Montana State Parks Break Attendance Records in 2020

by Atlanta Northcutt

During unsure times and periods of isolation who doesn’t want to safely leave their residence? Many are heading outdoors and enjoying a breath of fresh air.

Montana Moves Outdoors

Montana shows just how popular heading into the great outdoors has become by breaking attendance records for 2020.

The numbers aren’t shocking to Beth Shumate, the Parks Division Administrator at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

“Montana State Parks provided immediate physical and mental health relief throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Shumate.

According to Outdoor News, Montana state parks saw more than 3.4 million visitors in 2020. This is a 29.5 percent increase over 2019.

“These record-setting visitation numbers should not come as a surprise to anyone who visited any of our parks in 2020,” she says. “The increased amount of people outdoors was evident, and our staff went above and beyond the call of duty to keep our parks safe and accessible.”

A Sharp Increase in Visitors at State Parks

Although a small number of parks were temporarily closed, each month’s number of visitors increased in 2020 compared to 2019. A decline in field trips, group gatherings, and events held at the state parks had no negative impact on that number. In fact, the amount continues to climb.

Last year the five most popular state parks in Montana include Flathead Lake State Park. It had the most total visits reaching 471,690, which is up 32.9 percent.

However, some weren’t as prolific as others, but still saw an increase. Giant Springs State Park was only up .1 percent with 384,309 visitors in 2020.

On the opposite end, an unprecedented increase of visitors at Cooney Reservoir State Park rose to 104.5 percent. 359,607 people entered the park.

Two other parks meeting in the middle are Lake Elmo State Park with 231,388 visitors, increasing 27.1 percent from the previous year. Spring Meadow Lake State Park saw 178, 156 visits resulting in a 32 percent uptick from 2019.

The parks are located across the entire state of Montana and include areas in Helena, Great Falls, Roberts, Flathead Lake, and Billings.

Continuously & Cautiously Climbing in Numbers

Even without a deadly virus, the climb in visitors to Montana state parks has increased drastically in the past 10 years. Visitors have increased by 83 percent over the past decade.

“We know how much people value all the amenities we offer. We look forward to another year of welcoming visitors to enjoy Montana’s outdoor opportunities,” says FWP director Hank Worsech.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials are continuing to monitor changes in the number of visitors for 2021.

“While we don’t know what 2021 has in store for us, we will continue to manage Montana’s state park system with public safety and the safety of our staff as our highest priority,” says Worsech.