Yellowstone National Park File

Visitors take photos at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone on Aug. 13.

Labor Day weekend always feels like a last hurrah for summer. A time to squeeze in one more trip. A couple more nights in a tent. An extra day on the lake. Maybe the first weekend hunt.

Of course, for a lot of people, the weekend meant a trip to Yellowstone National Park.

And of course, the park was busy.

The park announced in a news release this week that it saw a 21% increase in vehicle entries over the long weekend compared to the same weekend in 2019. However, it was about a 10% drop from the same weekend in 2020.

In total, officials counted more than 32,000 entries across its five entrances. The busiest days were Saturday and Sunday, which accounted for more than 11,000 vehicle entries each. In 2019, only one day of the weekend topped 10,000, and the other three were all below 9,000.

Park officials have been comparing this year’s visitation stats to 2019 because of the impact COVID-19 had on park operations — most prominently, a full closure in the spring. The park did not provide the Labor Day weekend numbers for 2020 in the press release announcing the numbers, but provided them Thursday in response to a request from the Chronicle.

Totals for August 2021 have not been released yet, but if the other months of the year are any indicator, it will be sky high. Officials counted more than 1 million visits in a single month for the first time this past July. Three other months also busted visitation records.

Through July, the park’s visitor count was well ahead of where it was through July of 2016, the park’s busiest year. In 2016, the count through July was a little more than 2.4 million. This year, it’s over 2.6 million.

And the trend isn’t limited to Yellowstone. Parks nationwide are seeing more people, according to NPS stats. Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee broke records in each of the first six months of the year. Zion National Park in Utah broke records in January, February, March, May and June. Grand Teton, Yellowstone’s neighbor to the south, set new records in six of the first seven months of the year.

Fall usually means fewer people in Yellowstone, though September and October have become increasingly popular in recent years. Park roads will stay open to vehicles until Nov. 8.

This story has been updated to reflect additional information provided to the Chronicle by Yellowstone National Park.

Michael Wright is the Chronicle’s managing editor. He can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2638.

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