Visitor Use Statistics
Information about visitation at units of the National Park Service (NPS) is in constant demand by NPS leadership, Congress, academic researchers, the media, gateway communities, and other members of the public. The Service-wide Public Use Reporting System (SPURS) is responsible for providing visitation statistics for units administered by the NPS. SPURS staff work with park units to develop appropriate data collection procedures and provide oversight and quality control for public use data collection and reporting. Such coordination ensures that public use data are consistent and reliable throughout all units of the National Park System. Please visit the IRMA/stats website to view and download available data.
Interest in NPS visitation data goes back over a century when the first data were collected in 1904. In that first year, six national parks reported a total of 120,690 visitors. Early methods of data collection were informal and documented such things as number of visitors, modes of transportation and trip origins. Since then, public use counting and reporting requirements have been formalized into policy and count procedures are designed to take advantage of modern technologies. A benchmark in the early 1990s was implementation of a new reporting system utilizing computerized databases. All park counting instructions and procedures were updated at this time and the system continues to benefit from enhancements as computer and count technologies improve.
NPS SPURS is under direction of the Environmental Quality Division's Social Science Program in the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate. For additional information on this program please contact SPURS staff or consult the SPURS Brief.
What data are collected?
SPURS relies on the conscientious efforts of NPS field staff to count, record and report public use for each independent park unit administered by the NPS. Each month parks are required to report the number of recreation visits, the number of non-recreation visits, the hours of recreation and non-recreation use and the number of overnight stays. When requested specifically by a park other data, such as number of visits to specific areas of a park or number of visits during special events, are recorded in addition to the required data. These data are displayed in custom reports on the park page in the IRMA/stats website.
How do we count visitors?
Each park is issued a set of counting instructions that contain the procedures for measuring, compiling and recording required public use data at that park. The NPS uses a wide-variety of technologies for counting visitors. Some parks find that manually counting visitors at a visitor center, on the grounds or at other attractions provides a reasonable count for their park. Where necessary, mathematical relationships are used to estimate the number of visits to remote areas based on counts in a more accessible area of the park. Most parks, particularly those with clear travel corridors (roads, trails, building entrances) find it optimal to use automated counters, such as traffic counters, trail counters, and door counters. For larger parks with developed roads or water travel systems, usually only the number of vehicles is counted.
The counts are combined with persons-per-vehicle multipliers to estimate the number of visits to that area. Persons-per-vehicle multipliers can vary by park (or location within a park), by time of year and by type of vehicle (passenger automobile, bus, plane, boat, canoe, etc). For counting instructions specific to a particular park, please visit the IRMA/stats website and enter the park name in the "Select a Park" box. Counting instructions (current and historic) are available under the Visitor Use Counting Procedures section.
How are data used?
SPURS collects, analyzes and publishes official visitation statistics for the NPS on a monthly basis and produces annual summaries at the end of each calendar year. The various data and analyses capture changes in visitation over the decades, examine trends in park use, forecast future visitation and provide inputs to other analyses outside and within the NPS.
The primary users of visitation statistics are members of the public. Data are used by gateway communities to project tourism growth in their local area and by business owners that sell recreation goods and services. Researchers and analysts use visitation data in a wide-range of applications from socio-economic studies to evaluations of how recreation use varies with changes in quality of natural resources, such as changes in reservoir levels. Within the NPS, data are used to allocate resources (e.g., money, people, time, etc.) and they are used as the base data set for the Visitor Spending Effects (VSE) model which measures how spending by park visitors cycles through the economy. Information on total visits for each park and overnight use of park lodging and campsites are key inputs to the model. .
SPURS staff maintains a dynamic website (https://irma.nps.gov/Stats/) where users can find reports highlighting current and published data. Available reports for each of the 370+ reporting parks include:
- An annual park recreation table and graph
- A monthly public use report
- Counting and reporting instructions
SPURS also complies and publishes the annual Statistical Abstract for the NPS. This report is an annual summary of the monthly data across all reporting parks. .
Last Updated: June 15, 2016