Visitors To Colorado’s National Parks Spent $485M In 2016, Report Says

Photo: Crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park
A crowded day on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Visitors to our state really, really like our national parks and monuments. And with that affection comes something else: money.

More than 7.5 million visitors to Colorado’s 12 National Park Service units spent $485 million in 2016, according to a new report from the agency. Spending was up by about 8 percent and visits rose by 5.5 percent over 2015, said Patrick O'Driscoll, spokesman for the NPS Intermountain Regional Office in Denver.

"It was a huge year for the park service,” O’Driscoll said.

He attributed the bump to low gas prices and the Find Your Park publicity campaign for the park service’s centennial. That effort had backing from business giants like American Express, REI and Subaru.

Rocky Mountain National Park leads the pack with more than 4.5 million visitors last year, who spent nearly $300 million in and around the park. The parks contributes some $722 million to the state's economy, the report says.

Park UnitTotal visitsTotal visitor spendingJobsLabor IncomeValue AddedEconomic Output
Rocky Mountain NP4,517,586$298,746,7004,575$169,248,100$273,812,200$455,824,700
Curecanti NRA982,498$42,453,700565$17,982,100$29,647,900$49,014,400
Mesa Verde NP583,527$60,591,000883$23,648,100$42,203,300$73,272,900
Colorado NM391,076$24,513,600368$963,400$17,368,500$30,315,900
Great Sand Dunes NP388,307$2,370,100348$9,194,600$16,456,800$28,938,700
Dinosaur NM304,312$18,084,200244$7,250,200$11,965,700$20,457,600
Black Canyon NP238,017$14,616,100197$6,769,000$11,041,600$18,040,200
Florissant Fossil Beds NM73,564$4,301,20065$2,354,100$3,779,400$6,255,300
Hovenweep NM42,863$2,709,00039$1,039,600$1,825,400$3,153,800
Bent's Old Fort NHS31,948$1,868,00029$739,100$1,318,200$2,302,400
Sand Creek Massacre NHS6,848$400,4007$108,400$210,300$399,000

Some 11 percent of visitors surveyed in 2015 said their main purpose for coming to Colorado was the outdoors, according to the Colorado Tourism Office. And research from the Outdoor Industry Association says outdoor recreation accounts for about $13.2 billion in consumer spending in the state.

But with that comes concerns of overuse. Just this week, the Forest Service threatened to close the popular Hanging Lake trail near Glenwood springs because of graffiti on trees and rocks. The number of visitors to the lake has grown from 90,000 in 2012 to more than 137,000 last year.

It's too soon to tell what kind of year 2017 will be for the state's national park units, O'Driscoll said. But he says the park service hopes many first-time visitors from last year will come back again.

"We think that last year's celebration really put the National Parks on the radar screen for a lot of people who may not have been aware of them or visited them," he said.