If the numbers for May are any indication of what’s to come, summer 2016 is living up to its much-hyped billing as a record-smashing season for Jackson Hole tourism.
More than 292,000 recreational visitors showed up to Grand Teton National Park last month, a figure that’s up 26 percent compared to 2015 and double the rate of May tourism that was recorded just 5 years ago. Those record numbers are not necessarily more or less than park officials were anticipating, spokeswoman Denise Germann said.
“I don’t think we put numbers to it,” Germann said of the forecast. “We just anticipated a busy year in light of the [Park Service] centennial and with other things going on.”
“Weather is a part of it, gas prices — there’s so many things that play into it,” she said.
By Monday afternoon, Yellowstone National Park had not yet released its official monthly visitation data. But last week Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk reported to The Associated Press that there had been “a 60 percent increase” in the “first few weeks of the 2016 season.”
While Grand Teton’s gains aren’t quite so lofty, its May visitation numbers are still spectacularly high from a historical perspective.
As recently as the late 1980s, May was a sleepy month for tourism in the park, with total monthly visitation rarely passing 100,000, according to an online Park Service database. The 200,000 threshold was not surpassed until 2015, when numbers passed the prior record, set in 2014, by 16 percent.
Just a year later, the May visitation numbers are nearing the 300,000 mark.
The soaring statistics are also tied to a general trend toward more tourism in the shoulder seasons, Germann said.
“Both the spring and the fall,” she said. “That’s a trend that’s happening across the country and at most national parks.”
The record tourism has had a substantial trickle-down effect on Teton County businesses. Final May numbers for lodging occupancy have not yet been compiled, but the forecast going into the month was for an increase of 31.7 percent compared to May 2015, Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce president Jeff Golightly said.
“And then the average rate was up another 14 percent on top of that,” Golightly said. “My guess is we’re going to see one of the largest year-over-year jumps [in bookings] in a single month in our history for May.”
Golightly called Teton Park’s May gains “pretty incredible.”
“I think it’s certainly evidence that the National Park Service centennial planning has made a remarkable impact,” he said.
National Geographic’s all-Yellowstone May edition, which reached nearly 7 million subscribers, was another contributing factor.
Grand Teton officials, meanwhile, are urging visitors to consider timing their park trips for earlier in the morning or later in the evening to help ease crowding during peak times.
“Be patient,” Grand Teton Chief Ranger Michael Nash said. “There will be lines at the entrance stations.”
“We will do our best to get people in and have the best experience they can,” he said, “but with that comes lines.”