State park visitation dropped off in 2022, after two years of intense outdoor recreation

Walking dogs at Chatfield State Park
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A Chatfield State Park, a pair of people and their dogs walk in the spring sunshine on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.

Hiking was slightly less popular at Colorado’s state parks in 2022. 

During the pandemic, visitors flocked to Colorado’s state parks, shattering visitation records by millions. With about 19.5 million visitors in 2020, Colorado Parks and Wildlife recorded a nearly 31 percent increase in annual visitors compared to the previous year. 

Although stay-at-home orders expired in 2021, even more people visited the state’s 42 parks that year — a new record of about 19.9 million visitors.

But last year, enthusiasm for the outdoors waned ever so slightly. About 18.2 million visitors entered Colorado’s state parks in 2022, a nearly 9 percent decrease from the previous year. 

Joey Livingston, a statewide public information officer for CPW, said the decrease isn’t a cause for concern for the agency. They believe the number of visitors is settling to a new baseline. 

“What we're seeing in 2022 is more of a return to what normal levels would be pre-pandemic,” Livingston said. “We have our new Keep Colorado Wild Pass that just started in January, and so we're also hoping that more people are gonna have cheaper access to be able to go to the state parks. The hope is to keep those visitation numbers high.”

Visitation statistics are approximations made by CPW. Livingston said they track park pass sales and the number of vehicles that enter the park, which means they might underestimate the number of people inside each car. However, CPW has used the same measuring system for years, so the numbers are reflective of the overall pattern. 

Lake Pueblo was Colorado’s most popular state park in 2022, repeating a consistent trend established over the years. However, the number of visitors at the lake dropped by over a million last year, from 4.6 million to 3.5 million. Other popular state parks, like Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora and Golden Gate Canyon State Park northwest of Golden, also saw decreases in visitor numbers compared to 2021. 

Some parks increased in popularity in 2022

Stagecoach State Park in Routt County saw nearly a 65,000 increase in visitors last year. The newly opened Fishers Peak State Park in Trinidad, which is still under development, saw nearly 6,000 visitors after only welcoming 224 in 2021. 

The massive increase in visitors since 2019 has prompted changes to how some state parks operate. Visits to Eldorado Canyon State Park have nearly doubled since 2016. 

“We did implement a timed reservation system at Eldorado Canyon State Park to try to help,” Livingston said. “It's not really about visitation. Sometimes it's more about parking, and we only have a limited number of parking spots at a lot of our parks. So some of these parks can handle more people but they can't always necessarily handle as many vehicles parking in the park.”

Livingston said parks could continue to introduce changes to entry systems as the agency learns more about how increased visitation is impacting state parks.