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Environment & Science

Record Breaking Visits Across Montana State Parks Expected To Continue This Summer

A family reads an interpretive sign in front of a small waterfall.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
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Giant Springs State Park in Great Falls, Montana

Montana’s state parks are experiencing a surge of visitors with record turnout in the first quarter of 2021.

Most of Montana's state parks are experiencing an influx of visitors as warmer weather settles in and COVID-19 restrictions ease. The Montana State Parks department has recorded nearly 400,000 visitors from January to March this year. That’s a 20% increase from the same period last year and roughly 78% higher than the same period in 2019, when pandemic lockdowns didn’t affect annual visitation.

Pat Doyle is with the communication manager with the state parks department. Doyle says large parks are driving visitor turnout but smaller parks also have an uptick in visitation.

“We do have other parks that are out there that we would call a primitive park. They do maybe have very limited amenities and very limited staff. And so those parks have seen an increase in visitation as well,” Doyle says.

Giant Springs State Park in Great Falls is the most visited state park with nearly 82,000 visitors this year. It’s followed by Spring Meadow Lake State Park in Helena, which saw 33,000 people so far this year. There are 55 state parks in Montana.

Doyle says first time campers boosted visitor numbers last year and suspects the same thing is happening in 2021.

“And you know what we saw is that especially during COVID lockdown and just throughout the rest of the summer last year is that people, even people that had never used our parks before, came in droves,” Doyle says.

The state parks department expects the high attendance numbers to last all summer.