As Popular As Ever: People Are Still Getting Outdoors in Record Numbers

National parks and other outdoor spaces saw a massive increase in visitors around the pandemic. The crowds are why so many parks now use reservation systems. In some cases, those numbers have slowed down. In 2023, with the world back open for business after COVID closures, some expected to see a decline in visitors. However, preliminary numbers for last year show getting outdoors is as popular as ever.

A new North Carolina State Parks press release says 2023 set a new record for visitors outdoors. More than 20.1 million people visited the state’s parks. That’s a 4% increase from 2022, or an astounding 755,000 more people. 

“We were excited to welcome more visitors to enjoy our naturally wonderful state parks, especially as several of our parks have recently added new campgrounds and visitor centers and as we celebrated the Year of the Trail,” said State Parks Director Brian Strong in their release. “I commend our staff for their continued hard work in ensuring the best possible visitor experience while staying true to our mission of conservation, recreation, and education.”

Grandfather Mountain State Park in North Carolina. (Source: Wes Hicks)

The most popular state park in North Carolina is Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, which opened its gates to more than 2.5 million visitors. 

The increase in visitors isn’t only impacting state parks. While the National Park System has not officially released its 2023 visitation numbers, some preliminary numbers are available for select parks. 

Staying in western North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the world, saw an increase from 2022. According to local media sources, GSMNP welcomed 13,218,573. However, this preliminary number did not beat the all-time high set in 2021.

Other parks with early numbers include Joshua Tree, where media reports the numbers from 2023 are. The park may have also set a record with an estimated 3,270,404 last year. 

Did you notice more people outdoors in 2023?

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