Washington State’s National Parks Saw 6% of National Park Visitors in 2015

I love data, and I love National parks, so when I can create a post where the two of them go hand in hand, I get extra excited. Earlier this week, the National Park Service released their official totals for National Park visitation. As usual, my January 5th estimations of the 10 Most Popular Parks was correct. However, I am not here to celebrate my victory in predicting the order of park’s popularity. Instead, this post will be shedding insight into how popular Washington State’s National Parks are nationally and how they compare to local sporting events. Of the 75,290,221 visits to America’s 59 National Park’s last year, 5.97% of those came to Washington’s State’s three National Parks. Olympic, Mount Rainier and North Cascades recorded 4,494,669 visits, or 12,314 a day last year.

Olympic National Park was the 7th most visited National Park in America, seeing 3,262,761 visits.
Mount Rainier National Park was ranked #18 with 1,237,231 visits.
North Cascades National Park was once again one of the least visited National Parks, seeing just 20,677 visits and ranking #54.

Each day of 2015, the National Park’s of America had 206,275 visits a day. Locally, Olympic had an average of 8,942 visits, while Rainier had 3,390 and North Cascades saw 57 a day. Of course, these numbers are just averages and do not reflect closures and are on the assumption that each park was fully open for 365 days. I have a call in to the expert on visitation at North Cascades and will be updating this post to reflect what they tell me as soon as I hear back.

Out of the 307 million visitors who came to see the sites at 410 National Park System’s Parks, Historic Parks, Historic Sites, and Recreation Areas, 2.5% of those came to Washington’s destinations. Chances are, you went to maybe two of these in 2015. Don’t feel bad, I only went to six of them.  In 12 months, 7,674,514 visited the 10 areas in Washington’s National Park System:

                     Fort Vancouver NHS had 818,672 visits.

                     Klondike Gold Rush NHP Seattle had 60,372 visits.

                     Lake Chelan NRA had 32,186 visits.

                     Lake Roosevelt NRA had 1,170843 visits.

                     Mount Rainier NP had 1,237,231 visits.

                     North Cascades NP had 20,677 visits.

                     Olympic NP had 3,262,761 visits.

                     Ross Lake NRA had 772,579 visits.

                     San Juan Island NHP had 258,668 visits.

                     Whitman Mission NHS had 39,525 visits.

While some may celebrate this as great news for the local parks, the numbers could have been even higher. Now, obviously this is all speculation, as many who attend local sporting events also go out and explore our National Parks. I just find it interesting to see that more people attended a single Mariner’s game than visited North Cascade National Park in all of 2015. In 106 games and matches, 3,497,935 people watched the Seahawks, Mariners and Sounders at Century Link and Safeco. That is an average of just under 33,000 people each event.

In 2015 Seattle Mariners attendance was 2,193,581 for 81 home games, with an average of 27,081 per game.
For the 2015 Seattle Seahawks season, attendance was 552,162 in just eight home games, with an average game seeing 60,020.
The 2015 Seattle Sounders attendance was some of the best soccer attendance in the world, getting 752,192 people in 17 matches. This is an average match attendance of 44,247.

Large crowd at a Seattle Sounder Match
Large crowd at a Seattle Sounder Match

What does all this data mean?

Probably nothing, honestly. The nature lovers of Washington State get out in full force, and experience the most beautiful destinations in the world often. Millions experience the beauty of the Olympic, Cascades and volcanoes, while more enjoy the lakes, museums and historical areas of our state. We celebrate the wilderness and love being called the Evergreen State. However, the numbers also show that there are millions of Washingtonians not getting out and experiencing a National Park. Yes, Washington State has a population of over seven million and 7,674,514 visited the 10 areas in Washington’s National Park System, but that doesn’t mean everyone has visited one of these areas.

We live in the most beautiful state in America, and while my bias is completely evident, millions of visitors from around the world tend to agree. We need to work harder to celebrate and share our protected, historic and wilderness areas with the masses, and put Washington State as one of the top outdoor recreation states in America’s National park Service for 2016. We need to get more of the public aware of our “secrets” so we can further protect them and fully fund them. In 2016, take a friend or a neighbor to a National Park, get to know your community and show them the awesomeness that is in all of our backyards. Don’t be selfish and wish for these areas to remain yours and only yours. Remember, this land is your land, this land is my land, this land was made for you and me.

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By Doug and Mathias on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State

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