Colorado national and state park visitation drops in 2022

Photo by Marlys Hersey This visitor enjoys the solitude of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

COLORADO — According to recently released visitation statistics from the National Park Service, in 2022, 493,428 people visited Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, a decline of over 18.11 percent from the record 602,613 people who visited in 2021.

Among national parks in Colorado, Great Sand Dunes had the largest decline in visitors compared to an 8.87 percent decrease at Mesa Verde, a 3.77 percent decrease at Black Canyon of the Gunnison and a decrease of 3.07 percent at Rocky Mountain.

Overall, national park visitation increased by 5 percent in 2022 compared with 2021.

Katherine Faz Garcia, Public Information Officer at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, offered this on park visitation numbers, "It is very hard to tell why visitation was down, but we expect it was a reflection of the economy — higher gas prices. Lane 6 was also under construction when it was getting repaved. Maybe that impacted trip planning?"

The decrease in park visitation in Colorado was not limited to national parks, in 2022, Colorado state park visitation decreased by about 9 percent to 18.2 million from 19.9 million in 2021.

Joseph Livingston from Colorado Parks and Wildlife told the Valley Courier, “From 2013 to 2019 Colorado state parks had an average of 13.5 million visitors per year and that number jumped to 19.7 million visitors for 2020 and 2021.

“CPW attributes this increase to the pandemic push to social distance and avoid getting together indoors. While CPW did see a decrease in visitation in 2022 we are not concerned and consider this a rebound to pre-pandemic visitation numbers. In 2023, CPW implemented our Keep Colorado Wild pass, offering a $29 state parks pass to Colorado residents during their vehicle registration process that we hope will lead to more people buying parks passes and visiting state parks in the coming years,” Livingston added.

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