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Yellowstone National Park has broken its annual visitation record.

So far in 2021, total visitation to the park has already surpassed total visitation to the park through December during Yellowstone’s previous record-busiest year of 2016.

Staff have counted over 4.47 million recreation visits to the park so far this year. That’s about 200,000 more visits than the total counted in 2016.

The park also broke its monthly record for September. Park staff counted over 882,000 recreation visits to Yellowstone National Park this September. That’s a 5% increase in visitation from the park’s previous record-busiest September in 2020.

The visitation numbers so far are up 32% from the same period last year, and up 17% from the same period in 2019, officials wrote in a news release.

A meteoric rise in visitation to Yellowstone began after officials closed the park’s entrances in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

Park entrances reopened in the months afterward, and visitation increased — at first slowly, then significantly. September and October 2020 both broke records.

The trend continued through 2021, when the park set new visitation records for the months of May, June, July, August and now September. July 2021 was the park’s busiest month on record with around 1,080,000 recreation visits counted.

“Never in Yellowstone’s history have we seen such substantial visitation increases in such a short amount of time,” Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a news release.

“We will continue working with our teams and partners to develop and implement appropriate short- and long-term actions for managing increasing visitation across the park. My thanks to our teams here for working through a record visitation year, especially with the continued workforce challenges presented by COVID-19,” he said.

Back in 2019, Yellowstone National Park developed a visitor use strategy to address the impacts of increasing visitation on park resources, infrastructure, operations, visitor experiences and gateway communities.

Officials are concentrating efforts on the park’s most congested areas, including Old Faithful, Midway Geyser Basin, Norris, Canyon rims and Lamar Valley. They’ve launched an electric, automatic shuttle pilot program to test out new transportation technology in the park.

In addition, the national park has spent the past two years completing projects to improve transportation infrastructure, reduce traffic congestion and enhance visitor experiences, staff wrote. Those projects have amounted to over $100 million.

“Substantial additional investments will continue in 2022 and 2023 in multiple areas of the park as part of funding received from the Great American Outdoors Act,” staff wrote.

Helena Dore can be reached at or at 582-2628.