July sets record as busiest month ever in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park managers are looking for ways to more effectively deliver safety messages about watching bears, wolves and other wildlife at roadside traffic jams.

NPS photo

More people visited Yellowstone National Park in July than during any other month in the park's history.

CODY, WYO. — If things seemed a little crowded last month during your visit to Yellowstone National Park, it wasn’t just you. It was the million other people who picked July to visit Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, Mammoth Hot Springs and the park’s other top attractions.

July was the busiest single month ever in Yellowstone, according to numbers posted online by the National Park Service. Yellowstone saw 980,702 recreational visitors last month, a 14 percent increase over July 2014, when 858,857 recreational visitors toured the park. That’s 2 percent higher than June 2010, which had been the busiest month on record until now.

So while the total number of recreational visitors in the park didn’t quite surpass 1 million, when factoring in all the additional people in the park for other reasons—delivery drivers, contractors, park employees and others—the total number of visitors came to 1,155,468.

So far this year, total recreation visitation in the park is up 17 percent over last year, with 2,279,557 people visiting the park through the end of July. If the trend continues, visitation for 2015 could top 2010, the busiest year ever for Yellowstone, when more than 3.6 million people visited.

Yellowstone spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said Monday that there are obvious signs of the heavy visitor load across the park.

“I think we are seeing that the parking lots are fuller, the bathroom lines are longer, and that kind of thing,” Bartlett said. ‘We’re still trying to look at how the numbers are truly affecting the visitor experience.”

According to figures posted on the National Park Service website, Yellowstone can accommodate fewer than 15,000 overnight visitors in hotels, cabins and campgrounds inside the park.

During July 2010, the park averaged nearly 31,000 daily visitors, meaning that any of the remaining several thousand visitors who plan on spending the night would likely stay in gateway communities.

In Cody, Wyo., a busy July in Yellowstone appears to have directly translated to crowded hotels, restaurants and attractions, said Sheila Lucas, visitor and membership manager for the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce.

“Most of the hotels have had an increase in revenue, and it has been a very positive summer so far,” Lucas said. “Most of the hospitality businesses and attractions we have heard from have done very well.”

Lucas said the Cody Nite Rodeo and Buffalo Bill Center of the West are reporting strong visitor numbers, as well as lodges between Cody and Yellowstone.

This summer has also seen a continuation of the trend of more Asian visitors, Lucas said.

The Park Service reports that more than two-thirds of park’s annual visitors typically show up in June, July and August. The first year Yellowstone saw more than 3 million visitors was 1992, but every year since 2007 has brought more than 3 million to the park.

Fall visitation to Yellowstone has steadily increased since the 1980s, and now accounts for more than 20 percent of total annual visitation. Winter visitation makes up only a small part of the park’s annual total, usually topping out at around 6 percent.

There’s some good news if you’re looking for some peace and quiet in Yellowstone, provided you’re willing to work for it.

Backcountry use in the park has not grown as steadily as road traffic and crowds around the major attractions. Since the mid-1990s, overnight backcountry use in Yellowstone has ranged between 37,000 and 46,000 person-use nights annually, according to Park Service figures.

Backcountry use in Yellowstone actually peaked in 1977, at more than 55,000 person-use nights.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].

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