CODY, WYO. — The record summer season at Yellowstone National Park finished with a bang, as October brought more than a quarter-million visitors, pushing the annual total to more than 4 million people so far—a milestone never reached before at the world’s first national park.
Numbers posted by the National Park Service show that 252,013 people visited Yellowstone in October, an increase of more than 29 percent over last year, which was previously the busiest October on record, with 194,804 visitors.
Visitation is up nearly 17 percent overall this year over 2014, with 4,066,191 visitors through the end of October.
Lower gas prices and warm fall weather were contributing factors to the busy fall in Yellowstone, but park officials say an influx of foreign visitors and a growing interest in national parks is also playing a role in the higher traffic.
The previous busiest year on record in Yellowstone was 2010, with 3.6 million visitors.
Park officials are already making plans for how to handle what is expected to be another busy year in 2016, when the National Park Service celebrates its centennial.
Superintendent Dan Wenk and other managers visited gateway towns around the park last month to hear about how the increased traffic affected local businesses.
Wenk said during an Oct. 29 meeting with tourism leaders in Cody that Park Service “resources were stretched to their limits in terms of being able to provide for visitor safety, visitor use and protection of resources.”
Park officials are working on decreasing delays at entry gates around the park, improving parking at key attractions, and easing congestion at restrooms and elsewhere in the park.
Wenk said he had no immediate plans to restrict traffic in the park, but that many other national parks do so, and the matter needed to be studied in Yellowstone.
Most roads through Yellowstone closed to auto traffic for the season on Nov. 2 in preparation for the winter travel season, which begins Dec. 15. Much of the park saw heavy snow this week, making travel difficult on the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Cooke City, the only road open to autos during winter.
Winter visitation makes up only a small part of the park’s annual total, usually topping out at around 6 percent.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].