2021 Was Yellowstone’s Busiest Year Ever

2021 was Yellowstone National Park's busiest year on record, park officials announced on Friday.

Ellen Fike

January 21, 20222 min read

Yellowstone tourist
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

2021 was Yellowstone National Park’s busiest year on record, park officials confirmed on Friday.

The park hosted 4,860,537 recreation visits in 2021, up 28% from 2020, when the park saw 3,806,306 visits, despite being closed for nearly two months due to the COVID pandemic.

In 2021, visitation for May through September was the busiest on record. July was also the most-visited month on record in Yellowstone’s history and marked the first time visitation exceeded 1 million in a single month.

Although park staff accurately counted 4.86 million visits in 2021, a closer analysis of visitor use data showed that over 350,000 more vehicles re-entered the park in 2021 compared to 2019. This is likely due to approximately 20% fewer overnight stays in the park during the year.

Due to a variety of factors, including construction projects and COVID-19, the park had approximately 20% fewer campsites and hotel rooms available in 2021 than in previous years. This translated to more visitors than in previous years leaving the park to spend the night elsewhere and then returning.

Additionally, statistical categories the park tracked, including trail counters, tonnage of trash, water usage, and public safety calls, showed visitor-use levels more comparable to 2019, when the park counted 4 million visits.

Park staff is evaluating improved software that can more reliably and accurately differentiate new visits versus visits by the same visitors entering the park multiple times. 

2019 saw 4,020,288 visits, while 2018 saw 4,115,000. 2017 saw 4,116,524 visits and 2016 saw 4,257,177.

Yellowstone’s road corridors and parking areas equate to less than 1,750 (0.079%) acres of the park’s 2.2 million acres. Most visitors stay within a half mile of these corridors.

2021 also saw the introduction of an automated shuttle system in the park that moved more than 10,000 visitors at Canyon Village in a pilot program designed to test technology that could be used in the park in the future.

A major shuttle feasibility study is underway to analyze the viability of a shuttle system in the Midway Geyser Basin corridor.

Yellowstone has completed over $100 million in projects over the past two years to improve transportation infrastructure, reduce traffic congestion and enhance visitor experiences.

Substantial additional investments will continue in 2022 and 2023 in multiple areas of the park as part of funding received from the Great American Outdoors Act.

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Ellen Fike