Delivering a World-Class Visitor Experience

a park ranger talking and presenting to a group of people
Ranger Becky giving a program at Old Faithful.

NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Yellowstone’s Delivering a World-Class Visitor Experience strategic priority focuses on providing a high-quality visitor experience for the millions who visit each year while simultaneously ensuring that park resources are protected. The park has spent the last six years monitoring impacts of increasing visitation on resources, staff, infrastructure, visitor experience, and gateway communities. The park has implemented a wide range of short-term actions designed to manage visitation, provide quality public safety services, and minimize impacts to resources more effectively. Yellowstone is now working on a variety of potential long-term actions that will help address future challenges associated with increasing visitation levels.

Learn about how Yellowstone is “Delivering a World-Class Visitor Experience” below.

a collage of five photos, each showing park staff and operations
From left to right: (1) Wastewater system at Canyon Village; (2) Bison jam in Hayden Valley; (3) Yellowstone pumper truck; (4) Visitors waiting to enter through the West Entrance; (5) Visitors participating in visitor use research.

Understanding Impacts from Increased Visitation

In 2019, Yellowstone developed a strategy to better understand and respond to impacts from increasing visitation. The strategy focuses on visitor impacts to these four areas:

Park Resources

The park is improving its methodologies and data collection to better understand the impacts of increased visitation on resources. While data indicate minimal visitor impacts on most park resources, limited impacts (social trails, human waste, and litter) have been identified in the busiest areas of the park, including the Upper Geyser (Old Faithful) and Midway Geyser basins.

Park Staffing, Operations, and Infrastructure

Increasing visitation translates to greater impacts on the Yellowstone team, our operations, and infrastructure like roads, bridges, and wastewater systems. Popular sites now require more frequent cleaning at peak times, garbage and wastewater pump trucks must adjust their schedules to accommodate for traffic congestion, and additional staff is required to manage traffic and safety in congested areas.

Visitor Experience

Surveys reveal that visitors to Yellowstone are largely satisfied with their experience and that roadway traffic does not negatively impact their experience. However, surveys also identified issues around restrooms, congestion, and parking at specific sites during peak season.

Gateway Communities

While increasing visitation can economically benefit surrounding communities, additional traffic and congestion has caused concern within communities during peak season. The 2022 flood event and recovery efforts had substantial impacts on gateway communities. Following the flood, the park held daily calls with gateway communities for the first few weeks and intermittently thereafter to ensure transparency on the park’s efforts to reopen the park to the public as quickly and safely as possible and manage visitation with limited infrastructure.


Researching Visitor Use

Yellowstone staff, with assistance from Youth Conservation Corps crews, collected visitor use data during six consecutive summers in key frontcountry locations throughout the park. Yellowstone has established baseline conditions, captured trends over time, and is expanding data collection to include more complex areas such as Canyon, Old Faithful, and Mammoth Hot Springs. Park managers use this data to make decisions about where new strategies and tactics are needed to respond to increased and changing visitor use patterns, such as different infrastructure design, different ways to manage visitor access or flow, new restrooms, or additional staffing, signage, or education.

The year 2021 was the highest visitation year on record, followed by 2022, which marked the lowest visitation level since monitoring began. Between 2021 and 2022, parking conditions and impacts to resources improved at all monitoring locations, while visits to popular viewpoints stayed relatively constant and visitor interest in off-peak seasons has increased.

a graph indicating how much annual visitation has increased between 1904 and 2022
Yellowstone recreational visits trend from 1904-2022.

2018 Visitor Use Survey

In 2018, the park conducted one of the most comprehensive visitor use surveys in the country, with over 7,000 participants providing valuable data and opinions. Beginning in 2019, the park began efforts to address visitor concerns in several notable areas.

Key Points:

  • The most important experiences for visitors are to view scenery, see wildlife, and to see geysers and thermal features.
  • Respondents were more likely to experience a greater sense of crowding, traffic congestion, and limited parking availability at Midway Geyser Basin and Fairy Falls.
  • Visitor experience and frustration ratings appeared to have little to no significant correlation with GPS-based average speeds across road segments in the park. Respondents were generally not frustrated, gave high experience ratings, and did not perceive major problems on roadways.
an infographic with three different charts of data that were collected during the visitor use survey

2018 Visitor Use Survey data (graphs above): Are you a first-time visitor to Yellowstone? 66.5% Yes, 33.5% No. How much time did you spend waiting for parking? 72.6% <5 minutes, 13.5% 5-10 minutes, 5.9% 11-20 minutes, 3.7% 21-30 minutes, 4.3% >30 minutes. How would you rate your trip to Yellowstone? 43.9% Excellent, 41.3% Good, 10.6% Fair, 2.7% Poor, 1.5% Very Poor. How crowded did you feel in Yellowstone? 22.8% Not at all, 28.3% Slightly, 29.3% Moderately, 14% Very, 5.6% Extremely.

Responding to Increased Visitation

Using data from visitor use surveys and transportation studies, the park will focus on reducing impacts within the Midway Geyser Basin corridor, Old Faithful Geyser Basin, Norris Geyser Basin, and Canyon Village sites. These areas have consistently been identified as having the highest levels of congestion and the highest impacts on resources and visitor experience. The park has implemented a range of solutions to achieve visitor management objectives:


three photos in a row of park rangers fighting fire, taking calls, and jumping out of a helicopter
From left to right: (1) Yellowstone Structural Fire Team training; (2) Yellowstone public safety dispatcher in the communications center; (3) Hover (STEP) training.

Protecting People and Resources



More Information

several bison walking in a roadway with vehicles
Visitor Use Management

Since 2008, annual visitation to Yellowstone has increased by over 40% with about 70% of visitation occurring June through August.

Snowmobilers stop to take photos of Electric Peak at a Swan Lake Flats pull-out.
Winter Use Management

The final Rule authorizing oversnow-vehicle use in Yellowstone was published in the Federal Register on October 23, 2013.


Yellowstone "Experience" News

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    Last updated: March 28, 2024

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    Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168



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