MONTANA’S STATE PARK VISITATION REMAINS HIGH BUT DROPS SLIGHTLY FROM 2020
By angelamontana

Posted: February 15, 2022

HELENA – Montana’s state parks recorded more than 3.4 million visitors in 2021, falling just 1.3 percent short of matching its all-time high set in 2020. Visitation in 2021 grew at a record-setting pace through July, but then slowed due to smoke and drought conditions and then colder temperatures. Still, visitation was nearly 28 percent higher than in 2019. state park

“The number of visitors coming to Montana’s state parks is a testament to their importance in the everyday lives of our communities both for users’ health and as a critical component of our outdoor recreation economy,” said Parks and Outdoor Recreation Division Administrator Hope Stockwell. “We continued to see first-time visitors and those who know our parks well, and we are encouraged by their efforts to recreate responsibly.”

In 2021, visitation exceeded 100,000 at 11 parks compared to eight in 2020 and seven in 2019.

The top five most visited state parks in 2021 were:

  1. Giant Springs (Great Falls) 414,889
  2. Flathead Lake-all units (Kalispell) 339,631
  3. Cooney Reservoir (Roberts) 263,691
  4. Spring Meadow Lake (Helena) 254,141
  5. Lake Elmo (Billings) 212,916

Below is a list of the most highly visited state parks around the state:

Northwest Montana: Flathead Lake State Park (all units) had the highest visitation in the region with an estimated 339,631 visits, a decrease of 28 percent over 2020. Visitation at the Wayfarer’s Unit of Flathead Lake declined in 2021. There was also a fire in late summer near Finley Point that shuttered two parks temporarily and displaced campers for a few weeks.

Western Montana: Milltown State Park had the highest visitation in the region with an estimated 110,732 visits, an increase of 52.9 percent over 2020. 2021 was the first year that Milltown exceeded 100,000 visitors. Some of the growth can be attributed to the addition of trail counting devices as well as an increased number of activities and organized events.

Southwest Montana: Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park had the highest visitation in the region with an estimated 145,637 visits, an increase of 258.8 percent over 2020. The jump in visitation came with the resumption of cave tours, which were suspended in 2020. In addition, the park attracts many visitors from the growing Bozeman community.

Central Montana: Giant Springs State Park had the highest visitation in the region, with an estimated 414,889 visits, an increase of 8 percent over 2020. This park was the most visited state park in 2021. It has continued to attract numerous visitors and is a favorite destination for the city of Great Falls.

South-central Montana: Cooney Reservoir State Park had the highest visitation in the region with an estimated 263,691 visits, a decrease of 26.7 percent from 2020. Drought conditions and smoke were significant factors impacting the park in 2021. Total visitation was still 50 percent higher than 2019.

Eastern Montana: Makoshika State Park had the highest visitation in the region with an estimated 150,484 visits, an increase of 17.3 percent over 2020. Makoshika’s visitation has been steadily on the rise making it the sixth most visited park in the state in 2021.

“Our state parks provide excellent and diverse opportunities to enjoy Montana’s outdoors,” said FWP director Hank Worsech. “We look forward to another year of welcoming visitors to enjoy these terrific opportunities and make memories that last a lifetime.”

To view the complete report, visit: https://fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/about-state-parks and click on “Montana State Parks Visitation Reports.”

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