The fame of Crater Lake National Park has spread far and wide, and the numbers prove it.
Oregon’s only national park smashed its attendance record in 2016, posting the highest count of visitors in a single year since tracking began in 1904.
Crater Lake had 702,050 visits from January to September, surpassing last year’s record-setting total with three months remaining in the calendar year.
“We definitely had a lot of people out enjoying their national park this summer,” park spokeswoman Marsha McCabe said.
INFOGRAPHIC: Total visitors to Crater Lake National Park
McCabe said a few factors explained the increase.
The National Park Service celebrated its centennial with a push to get people into parks this summer, and the impact has been seen nationwide, McCabe said.
“Visitation is up across the country, so it hasn’t just been here,” McCabe said. “We met a lot of people inspired to travel around and visit national parks for the centennial.”
Crater Lake saw its biggest spike during summer, when numbers jumped into the stratosphere. June, July, August and September each set records for single-month visitation, according to NPS data that goes back to 1979.
July saw more than 190,000 visitors. In 2011, that number was just 109,974.
The crowds, of course, brought problems with congestion.
“Parking lots were overflowing at Rim Village,” McCabe said. “The campground and lodge were full the entire summer.”
In May, two 30-year-old hikers from Seattle had to be rescued from the lake’s shoreline after illegally entering the caldera.
“We have a couple of incidents every year, but we didn’t see more than normal,” McCabe said.
This year’s weather, often a major factor for a park above 6,000 feet, didn't have a major impact, McCabe said. Winter had average snowpack and the park opened close to its normal schedule, she said.
Wildfires have been an issue at Crater Lake the past two summers. The West Rim Drive was closed for about a week in August by the Bybee Creek Fire. The park’s north entrance was closed for three weeks in August of 2015. Neither event slowed visitors much.
“This year’s promotion was all about inspiring the next generation to visit and care about their parks,” McCabe said. “When people visit, they are more likely to care about the park’s future. So we definitely see this as a good thing.”
Zach Urness has been an outdoors writer, photographer and videographer in Oregon for eight years. He is the author of the book “Hiking Southern Oregon” and can be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6801. Find him on Zach Urness or @ZachsORoutdoors on Twitter.
Total visits to Crater Lake National Park
2016: 702,050 (doesn’t include numbers from October, November or December)