Despite a sour economy and expensive gasoline, nearly 283 million visitors traveled to the National Park System in 2012, an increase of nearly 4 million from 2011 and the highest level of visitation since 2009.
Remove 2009 -- when visitation reached 285.6 million -- from the list and the 282.7 million visitors who headed to parks last year marked the highest visitation in more than decade; you'd have to go all the way back to 2000, when 285.9 million visitors turned out, to find a higher year in terms of visitation.
The figures went live on the National Park Service's Visitor Use Statistics page after the close of business, East Coast time, Friday and Park Service officials were not immediately available for comment. However, the statistics seem to indicate the overall increase was driven by day trippers.
* Concessionaire-reported lodging nights stood at 3.29 million in 2012, roughly equal to the 3.3 million reported for 2011;
* Stays in concessionaire-run campgrounds stood at 1.25 million in 2012, again roughly equal to the 1.21 million reported the year before;
* Campers in NPS-run campgrounds stood at 3.2 million last year, just behind the 3.22 million reported for 2011;
* Recreational vehicle overnights ran to 2.12 million in 2012, nearly equal to the 2.15 million of 2011;
* Backcountry overnights in 2012 stood at 1.81 million, ahead of the 1.71 million tallied in 2011.
The Blue Ridge Parkway reported the highest visitation of all NPS units, with 15.2 million visitors in 2012, while Golden Gate National Recreation Area was second, with 14.5 million. Great Smoky Mountains National Park reported 9.7 million visitors, Natchez Trace Parkway 5.5 million, Gateway NRA 5 million, Gulf Islands National Seashore 4.973 million, Delaware Water Gap NRA 4.970 million, Grand Canyon National Park 4.4 million, Yosemite National Park 3.85 million, and Yellowstone National Park 3.4 million.
For a breakdown of 2012 visitation across all units of the park system, visit this page and click on "ranking report."
Parks in the Southeast Region of the service reported the highest 2012 visitation number, 62.7 million. Trailing that region, in order, were the Pacific West Region (56.7 million), Northeast Region (49.8 million), National Capital Region (49.5 million), Intermountain Region (41.3 million), Midwest Region (20.2 million), and Alaska Region (2.4 million).
The largest noticeable difference between the 2012 statistics and those from 2009 was in concessionaire-reported lodge overnights. The 3.49 million reported in 2009 was almost 200,000 ahead of 2012 levels, according to the NPS statistics.