A Look at Montana’s National Parks Ranking Over the Years
Recently, the National Park Service released its State of the Park Report for 2023, and with new data came all the top ten lists for the number of visitations to our country’s national parks. I came across one on Instagram:
Glacier started things off at the #10 ranking for visitations to the park, but I started to get curious when I saw Yellowstone National Park was #7 overall. There have been so many people visiting Montana, I thought Yellowstone would have ranked higher than that. Then I remembered what might have affected the total visitors at the park last year.
Yellowstone National Park in 2022
Yellowstone National Park, along with other areas of southeastern Montana, experienced a 500-year flood event in 2022 that washed out roads and temporarily closed down parts of the park. I think it’s a safe assumption that these closures impacted the number of people who visited the park last year.
Looking Back: Destructive Flooding Forces All Yellowstone National Park Entrances Closed
Yellowstone National Park was ranked #2 overall in 2020. As we’re all probably aware, this was at the beginning of the pandemic and a time when people were looking for places to travel that didn’t require air travel. This is probably another safe assumption: the spike in attendance was probably affected by the pandemic.
But what about other years?
How do Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park normally rank?
That's where things get interesting (or not, depending on how you look at it). Since 2017, with the exception of 2020, Glacier National Park consistently ranks at #10 for overall visitiations. So what happened in 2020? Glacier wasn’t even in the top 10, though it was probably affected by the pandemic, too, but not in the same way. The eastern entrances of the park were closed in 2020 by Blackfeet tribal leaders in efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, which likely impacted park attendance. There were also wildfires that summer, and both parks started to change the ways people were admitted to the parks. Still, being at the #10 spot is interesting because of how consistent it is. Yellowstone, on the other hand, usually ranks somewhere in the middle.
Here’s a look at the Parks' top 10 rankings over the last several years:
2022 Yellowstone #7, Glacier #10
2021 Yellowstone #3, Glacier #10
2020 Yellowstone #2
2019 Yellowstone #6, Glacier #10
2018 Yellowstone #5, Glacier #10
2017 Yellowstone #6, Glacier #10
Even though the parks are setting records with attendance, and it may feel like they have more visitors than usual, Montana’s National Parks don’t even come close in their attendance to the consistently #1 ranked park. That honor goes to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee which had nearly 13 million visitors in 2022.