Time to get away from it all?

July 27, 2017

Posted: September 20, 2016, 5:15pm

There are 59 national parks across 27 states and two territories, but if you’re a Trojan and are looking for a quick road trip to get away from the fast pace of Los Angeles then you’ll be happy to know that California sits at the very top of the list of most national parks with a grand total of 9 national parks!  That’s a pretty long list, and I couldn’t help but to wonder which parks are trending.

Before I could answer this question, I had to think about who else might ask such a question.  So I narrowed the list down to two types of adventurers: those who can’t wait to cross off each big destination from their bucket list, and those who want a picture in front of some landscape that no one (or at least none of their friends) have ever seen.  To help find the top national parks for either type of person, I headed over to the National Park Service (NPS) website to get some data.

First I created a (stacked area) plot of annual recreational visits over the past 15 years.  There’s good news for both adventurer types, because only 8 national parks account for 50% of annual visitors.  So if you want to follow the crowd, then you can narrow down the list of 59 parks to just 8 (from Great Smoky Mountains to Grand Teton in the graph below).  On the other hand, if you want to get away from the crowds, you’ll be happy to know that 39 parks share 25% of annual recreational visits, so there are plenty of obscure locations and photo opportunities to make your Instagram followers especially envious. Gates of the Artic or the Samoan islands are the least frequented national parks, and booking a trip to either one of these parks will surely gain the respect of any traveler.

To dig a bit deeper, I calculated the year-over-year change in visits to find the parks which were trending in 2015 (yellow line) and compared them to parks which were trending back in 2001 (blue line).  Again there’s something for either adventurer type in this graph too.  You either want to be at the most trending place, or perhaps you want to take a break from the selfie-stick-holding-drone-camera-flying mobs.  2015 was a pretty good year for Isle Royale and Joshua Tree national parks, each of which saw more than a 25% boost in recreational visits.  Unfortunately for Congaree national park in South Carolina, 27% less visits occurred in 2015 than 2014.  Also, there is no clear correlation between the parks which were trending back in 2001 to those which trended in 2015.

I’d love to see how these trends corroborate with Twitter and Instagram data, but I’ll leave that analysis for another day!  In the meantime, enjoy the graphs I’ve created, and if you’re curious about any trends then head over to the NPS website to do some data mining!

Published on July 27th, 2017

Last updated on January 20th, 2021