Saguaro National Park, Arizona, a desert realm for leisure and education -- and appreciation of America's National Parks. Photograph by David Maxwell Braun
Happy birthday, National Park Service! Americans are heading to the National Parks in record numbers in recognition of the NPS’s 100th anniversary today, August 25, says the American Automobile Association, the largest motoring and leisure travel organization in the country.
“Visitation to the national parks reached an all-time high in 2015, with more than 307 million visitors, according to the National Park Service, and travelers can expect the parks to remain busy in the year ahead,” the Association says in a news statement. A recent AAA survey found that 79 percent of Americans say they are as likely (42 percent) or more likely (37 percent) to visit a national park in the next 12 months, building on the momentum of this year’s centennial celebrations.
“The demand for national parks is off the charts this year, and it’s exciting to see that Americans are poised to take even more national park vacations in the years to come,” said Bryan Shilling, managing director of AAA Travel Products and Services. “In times of global uncertainty, many people are turning to domestic vacations and the wide variety of national parks offer something for every traveler to discover.”
“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” — Wallace Stegner, 1983
AAA research indicates that 85 percent of Americans have visited at least one national park, and a majority say the national parks are a “must-see” vacation destination (73 percent), according to the news release. “National parks are growing in popularity among younger generations, with nearly half of Millennials (46 percent) citing that they are more likely to visit a national park in the next year, outpacing both Generation X and Baby Boomers.”
Younger Generations Particularly Interested in National Parks
“It’s not surprising to see that younger generations are particularly interested in visiting national parks,” added Shilling. “Travel is part of Millennials’ DNA, and they consistently seek experiential travel opportunities, a major draw for national park visitors.”
“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” — President Franklin D. Roosevelt
According to the National Park Service, the most visited national parks in 2015 were Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountain. AAA’s survey revealed the national parks that top most Americans’ bucket lists for future travels include Yellowstone (33 percent), Yosemite (17 percent) and Grand Canyon (12 percent).
“Americans feel the best times to visit the national parks are during the spring (35 percent), fall (33 percent) and summer (27 percent),” AAA said.
Travelers planning trips to national parks for the remainder of 2016 can enjoy a discount on select dates in honor of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. All sites that charge an entrance fee will offer free admission Aug. 25-28, Sept. 24 and Nov. 11.
“A visit inspires love of country; begets contentment; engenders pride of possession; contains the antidote for national restlessness…. He is a better citizen with a keener appreciation of the privilege of living here who has toured the national parks.” — Stephen T. Mather, National Park Service Director, 1917-1929
Results from the AAA survey reveal additional details about Americans’ national park vacation preferences:
The vast majority (91 percent) of visitors to national parks drive to their destination. The remainder choose to fly (18 percent), ride on trains or buses (10 percent each) or take a cruise or boat (7 percent).
The majority of Americans (66 percent) typically stay in a hotel, motel or lodge when visiting a national park. Camping (41 percent), vacation rentals or cabins (38 percent), staying with friends and family (33 percent) and bed and breakfasts (27 percent) are also popular accommodation options.
Visitors’ favorite national park activities include walking or hiking on park trails (53 percent) and sightseeing (35 percent).
To evaluate national park travel intentions, AAA contracted with a national research company to perform a telephone survey of 1,012 adults living in the continental United States. Survey results are an accurate representation of the total continental U.S. population with a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percent at a 95 percent confidence level. The survey was conducted June 23-26, 2016.
This post was prepared from material submitted by AAA.
David Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.
He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.