Why Are So Many Hotels Opening Near National Parks?

Visitors are flocking to national parks. Hotel developers are following

We’re dedicating our May features to the outdoors and adventure. In 2020, we saw more people get outside, eager for a breath of fresh air after challenging spring, taking up new activities and blazing new trails. Now, in 2021, read our features to learn more about 15 outdoor skills you should masterthe best state parks across the country, a new trend of hotels opening near formerly remote national parks, and one person’s quest to make outdoor experiences accessible for all.

If you analyzed the transaction data of hotels near Acadia, Arches, Badlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Carlsbad Caverns, Crater Lake, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountain, Joshua Tree, Mesa Verde, Olympic, Redwood, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion National Park in 2020, you would discover that hotel revenue is on the rise. According to Wombly’s recent report, by the week of July 27 through August 2, revenue at lodging places near national parks was up 78 percent compared to the 2020 average.

And now, hotel developers have caught on, opening new properties based upon customer feedback and booking trends. “We’re seeing a nearly 25 percent increase in bookings at our WorldMark by Wyndham resorts that are located near some of the country’s most beautiful national parks,” said Melody Bostic Brown, travel expert and spokesperson for Wyndham Destinations, the U.S.'s largest vacation ownership brand.

The National Park Service believes the growth in revenue for hotels near national parks is due to record visitation numbers. Even though 66 of the 423 parks were fully closed from March 24 to May 18, 2020, some parks like Yellowstone experienced the highest number of visitors ever recorded in September. The majority of these visitors were first-timers, which means they are most likely to stay in hotels.

The National Park Service also noticed that 15 lesser-known parks set record visitation numbers: Big Thicket National Preserve, Coronado National Memorial, Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site, Fort Caroline National Memorial, Indiana Dunes National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Monocacy National Battlefield, Niobrara National Scenic River, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, Petroglyph National Monument, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, River Raisin National Battlefield Park, Saint Croix National Scenic River, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. 

People are flocking to national parks because 60 percent of Americans believe outdoor recreational activities are safe during the pandemic. Destination Analysts reported this rising statistic from their weekly surveys of 1,200 Americans, which they began on March 15, 2020.

The U.S. Travel Association explains that the increase in visitors to national park gateway communities causes more hotels to open and an overall boost in economy and jobs. For example, in 2019, 327 million visitors to national parks delivered $41.7 billion to the economy and supported 340,500 jobs.

Recognizing the importance of studying the impact of an exponential increase in visitors to national parks, the U.S. Travel Association partnered with Rove Marketing and Uber Media to create the National Parks Dashboard. This new tracker uses mobile location data to track the number of mobile devices that recorded a ping around national parks, what percentage is local versus tourists, where visitors are coming from, how fast recovery is growing, and how sustained. “In comparing the data between May 24-June 19 to June 20-July 4 for Acadia National Park, we see a shift from locals to out-of-town travelers, visitors traveling over 200 miles which means they would need to overnight, and visitation growth accelerated, and recovery sustained,” said James Sauter, co-founder of Rove.

The potential of this tool is huge. It can help us understand where visitors are coming from, what is their length of stay, what do they do, where do they go, what are their demographic profiles, origin markets of visitors, understanding how lengths of stay change with different Visitor Segments, including daytrippers versus overnighters, which points of interest are bundled together depending on the time of the year, and how this all changes on a monthly, seasonal, and yearly basis all the way back to 2017.

New Openings Near National Parks

WorldMark by Wyndham Resorts, Arches and Canyonlands National Park

Responding to the demand from their timeshare club owners for a Moab, Utah property, WorldMark by Wyndham is launching one of the largest development projects in the area. The Utah Tourism Board launched a Responsible Travel campaign urging visitors to try off-the-beaten-path options like whitewater rafting in Westwater Canyon or mountain biking at Dead Horse Point State Park, or visiting Arches and Canyonlands National Park in the off-season. The property will feature 150 apartment-style suites and comforts away from your home, like game consoles and board games you can borrow. The front desk calls me shortly after I check into a Wyndham Resort and asks me if I need anything. The concierge calls me to see if I have dinner plans. If I do not, she offers to make reservations for me. Best of all, I can get some work done whenever my kids go to the arcade room or the private movie theater downstairs. Opening 2022.

Hotel maverick

Courtesy of Hotel Maverick

Hotel Maverick, Colorado National Monument

When the owner of Glenwood Climbing Guides, a proud mother of the youngest person to climb El Capitan, suggested canyoneering in Colorado National Monument with my four kids, I hesitated. Even if we left early in the morning from Salt Lake City we still would not arrive in Grand Junction until late afternoon. Then we had to hike about a mile to Devils Kitchen where we shimmied through narrow slot canyons that were so tight I scraped up my back and bruised my elbows. It was nearly 9 p.m. when we hiked back to our car. Fortunately, the first four-star Hotel Maverick was only ten minutes away. The Colorado Mesa University hospitality student that checked us in, took the initiative to run upstairs to their roof-top bar and restaurant to make sure that we could squeeze in dinner before they closed. Chef Kenneth Kinser is not only responsible for clever dishes like his battered Nashville-style spicy lobster tail paired with sweet cream waffles swimming in maple agave butter, but he also mentors culinary students. Opened June 2020.

AutoCamp Yosemite

Courtesy of AutoCamp

Autocamp Yosemite, Yosemite National Park

“We’re seeing a shift in demand where people want to travel, and the supply is following that demand. In the past, many people would have wanted to visit crowded beaches or city spaces, and now the outdoors are more attractive, and trip planners are flocking to our National Parks. In our Yosemite gateway county alone, we have more than 900 different lodging options from vacation rentals and hotels to campsites and bed and breakfasts,” said Tony McDaniel, Communications Manager for Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau. Located about 40 miles west of the Arch Rock Entrance of Yosemite National Park, the newest lodging option offers Airstream Suites, luxurious canvas tents, and cabins. There is also a heated pool open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seasonally. I highly recommend Skydive Yosemite, owned by former Yosemite National Park employees, the only outfitter that flies you over Yosemite Valley with views of Half Dome and El Capitan. Opened June 2019.

Under Canvas Acadia

Courtesy of Under Canvas

Under Canvas, Acadia National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Besides investing $15 million in improving seven of their existing camps in the 2021 season, Under Canvas will debut two new locations this spring. Perched on the edge of Canyon Rim Plateau, Under Canvas Lake Powell-Grand Staircase is located 12 minutes from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and 15 miles from Lake Powell Marina, and 25 minutes from Horseshoe Bend. The brand’s first waterfront location, Under Canvas Acadia, is located just 35 minutes outside of Acadia National Park.  Stay in one of their safari-style luxurious tents with a private deck. Some of the tents include a night sky viewing window and a separate kid’s tent. Experiences include water sports or complimentary s’mores or weekly waterfront lobster bakes, or night sky astronomy on a boat. Opening dates vary.