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National Parks + Outdoor Summer Activities

by 
Bracha Arnold
 on 
September 19, 2023
National Parks + Outdoor Summer Activities

The COVID-19 pandemic saw people flocking to the great outdoors as social distancing measures kept indoor options like museums and bowling alleys off-limits – although partial closure and social distancing kept visit numbers below 2019 levels. And while the pandemic has waned, parks remain a popular summer destination. As the summer draws to a close, we take a closer look at the location analytics for 25 national parks across the country. 

Strap Your Hiking Boots On

The United States is brimming with outdoor recreation options, with 63 official national parks and thousands of state parks. And while 2022 visits to parks were still slightly below pre-pandemic levels, year-over-year (YoY) data from 2023 indicates that the park visits are slowly but surely returning to normal, with monthly YoY foot traffic trending positive for most of spring and summer 2023.

Year-over-four-year (Yo4Y) foot traffic also looked promising, with May and June visits up compared to 2019 and July visits nearly on par with pre-pandemic levels. And although Yo4Y visits dipped in August – perhaps due to this summer’s extreme heat – general trends suggest that visiting national parks remains a popular summer activity. 

Change In Visitor Behavior

But while the pandemic did not necessarily increase visits to national parks across the board, COVID did succeed in drawing a wider range of people to the great outdoors. And on the heels of the new group of people discovering the joys of spending time in nature, visitation patterns have shifted. Fewer people who come to national parks are staying the night, with a year-over-four-year (Yo4Y) drop in overnight visits of 11.3% between April and August 2023. Visits also tended to be shorter than they were in 2019, with the average visit between April and August 2023 lasting three hours and 38 minutes – over an hour less than the four hours and 42 minute average during the same period in 2019. 

The dip in overnight visits and the decrease in average visit length suggest that national parks are not just for wilderness enthusiasts anymore. Instead, these parks now seem to welcome a wider range of visitors, including those more likely to make a casual daytime trip as opposed to a long overnight stay. 

Who’s Hiking, Anyway?

But even though national parks may no longer be reserved for hard-core nature enthusiasts, many of these parks still hold a greater appeal among certain audience segments. A psychographic analysis of the trade area of three highly visited national parks – Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio, Grand Canyon in Arizona, and Yosemite in California – reveals that people who visit national parks are also more likely to engage in other leisure activities. 

National park visitors are – perhaps unsurprisingly – more likely to enjoy various fitness-related hobbies, including hiking and cycling, when compared to the nationwide baseline. But the trade areas of the national parks also over-index for various cultural and recreational pursuits, such as clubbing and visiting museums. This psychographic analysis indicates that visiting a national park often functions as another fun pastime within a wider roster of hobbies. 

Ready, Set, Hike!

Embracing the great outdoors brings numerous benefits, both physical and mental. And foot traffic data indicates that with their wealth of options for nature enthusiasts and amateurs alike,  America’s national parks seem to offer something for everyone.

For more data-driven foot traffic insights, visit placer.ai/blog

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