FILE - Emerald Lake Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

Bluebird winter day at Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colo.

(The Center Square) – Three of the four national parks that call Colorado home saw visitation numbers increase last year following attendance slumps in 2020 caused by COVID-19 closures.

Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park was the fifth most-visited park in the country last year with 4.4 million visits, according to data released this week by the National Park Service (NPS). 

That’s up from 3.3 million in 2020, when the park was temporarily closed because of the pandemic. The park had a record 4.67 million visits in 2019, before the pandemic.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve near Alamosa had a record 602,613 visits in 2021, up from 461,532 in 2020 and 527,546 in 2019, according to NPS numbers.

Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez welcomed 548,477 visitors last year. That’s up from 287,477 visits the prior year, but still lower than 556,203 in 2019. 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose was the only national park in the state that saw a decrease in 2021, with 308,910 visits, down from 341,620 in 2020 and 432,818 visits in the year prior.

Nationally, the national park system had 297.1 million recreation visits last year, an increase of 60 million visits from 2020, the federal agency said. 

“It’s wonderful to see so many Americans continuing to find solace and inspiration in these incredible places during the second year of the pandemic,” NPS Director Chuck Sams said in a press release. “We’re happy to see so many visitors returning to iconic parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite, but there are hundreds more that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Whatever experience you’re looking for in 2022, national parks are here to discover.”

The most-visited national parks last year were Great Smoky Mountains National Park (14.1 million), Zion National Park (5 million), Yellowstone National Park (4.9 million) and Grand Canyon National Park (4.5 million), which were followed by Rocky Mountain National Park.

Regional Editor

Derek Draplin is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as an opinion producer at Forbes, as an editor at The Daily Caller, and as a reporter at Michigan Capitol Confidential and The Detroit News.