National Park Service
Annual Yellowstone National Park (Yellowstone) visitation has increased close to 45% since the early 2000s with much of the increase in the past five years. Yellowstone visitation rose to historic levels of use at 4.2 million visits in 2016. Based on historical visitation trends, growing international visitation, the retirement of Baby Boomers, and high levels of visitation from Gen X, demand for visitation is expected to continue to increase. In addition, a 2016 traffic mobility study (Otak) found the level of service on most Yellowstone roads rated a D during peak times, indicating serious platooning and delays causing safety issues for visitors. Using data garnered from the transportation mobility study, park management identified multiple areas of concern as “focal congested corridors.” These congested corridors are largely stemming from either dense vehicular traffic or wildlife jams. With this knowledge, Yellowstone managers identified a desire and need to evaluate experiences of different visitor segments at a subset of attractions within the park’s focal congested corridors. At the time, a gap existed in the knowledge of how visitor experiences are impacted by conditions in real-time and across time and space. Thus, the park’s stated goal was to understand the specific experiences of the visitor during the experience itself, not after leaving the park and reflecting back on their overall experience, and to identify how different groups of people experience the park across the season and across crowding gradients. In preparation for future management plans, park managers seek to capture data about their summer visitor as closely as possible to the actual times, locations, and situations in which visitors experience the park.
In order to address Yellowstone’s gaps in research, the 2018 Yellowstone National Park Summer Visitor Use project aimed to capture an array of information specific to sites spread across the park and across the entire summer season. Visitor research in Yellowstone has been intermittent with summer visitor research conducted in both 2015 and 2016. However, the previous studies have focused on park-wide issues and did not delve into site-specific research. Thus, the 2018 Summer Visitor Use project utilized multiple methodologies to obtain data from summer visitors at a number of sites in Yellowstone.