Tourists Are Swarming National Parks And Destroying Them

America's national parks were created in 1916 in order to protect the natural beauty of the land but, thanks to millions of tourists, they're slowly being destroyed. Although national parks also have to deal with huge budget problems, climate change, and Donald Trump's plans for their future, one of the biggest threats to their survival comes from the people who visit. Three hundred thirty-one million people visited national parks in 2016, clearly making them a popular tourist destination - but how many of these people were actually bad national park visitors?

Whether they're harassing wild animals, spray painting thousand-year-old rocks, or burning down the forest, visitors to national parks are gradually ruining them. Traffic within parks has become a problem, prompting new rules and regulations to be considered. The disposal of national park litter costs millions of dollars and thousands of people have to be employed to help clean up after their fellow humans. The national parks may be beautiful, but they won't stay that way for very long unless visitors vow to treat them with respect instead of like a theme park or personal playground. From Yellowstone to Yosemite to the Grand Canyon, here's how tourists are ruining national parks.


  • The Popularity Of National Parks Are Surging And Attracting People From All Over The World

    To put just how many people visit national parks into perspective, the combined parks saw around 305 million visitors in 2015, while all of the world's Disney parks combined had about 149 million visitors in 2014. Disneyland may be the happiest place on earth but apparently more people want to look at rocks and trees. Thanks to several successful campaigns in recent years, including a centennial anniversary in 2016, America's national parks are more popular than ever.

    People wanting to reconnect with nature or experience the authentic natural beauty of the world account for many visitors, but many people travel from other countries to see America's national parks as well: 20% of tourists at Yosemite in 2010 were from areas outside the US. Although parks like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite are the most well known, you may be surprised to discover that the Great Smokey Mountains actually draw the biggest crowds.

  • Cars Are Causing Traffic Jams And Polluting The Air

    During the summer months and holidays, traffic within national parks can be just as bad as driving in a city. The amount of visitors each park gets every year can cause long travel delays, both getting into the park and traveling through it. Parking lots within the park are often full as well, making the natural wonder experience not so wonderful.

    Some national parks, such as Glacier National Park in Montana, have adopted a shuttle service to take visitors around the park with stops at important areas and campgrounds. The air pollution from traffic overwhelmed Zion National Park in Utah years ago, and using the shuttle service to get around the park is now mandatory. Shuttles allow visitors a more relaxing experience, and can potentially eliminate people pulling over and blocking traffic to take pictures or causing an accident (the cause behind the majority of deaths in national parks) while distracted by a bison.

  • Crowds Are Congesting Trails And Trampling The Paths

    More visitors to a park means more people out on the trails. While everyone deserves a chance to see the amazing vistas and plant life, too many people hiking at once can sometimes ruin the experience. And since not all people appreciate nature in the same way, not everyone is going to have a good time. Despite having to deal with park visitors taking selfies in front of every other tree or complaining about the lack of cell service, the trails themselves are hurting from all those feet.

    "We're concerned about impacts on resources, vegetation, soils... and impacts to wildlife that frequent those areas," Mary Riddle of Glacier National Park commented. In addition to trails being overcrowded, there is danger to the environment if visitors go off the trail or park their cars in non-designated areas. However, it is true that the national parks were created in order for people to visit, walk around, and be enjoyed. As one park lover said, "What do we do, stop people from coming?"

  • Tourists Are Bothering Animals And Sometimes Endangering Their Own Lives

    You are more likely to die in a national park due to a traffic accident or medical incident like a heart attack, and death due to an animal attack is rare. In Glacier National Park, for instance, only 10 people have been killed by bears since 1910 despite the fact 2 million potential victims visit each year. However when animals attack, the visitor is usually to blame after apparently forgetting they are not in a theme park.

    Visitors have been gored by bison for getting too close and turning their back. A photographer pointed out the relative insanity of visitors approaching a bear and then chasing it when it ran away. Although many signs are posted in every national park reminding people not to approach wildlife, many people don't pay attention and end up injured. The animals suffer from human contact too, becoming accustomed to human food or acting overly aggressive when threatened.

  • People Underestimate Nature And Need To Be Rescued

    People Underestimate Nature And Need To Be Rescued
    Photo: National Park Service / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Many emergency situations that happen in national parks are due to illness, such as heart attacks or heat stroke, but other times injuries or death occurs because people are careless. Emergency workers responded to 2,658 incidents in 2014 and had to spend between $4 to $5 million to help people who found themselves in trouble in national parks. Rescues are usually dangerous to the emergency workers as well, so keep that in mind when you're walking on slippery rocks next to a raging river.

    In addition to ignoring warnings about animals and being attacked, hikers can become lost, fall off ledges when not paying attention (including into the Grand Canyon), or attempt physical feats they are not prepared for. Being safe should be obvious, but when people who've never rafted or backpacked before find themselves going over a waterfall or lost in a remote area with no map, people quickly realize how dangerous being unprepared can be.

  • Tourists Leave Their Trash On Trails And In Campsites

    A 2010 report estimated that Acadia National Park in Maine spent $120,000 to remove trash from the park. Volunteers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park spent 3,410 hours picking up after visitors. Clearly, the people that travel to national parks across the country each year leave a lot of junk behind and removing this waste requires a lot of money and time. Keeping parks clean is an important part of preserving their beauty and many parks have taken extra measures to save their attraction, such as recycling programs and encouraging the use of refillable bottles.

    Litter in national parks not only ruins the landscape but can also be hazardous to animals if they ingest the trash. Tim Jarell, head of maintenance at the Grand Canyon notes, "Deer have starved to death because of their stomachs being full of trash and condors have been x-rayed with coins and other trash in their stomachs."