12 million people visited Utah’s state parks in 2023. These were the most and least popular

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2023 wasn’t just another great year for Utah state parks, it was a record year.

Visits to Utah’s 46 state parks last year reached just over 12 million people for the first time ever, according to a KSL.com analysis of Utah Division of State Parks visitation data. It is an increase of 21% from Total visits in the past year And an increase of 4% from The previous record of 11.6 million was set in 2021.

It is also the third time ever that all of Utah’s state parks have surpassed the “Mighty 5” national state parks in total visits. Just over 10.6 million Visited Utah’s five national parks in 2023.

“It’s not necessarily a surprise, but it’s good to hear that people are still out and enjoying the outdoors,” said Devan Chavez, a department spokesman.

What prompts a visit?

The data doesn’t explain what’s behind the increase or why some parks performed better than others, but Chavez has some theories. People may have wandered into new areas over a period Covid-19 pandemic They found new gems that they decided to return to, including visitors from out of state.

Another possibility is that Utah drought The switch essentially flipped in 2023, reopening more slopes and other water recreational amenities last summer. Utah’s reservoirs, including several state parks, jumped from maximum capacity of 58% in 2022 to 86% in 2023.

“Last year’s good water numbers, the water tank level numbers, were a big part of that,” Chavez said. “People were looking forward to playing in the water a lot last year, and they had a lot to play in.”

This tracks with data. Utah’s most visited parks didn’t change at all between 2022 and 2023; However, the top 10 ranking occurred as some parks saw a sharp rise in visits compared to others. Some of the biggest increases have occurred in parks that offer water entertainment activities.

For example, Sand Hollow State Park, which has a reservoir in Washington County, and Dead Horse Point State Park, which does not have a reservoir in Grand County, ranked first and second, respectively, in visitation again last year. However, Sand Hollow outpaced Dead Horse Point in annual growth by a staggering 30% to 1% margin.

Four of the remaining top 10 most visited parks in 2023 primarily feature water recreation. All of these saw increases ranging from 6% at Bear Lake to 63% at Willard Bay. Utah State Parks, Quail Creek, Gunlock, Palisade and East Canyon, all of which offer water recreation as a main feature, were among the parks that landed outside the top 10.

It follows a trend seen in National Park Service data. The federal agency said Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, including Lake Powell, It topped all five of Utah’s national parks in visitation last year.

But state parks that offer scenic alternatives to national parks and natural wonders outside urban clusters also attracted a large number of visitors last year, led by Dead Horse Point near Arches National Park. Snow Canyon, Antelope Island and Wasatch Mountains parks — all close to large populations — saw strong increases in visitation between 2022 and 2023 as well.

Bison roam near the road at Antelope Island State Park on August 12, 2023. The park was one of the most visited parks in Utah back in 2023.

Bison roam near the road at Antelope Island State Park on August 12, 2023. The park was one of the most visited parks in Utah again in 2023. | Carter Williams, KSL.com

The overall growth isn’t surprising at all either. The state has focused on so-called Emerald Red Strategic Plan In the last years. It highlights more than just the “Mighty 5” national parks, spreading out visits to different parts of the state to prevent overcrowding.

She notes that state park visitation began “accelerating rapidly” after it went into effect.

“I’m curious to watch the state park visitation number to see if this is the pattern we continue to see in the future,” she said.

The good news, Chavez says, is that there haven’t been any significant increases in vandalism or littering in the past year despite the record visits, except for some isolated incidents here and there. The agency also did not face many challenges in handling crowds this time.

He believes that the experiences of 2020 and 2021, when the agency faced record crowds for the first time, helped park managers know how to deal with busy days. Additionally, he says people seem to be starting to understand what actions are acceptable on public lands either through state initiatives or from other visitors.

“They see other people treating these areas with respect… and I think that plays a big role in that,” he said. “They will imitate the behavior they see because that’s what people do. Fortunately, they imitate good behavior.”

Gems still to be discovered

But not every state park generates the same levels of visitation as larger parks. Utah’s least-visited state parks also haven’t changed much since 2022.

In general, Utah State Parks Museums and Historical Centers don’t have as many parks with reservoirs or trails. Chavez explained that the state’s historic parks still have a lot to offer, but people may only go to one of them once a year or once in their lives. People are likely to visit natural spaces several times a year, resulting in a higher final number.

This is not the only reason why some parks do not receive the same amount of attention. Piute State Park includes a reservoir that was nearly empty through most of the summer in 2022. It still ends up at the bottom despite improved water conditions in 2023, possibly due to the after-effects of prolonged drought.

There have been some new entrants to the bottom 10 in 2023, but all of those come with caveats. Red Fleet State Park made the 2023 list Because most of them are still closed for the construction project that began last year. It is expected to reopen later this year with new improvements.

Construction projects have also hampered visitation at Lost Creek and Utahraptor Parks, Utah’s newest state parks. These three items will likely rise on visitation schedules once improvement projects are finished, Chavez says.

He also believes state park visits will continue to rise in the future, especially as tourism initiatives promote “Mighty 5” alternatives and the park system grows. This in turn builds the economy because outdoor recreation plays a huge role in Utah The tourism industry is worth $12 billion.

“We all want the same thing, which is to continue to make Utah one of the best outdoor recreation areas in the world,” he said. “(We want to) ensure we look at the entire state of Utah, not just (places) that are close to urban areas.”

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