Yellowstone National Park Reporting Bullish Visitation

Despite high gas prices and a sluggish economy, Yellowstone National Park is on a pace to threaten the annual record for visitation.

Ahhh, Yellowstone National Park. Its magic captures just about anyone who visits, or reads an article about this incredible park. Perhaps that's why, when other parks are reporting dips in visitation, Yellowstone is reporting strong tourist traffic.

After enjoying record visitation in June (OK, maybe "enjoying record visitation" isn't a good way to put things at a time when the National Park Service is struggling to make ends meet and keep parks up to snuff), Yellowstone saw strong traffic in July and August. In fact, the park is on a near-record pace for annual visitation.

Yellowstone officials say 735,572 recreational visits were recorded in August. That’s up almost 25,000 visitors from last August. The largest percentage increase in August was recorded through the East Entrance, up 13.7 percent from 2007.

There were 826,728 recreational visitors to the park in July, up half a percent from the same period in 2007. Yellowstone also recorded 612,095 recreational visits in June 2008, a record for the month.

For the year, the park has counted 2,509,947 recreational visits, which is just behind last year's 2,511,790 tally through August.

Overall, visitation for the three summer months was up more than 30,000 visitors compared to the same period last year.

Yellowstone had a record 3,151,342 visitors in 2007. The bulk of the park’s visitation occurs May through September.

Comments

One possible explanation is the weak dollar and the high number of foreign tourists. That seems to be the most likely explanation. However, no matter who seems to be visiting, we were simply shocked last week by the huge, huge numbers of SUVs driving through Yellowstone, presumably a great number being rental cars.

Yellowstone being a world famous park; it's going to draw people looking to visit the United States. It seemed that the largest number of tourists we saw were speaking German, though there were a large number of Asian tourists as well. But, that's anecdotal. Since we don't get demographic statistics, we'll probably never do much better than that.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

we were simply shocked last week by the huge, huge numbers of SUVs driving through Yellowstone, presumably a great number being rental cars.

Same experience for us when we visited in early August. That's one of the reasons I can't get myself to accept the gas-price theories of visitation decline. In all of the National Parks we visited it was bumper-to-bumber RV's with a lot of SUV's thrown in. Compared to my last trip out west in the 90's, it seems the amount of RV's has exploded. I think a lot of people complain about gas, but I wonder how many actually change their habits.

At Artists Point in Yellowstone, Anglophones were a minority - and a relatively small one at that! German definitely carried the day, with a hefty dose of French. My wife and I were playing a game of seeing how far we'd have to walk before hearing the next English words. Out of the many hundreds of people we encountered in our 15 minutes there, I'd say a liberal estimate would be 20% were English-speaking. Anecdotal, to be sure, but it's too universally noticed not to point to a trend.

-Kirby.....Lansing, MI

To add to the anecdotal evidence, I spent two weeks this summer as a volunteer host at the Museum of the National Park Ranger at Norris in Yellowstone. I was stunned by the number of foreign visitors who came to the musuem. I regularly heard French and German, some Spanish, and several unknown languages, probably among them Dutch, spoken on almost every day. It reminded me of several stops at Mather Point in Grand Canyon during which I was sure that I was the only native English speaker at the overlook.

Rick Smith

I think we need to remember that while gas prices here are high, they're at least half of what the Europeans pay at home, so that alone is quite a savings for them. That, plus the weak dollar, has made American vacations -- and SUVs -- very affordable for them this year.

Proving that Europeans, who are used to paying VERY high gas prices, are finding gasoline, as well as everything else, a bargain in America. The weak dollar has made it so. We have had our turn when, no doubt, there were many Parisian residents commenting about how they hardly heard a French voice at the Eifel Tower.
As a long time resident of the Yellowstone area who was unable to visit the Park much this summer, I still find the Park Service numbers curious because of the fact that almost every single friend or family member who HAS visited this summer, has commented about how much SMALLER the crowds seemed compared to previous years! I have heard it over and over, from people who vist the park constantly, and have for years.
One friend suggested that the Park Service has altered the way that they count visitors. He said that in the past they used to count only vehicles, and extrapolate an average per vehicle, while now they actually count people in the vehicles. Another jokingly suggested that they use the "Top Box Office" method used by the movies. Count the money and decide that "The Dark Knight" is the number two box office champ of all time, when in reality it is like thirtieth when adjusted for inflation. In any case it would be interesting to find out exactly what process is used, and how it may (or may not) differ from the past.

I drove through Yellowstone on the way back to Colorado from a week in Glacier this last weekend. Despite claims of vast numbers of Europeans visiting Yellowstone in large vehicles, what was most striking was the vast number of Hummers and other belching SUVs from Texas and other Western states. These were real card-carrying, drawling Texans paying Wyoming gas prices to visit Yellowstone, many with fly rod in hand. And there were many, many fly rods to be seen. I guess no gasoline price is too high to fish the Yellowstone River.

It's also been the case when I've been in backcountry that I've seen more American and fewer non-English-speaking hikers - by probably about 10 to 1 (though on a heavily traveled area like Cascade Canyon in the Tetons, that proportion didn't hold true unless I went away from Inspiration Point - and it was striking how much it changed). Since we say "hi" to almost everyone we pass, we get a decent idea.

I think there could also be something to the accounting of numbers; I know they swipe my card every time they make me go through an entrance. Perhaps, there is a combination of factors.

One thing - however - and this could be the result of a couple of reasons - more people are blogging this year on Yellowstone than they were the year before (and I'm talking about English-speaking blogs; the number of others seem to be going up - there is at least one regular Yellowstone enthusiast I am aware of who blogs in German). I have a few ways I can measure this from the work that I do on my newspaper. Now, this could simply mean that a higher percentage of people are blogging, or more people who travel are now blogging, or that blog search engines are picking up more pings from blogs than they used to pick up, or it could mean I've gotten significantly better at finding them. Or, it could mean also that there are more visitors to Yellowstone. There is a definitely correlation between peak visitation and the number of blogs mentioning Yellowstone; however, it's almost impossible to measure from year to year (especially as only a fraction of blogs end up in my newspaper). What that causes me to wonder is - what if we are wrong and American visitation is up in Yellowstone? If so, that might have to do with the fact that most people pre-plan and did so before the price of gas and airfare shot up, it could have to do with the ever growing population of the gateway counties, etc. For example, people using cars during winter through the North Entrance was up despite a harsher winter - perhaps, that's a function of population growth in the region.

So, there's a lot we could speculate on, but there are no firm answers.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World