National parks have been popular during pandemic. So why did visitation drop in 2020?

Maddie Capron
·1 min read

The coronavirus pandemic made national parks a vacation hotspot — but visitation was still down.

The National Park Service said Thursday that more than 237 million people visited national park sites in 2020. And while some parks saw significant increases in visitations during some months, the overall number of tourists at all sites decreased 28% from 2019.

Dozens of parks shut their gates to visitors in the early months of the pandemic to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Several were closed for two months or longer.

The number of recreation visitor hours dropped from 1.4 billion in 2019 to 1.05 billion in 2020, according to the Park Service.

“Although overall visitation dropped, a number of parks experienced record crowds and welcomed new visitors,” the National Park Service said in a news release. “Trails, overlooks and open spaces provided safe ways for visitors to recreate responsibly, get some fresh air and stay active.”

Fifteen parks set new visitation records in 2020, which is 10 more than in 2019, according to the Park Service.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Great Smoky Mountains National Park all saw more than 10 million visitors.

“This past year has reminded us how important national parks and public lands are to overall well-being,” NPS Deputy Director Shawn Benge said in the news release. “Throughout the country, national parks provided close-to-home opportunities for people to spend much needed time outdoors for their physical and psychological health.”