National Parks Are More Popular Than Ever

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The National Park Service Organic Act was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916, and 100 years later the service is doing better than ever before. As FiveThirtyEight reports, attendance to America's National Parks is at an all-time high. 

Last year, 307 million recreational visits were made to the National Park Service properties, which include monuments, beaches, and historic sites. That's up from roughly 293 million visits in 2014 and 281 million in 2010

While overnight stays on the whole are down six percent since 1979, they've been climbing back up since hitting an all-time low in 2008. That said, backcountry trips to National Park Service sites have increased by 34 percent since 1979 while overnight tent stays are up by 16 percent (in that same time, RV camping has plummeted by nearly 50 percent). 

One possible explanation for the surge in visitations is last year's low gas prices. National Park Service spokesman Jeff Olson told FiveThirtyEight that park visits stall when gas gets expensive, and then guest traffic slowly goes back to normal as people get used to the change. 

If you're looking for a place to celebrate the National Park Service's centennial this year but don't like crowds, it's best to avoid the most iconic parks; Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite account for some of their most visited properties. But the most popular park by far is the Great Smoky Mountains, which, thanks to the highway that runs through it, more than doubles the Grand Canyon's average visitor count of 4.5 million a year. 

The National Park Service is looking to attract visitors to each and every one of its 411 areas for the anniversary in August, and key events are being kept under wraps for now so that people can find their own unique park experience. You can go here to look up NPS sites near you. 

[h/t FiveThirtyEight]