NPS Visitor Use Statistics

Program Overview

The NPS Social Science Program is responsible for coordinating visitor use statistics reporting for units administered by the NPS. ‘Visitor Use Statistics’ refers to a formal set of statistics collected by the National Park Service that address how many people visit parks and how long they stay. Program staff work with parks to develop appropriate data collection procedures and provide quality control for visitor use data. Such coordination ensures that visitor use data are consistent and reliable throughout all units of the National Park System.

Interest in NPS visitation data goes back over a century when the first data were collected in 1904. In that first year, six national parks reported a total of 140,954 visitors. Early methods of data collection were informal and documented such things as number of visitors, modes of transportation, and trip origins. Since then, visitor use counting and reporting requirements have been formalized into policy and estimation procedures are designed to take advantage of new technologies. 

What categories of visitor use are collected?

A visit is the entry of a visitor onto lands or waters administered by the NPS. There are two categories of visits:

  1. Recreation visits
  2. Non-recreation visits

A visitor hour is the presence of one or more persons, excluding NPS personnel, in a park for continuous, intermittent, or simultaneous periods of time aggregating one hour.

An overnight stay is one night within a park by a visitor. There are seven categories of overnight stays:

  • Concessioner Lodging Overnight Stays
  • Concessioner Campground Overnight Stays
  • NPS Campground Tent Overnight Stays
  • NPS Campground RV Overnight Stays
  • Backcountry Overnight Stays
  • Miscellaneous Overnight Stays
  • Non-Recreation Overnight Stays

How we measure visitor use

Each park unit that reports official visitor use statistics has a set of official Count Procedures. These procedures are unique to each park and represent an agreement between the superintendent of the park and the NPS Social Science Program regarding what data are to be collected and what calculations are to be made to support the reporting of official visitor use statistics for the park. These procedures are applicable beginning January 1 of the year of issue (except for newly added parks) and remain in effect until and unless they are changed by agreement between the park’s superintendent and the Social Science Program. Addition of new property, changes in multipliers, changes in detection technology, or changes in staff capabilities to operate and maintain a count system are common reasons to update count procedures.

Last updated: February 21, 2024


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