Sluggish Start for Parks

March of last year was when the national parks started picking up momentum toward another record-smashing year for visitation.

But this year is a different story, with the big units showing signs of a centennial hangover.

Celebrating its 100th birthday, the National Park Service had 300.97 million visits, setting attendance records for the third straight year. The national parks, the 59 units with national park designations helped pave the way with an increase of nearly 7 million over 2015. Twelve of the top 20 through March 2017 are behind their previous year’s pace.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the perennial No. 1 in attendance, is 141,522 behind the previous year’s pace. Everglades has had the biggest drop-off at 185,994. Large snowfall has contributed to a more than 100,000-visit loss at Yosemite.

*Top 20 National Parks, ranked monthly by cumulative attendance in 2017. With gain/loss from the same month last year.

Click a Month: March | February | January

March: Two Utah parks joined the standings with Arches debuting at No. 14 and Bryce Canyon at No. 19. … Biscayne And Yellowstone dropped out of the top 20, landing at Nos. 24 and 26. … Death Valley climbed five spots to No. 8. … Great Smoky Mountains and Grand Canyon had the biggest visitation months of the year at 778,211 and 504,295, respectively.

Rank National Park (previous month rank) State(s) Month +/- 2014
1 Great Smoky Mountains (1) NC/TN 1,369,951 -141,522
2 Grand Canyon (3) AZ 960,551 +52,792
3 Joshua Tree (2) CA 904,808 +147,086
4 Zion (7) UT 1544,606 -16,969
5 Hawaii Volcanoes (4) HI 533,265 +55,348
6 Yosemite (5) CA 538,244 -100,127
7 Saguaro (6) AZ 374,702 +64,278
8 Death Valley (13) CA 368,056 -4,425
9 Rocky Mountain (8) CO 339,5444 -15,841
10 Olympic (10) WA 339,544 -10,581
11 Hot Springs (11) AK 312,550 +44,884
12 Haleakala (9) HI 293,670 -24,310
13 Cuyahoga Valley (12) OH 273,204 -1,658
14 Arches (NR) UT 189,075 +16,442
15 Everglades (14) FL 185,239 -185,994
16 Big Bend (17) TX 151,510 +15,976
17 Virgin Islands (15) VI 145,988 -6,150
18 Grand Teton (16) WY 143,140 -12,794
19 Bryce Canyon (NR) UT 142,863 -7,8325
20 Shenandoah (18) VA 120,108 +26,405

Source: National Park Service.

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February: Great Smoky Mountains almost doubled its visitation from February 2016. …Zion made the biggest jump, from No. 11 to No. 7. … Shenandoah debuted at No. 18, with Sequoia dropping out of the top 20. … Both No. 5 Yosemite and No. 14 Everglades fell at least 100,000 off the previous year’s pace.

Rank National Park (previous month rank) State(s) Month +/- 2014
1 Great Smoky Mountains (1) NC/TN 840,082 +106,820
2 Joshua Tree (2) CA 500,263 +69,613
3 Grand Canyon (3) AZ 456,256 +52,792
4 Hawaii Volcanoes (4) HI 367,658 +35,650
5 Yosemite (5) CA 241,254 -100,127
6 Saguaro (6) AZ 236,110 +43,811
7 Zion (11) UT 199,130 +2,525
8 Rocky Mountain (9) CO 194,434 -29,898
9 Haleakala (7) HI 192,418 -16,655
10 Olympic (8) WA 190,489 -10,591
11 Hot Springs (10) AK 187,483 +44,884
12 Cuyahoga Valley (12) OH 168,979 +11,512
13 Death Valley (13) CA 158,774 -4,425
14 Everglades (14) FL 103,757 -132,661
15 Virgin Islands (16) VI 91,007 -6,150
16 Grand Teton (15) WY 89,774 -10,998
17 Big Bend (17) TX 76,775 -4,117
18 Shenandoah (NR) VA 63,718 +26,405
19 Biscayne (19) FL 62,348 -4,070
20 Yellowstone (18) MT/WY/ID 61,793 -5,155

Source: National Park Service.

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January: The parks actually are ahead of last year’s January pace, which is a surprise since only eight of the top 20 had gains. … Joshua Tree, at No. 2, had the biggest gain at 46,281, while No. 14 Everglades had the biggest loss from the previous year’s pace, minus 62,102.

Rank National Park (previous month rank) State(s) Month +/- 2014
1 Great Smoky Mountains NC/TN 382,161 +2,431
2 Joshua Tree CA 240,124 +46,281
3 Grand Canyon AZ 217,102 +27,999
4 Hawaii Volcanoes HI 197,836 +30,022
5 Yosemite CA 120,025 -19,755
6 Saguaro AZ 106,868 +17,945
7 Haleakala HI 105,951 -1,318
8 Olympic WA 96,056 -1,515
9 Rocky Mountain CO 95,602 -19,065
10 Hot Springs AK 93,452 +21,464
11 Zion UT 88,561 +4,416
12 Cuyahoga Valley OH 85,195 0
13 Death Valley CA 64,804 -4,425
14 Everglades FL 54,115 -62,102
15 Grand Teton WY 45,377 -2,124
16 Virgin Islands VI 43,527 -2,311
17 Big Bend TX 35,105 -1,611
18 Yellowstone MT/WY/ID 329,518 -1,103
19 Biscayne FL 29,490 -6,265
20 Sequoia CA 428,877 -12,130

Source: National Park Service.

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Click here for 2016 park standings