVID-19 shuttered facilities in most parks for at least part of the year.

One way to plan new experiences is to visit clusters of parks, like the ones in Dare County: Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Wright Brothers National Memorial and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

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Last year, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore posted its highest visitation record at 3.2 million visitors.

The nation’s first national seashore now ranks as number 23 among the 25 most visited parks in the National Park System.

The park system’s 2021 visitation record shows that while some of the most well-known national parks like Cape Hatteras National Seashore had record visitation in 2021, numbers across the entire National Park System remained below pre-pandemic totals.

A media release from Washington, D.C. summarized the report:

Inside the 2021 visitation report,

  • Forty-four parks set a record for recreation visits in 2021.
  • Six parks broke a visitation record they set in 2020.
  • Blue Ridge Parkway remained the most-visited park in the National Park System.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park set a visitation record in 2021 and passed 14 million recreation visits for the first time.
  • In 2021, some parks operated with limited capacities or indoor space restrictions, but most were open to visitors. Seven parks – all of them historic sites in urban areas – remained closed throughout 2021 due health and safety concerns related to COVID-19.
  • Recreation visitor hours dipped from 1.43 billion in 2019 to 1.36 billion in 2021, a 5% decrease.

2021 by the numbers:

  • 297,115,406 recreation visits.
  • 1,356,657,749 recreation visitor hours.
  • 12,745,455 overnight stays (recreation and non-recreation).
  • Three parks had more than 10 million recreation visits: Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
  • 11 parks had more than five million recreation visits, up from seven parks in 2020 and equal to the number of parks in 2019.
  • 73 parks had more than one million recreation visits (19% of reporting parks), up from 60 parks in 2020 and down from 80 parks in 2019.
  • 25% of total recreation visits occurred in the top eight most-visited parks (2% of all parks in the National Park System).
  • 50% of total recreation visits occurred in the top 25 most-visited parks (6% of all parks in the National Park System).

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