2023 was another busy year for national parks; Washington sites drew 8.3 million visits


Last year was another busy one for our national parks.

The National Park Service announced in a news release last month that its 400 parks saw a total of 325.5 million recreation visits in 2023, a 4% bump from 2022.

Of those parks, 20 set visitation records, including the Nez Perce National Historical Park, which includes 38 sites in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana. National Park Service data shows the park saw more than 377,000 visits last year.

National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said in the release the nation's parks are "attracting more visitors each year to learn about our shared history."

"Our national parks tell our shared American story. I'm glad visitors are finding hidden gems, exploring in the offseason and finding new ways to have a great time in our national parks," Sams said.

The top three busiest parks this year included the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.

But parks in Washington drew big crowds last year, too. The 12 National Park Service sites in the state reported close to 8.3 million visits last year, a 3% increase over 2022.

Olympic National Park, the busiest of Washington's parks, recorded a 21% increase in visitation, with more than 2.9 million visits. That's the park's highest total since 2019.

Mount Rainier National Park logged its highest visit total in recent years with a little more than 1.67 million visits.

It was the third consecutive year that the park topped 1.6 million visits. Terry Wildy, a park spokesperson, said visitation is up by more than 40% from a decade ago.

Rainier, one of the country's oldest national parks, is celebrating its 125th birthday this year. Its growing popularity has prompted park officials to take steps to deal with the increasing crowds.

This summer, the park will use a vehicle reservation system. Visitors will need reservations to enter the Paradise Corridor from May 24 through Sept. 2, and to enter the Sunrise Corridor from July 3 through Sept. 2.

Reservations for the Paradise Corridor for dates through July are available through recreation.gov or by calling  877-444-6777. Reservations will become available for the Sunrise Corridor on April 1. They cost $2 and provide a two-hour entry window with no set departure time.

It's a pilot project meant to help Rainier officials evaluate what sort of system will work for visitors. Officials said in a January news release that it's not expected to reduce visitation, but spread it out.

Glacier National Park in Montana has used a vehicle reservation system in recent years for its popular Going-to-the-Sun Road and other areas. That park is four times the size of Rainier, and it sees significantly more traffic — in 2023, it recorded 2.9 million visits.