‘Robust summer’ visitor numbers expected for Denali National Park and Preserve

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — National parks across the country have seen visitor numbers plummet during the pandemic due to travel restrictions, and Alaska’s eight national parks have been among the hardest hit.

But, as Mother’s Day weekend approaches with cruise ships arriving in Alaska, Denali National Park hopes its visitor numbers will rebound.

“We’re anticipating a robust summer and visits close to where they were in 2019,” said Sharon Stiteler, public affairs manager for Denali National Park.

In 2020, visitation to national parks across the country fell by 28%, according to a economic trends report from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Alaska saw an even bigger drop, with visits dropping 86%, according to the report. In 2019, Alaska recorded more than 1.8 million park visits, up from about 263,000 in 2020.

Those numbers started to pick up last summer as Stiteler said he saw independent travellers.

“People couldn’t find rental cars, so they used U-Hauls. It was the craziest thing, seeing U-Hauls on the park road in the desert,” Stiteler said.

Denali and Glacier Bay are the two most popular national parks in the state, and in 2019 they received more than one million visitors combined in normal years thanks to cruise ship passengers, according to the Department of Work. In 2021, Denali had 13% of the visitors it saw in 2019, while Glacier Bay had 38%.

As high-demand parks return to pre-pandemic levels, Kenai Fjords and Lake Clark National Parks surpassed their 2019 numbers last summer thanks to in-state travel.

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