National Park Visitors Contributed $42.5 Billion to U.S. Economy in 2021

by Jon D. B.

Visitors spent over $1 billion at Great Smoky Mountains National Park alone in 2021, the highest of any U.S. national park.

On Friday, The Department of the Interior put forth an immense number. Americans spent not tens-of-millions, but tens-of-billions at our national parks last year. According to the National Park Service’s (NPS) comprehensive report, visitor spending in communities near national parks in 2021 resulted in a whopping $42.5 billion benefit to the nation’s economy.

This means at least 322,600 “mostly local jobs” were supported by Americans taking to national parks. NPS’s full report, 2021 NPS Visitor Spending Effects, lays out the incredible numbers. In 2021 alone, approximately 297 million visitors spent $20.5 billion in communities within 60 miles of a national park. And of the 322,600 jobs supported by visitor spending, 268,900 jobs were in park gateway communities.

2021: NPS By The Numbers

Great Smoky Mountains (GRSM), the most visited national park in the world, saw the highest contributions to the U.S. economy with a total of $1,292,745,000 in visitor spending. The park’s economic output was even greater at $1,845,873,000 for 2021, as NPS’s extensive data table shows.

GRSM also borders some of the most lucrative gateway communities in America. Destinations like Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Dolly Parton’s #1-voted Dollywood theme park empire bring in millions from national and international tourists yearly in Tennessee alone.

Yellowstone (YELL) also hosts some of the most essential gateway communities of national parks. 2022’s horrific Yellowstone Flood Event continues to illustrate the importance these surrounding hubs hold for NPS. Visitors spent $630,282,000 in Yellowstone in 2021. But the park and gateway communities’ economic output bested this with an astounding $834,335,000.

National Parks Benefit You, courtesy of National Park Service, NPS media release.

“Nature is essential to the health, well-being and prosperity of every family and community in America, as well as to the local economies of gateway communities that support our national parks,” offers Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “As we continue to welcome families to our parks and public lands across the country, the Interior Department is committed to making investments in our lands and waters that will support tens of thousands of jobs, safeguard the environment, and help ensure that national parks and public lands are ready to meet the challenges of climate change and increased visitation.”

Additional National Park Findings Include:

  • Visitor spending in 2021 meant $14.6 billion in labor income and $24.3 billion in additional value
  • The lodging sector saw the highest direct effects, with $7 billion in economic output via NPS visitation
  • The restaurant sector saw the next greatest effects, with $4.2 billion in economic output via NPS visitation

For additional findings, NPS is initiating a new socioeconomic monitoring project for 2022. The project will survey NPS visitors in 24 parks each year for the next 10 years or more.

Zion National Park (ZION) was one of the early parks surveyed under this method in 2021. Last year’s ZION findings offer an interesting update on visitor spending. ZION saw $667,486,000 in visitor spending, yet beat out Yellowstone’s economic output just shy of $1 billion ($947,380,000).

“The results showed that our previous estimates or ‘profiles’ of average visitors underestimated the time they spent in the park and in gateway communities,” adds NPS Director Chuck Sams. “We underestimated the amount of money they spent during their trips to the park. The new survey information will enable park managers to further improve the visitor experience and guide how to reach and engage with people who have yet to visit a national park.”

Understanding The Numbers

To better understand these statistics, NPS breaks down the key phrases they’re using to define park spending.

  • Visitor Spending is the total amount directly spent by both local and non-local visitors in local areas surrounding parks
    • National total visitor spending: $20.5 billion
  • Jobs is the total number of full time, part time, and temporary jobs in local economies resulting from all visitor spending in local areas surrounding parks
    • 2021’s national total number of jobs: 322,600
  • Economic Output measures the total estimated value of the production of goods and services resulting from all visitor spending in local areas also surrounding parks
    • 2021’s national total economic output: $42.5 billion

Let’s make 2022 another phenomenal year in our National Parks, Outsiders.