Hundreds of thousands of people traveled to America’s national parks this summer, breaking a record at Yellowstone as the authorities relaxed domestic travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Yellowstone National Park, which is mostly in Wyoming, set a record in August when the park hosted 921,844 recreation visits, park officials said this week. That number of visitors increased 12 percent from August 2019 and 4.5 percent from August 2020, as the pandemic drove more tourists to the park.
Park officials said that before this year, Yellowstone’s busiest August was in 2017, when more than 915,000 visits were recorded, many coinciding with the solar eclipse that year.
National and state parks have become tourist destinations and refuges during the pandemic, as health experts made clear that outdoor activities posed minimal risk for infection.
In Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park set records for May and then again in June, when it had more than 752,000 visits, according to park officials. In Montana, Glacier National Park also set a record for visits in May. And in Utah, hikers have had to face four-hour waits for some trails at Zion National Park, or rejection at the gates of Arches National Park.
So far this year, Yellowstone has hosted more than 3.5 million visits, a 40 percent increase from the same period last year.
June, July and August are typically the busiest months at Yellowstone, which was created as the country’s first national park in 1872. The 3,472-square-mile park, small parts of which stretch into Idaho and Montana, draws tourists for its hydrothermal activity, part of the Yellowstone volcano.
Just as in other national parks, the increase in visitors has led to longer lines and crowded scenes, including of people packed on Yellowstone’s boardwalks or awaiting the eruption of Old Faithful. Officials have repeatedly urged people who are interested in visiting to plan ahead and “expect crowding.”
“Most park camping and lodging is reserved and full,” the park said on its website.
Regardless of their vaccination status, visitors are required to wear a mask indoors, in crowded outdoor areas and on all forms of public transportation at the park. The park stopped short of enacting limits on visitors, as Yosemite National Park in central California did in April.
Yellowstone officials have also urged people to stay on the boardwalks, because some visitors who have broken through the park’s thin thermal basins and fallen into a hot spring have been seriously injured or killed.
It is illegal to stray from the boardwalk or designated trails and to touch or throw objects into hot springs or other hydrothermal features at the park, officials have said.
Last month, a Connecticut woman was sentenced to seven days in jail for walking on the park’s thermal grounds. She was charged with traveling in the thermal areas and disorderly conduct after she and two others made their way from the marked boardwalk to a thermal pool and geyser at Norris Geyser Basin, one of the largest thermal areas at the park.
And last year, three visitors were sentenced to two years’ probation, and banned from the park for that period after they tried to cook a chicken in a hot spring.
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