Yellowstone visits hit record high in 2021, straining staff

Posted at 1:02 PM, Jan 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-23 13:02:28-05

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, Wyo. (AP) -- A record number of visitors flocked to Yellowstone National Park last year despite fewer hotel rooms and campsites being available because of the coronavirus pandemic and construction projects.

About 4.86 million visits were tallied in 2021, breaking the prior record set in 2016. It's a million more people than visited in 2020.

Known worldwide for its wolves, bears and other wildlife and thermal features such as the Old Faithful geyser, Yellowstone will mark its 150th anniversary in 2022. It straddles the borders of northwestern Wyoming, southern Montana and eastern Idaho.

Woman falls into thermal feature in closed Yellowstone National Park
FILE - In this May 21, 2011, file photo, tourists photograph Old Faithful erupting on schedule late in the afternoon in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. A woman has suffered burns after falling into a thermal feature at Yellowstone National Park, which is closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Officials say she was reportedly backing up while taking photos Tuesday, May 12, 2020, and fell into a hot spring or hole where hot gases emerge near Old Faithful geyser. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

Visits to national parks across the U.S. have been trending up in recent years. Others such as Utah's Zion National Park also set new visitors records in 2021 as tourism bounced back from the shutdowns imposed during the early days of the pandemic.

At Yellowstone, a rush of people from May through September last year strained employees and park services. It came as the park was understaffed through the summer because of workers housing caps and difficulty recruiting new employees, park officials have said.

There were also 20 % fewer campsites and hotel rooms in 2021 compared to previous years. That meant hundreds of thousands of visitors left the park at night and would re-enter after staying elsewhere. Each time they entered the park counted as a separate visit.