Outdoors

Yosemite National Park posts record number of visitors

Yosemite had a record number of visitors in 2016. Visitors gather to take photographs at Tunnel View overlooking Yosemite Valley on Aug. 25, the day Yosemite National Park, staff and visitors celebrated the National Park Service’s 100-year anniversary.
Yosemite had a record number of visitors in 2016. Visitors gather to take photographs at Tunnel View overlooking Yosemite Valley on Aug. 25, the day Yosemite National Park, staff and visitors celebrated the National Park Service’s 100-year anniversary. Fresno Bee file

Yosemite National Park had a record number of visitors last year, attracting more than 5 million people – including President Barack Obama and his family.

The park saw a 21 percent increase from a year earlier, according to the National Park Service.

Yosemite was No. 3 in visitors among all national parks, behind Great Smoky Mountains (11.3 million) and Grand Canyon (5.9 million) national parks.

For the system as a whole, 2016 marked the third consecutive year of record numbers of visitors. There were 331 million recreation visitors, an increase of 7.7 percent, the park service said.

A visitor is “an individual who may generate one or more visits,” the park service said.

The increase can be attributed to several factors, including lower gas prices, an improving economy and the centennial of the National Park Service in 2016, said Jamie Richards, public affairs officer at Yosemite.

“It was a big year,” she said. “A lot of local visitors are coming up.”

Additionally, national parks are relatively affordable for family vacations, she said.

Sequoia National Park posted a record number of 1.2 million recreation visitors, a 14 percent increase from the previous year. Kings Canyon National Park had about 607,000 recreation visitors, an increase of nearly 30 percent.

Mike Theune, acting public affairs officer for Sequoia and Kings, said the Rough Fire in 2015 depressed visits to Kings Canyon that year.

People in communities near Yosemite and Sequoia parks said the increase in visitor traffic was easy to see.

For Oakhurst and communities on Highway 41 leading to the south entrance of Yosemite, business improved, said Joelle Leder, executive director of the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s wonderful for the communities and the economic vitality of the area,” she said. “We have about one and a half million people coming through the south gate. It’s great for our local economy.”

A goal of the chamber is to encourage visitors to “shop, dine, play, stay,” she said. “We want to be more than a fuel station.”

In Three Rivers near Sequoia National Park, there were longer lines of cars at the Ash Mountain entry station, said John Elliott, publisher of the Kaweah Commonwealth weekly.

The increased traffic “noticeably affected all the business,” Elliott said. “We had a lot more people stay here. It was definitely a shot in the arm.”

The Department of the Interior’s Every Kid in a Park program, in which fourth-graders could get a free pass to the national parks, also played a role in increasing visits, the park service said.

Rangers at park entry stations to Sequoia and Kings Canyon reported that fourth-graders would show their pass and say, “I’m taking my family to the park,” Theune said.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

Recreation visitors 2016

Yosemite NP: 5,028,868

Sequoia NP: 1,254,688

Kings Canyon NP: 607,479

2016 National Park Service visitor numbers

An in-depth look at 2016 visitation figures can be found at the NPS Social Science website.

  Comments