HELENA, Mont. — Montana’s 54 state parks reported a record number of visits — 2 million — last year.
“Eighty-three percent of those visits were by Montanans,” said Chas Van Genderen, State Parks Administrator. “Overall visit numbers have grown five of the past six years. Only 2008, with its high gas prices, showed a slight decrease.”
Thirteen parks hosted more visits than ever before — including Makoshika with its unique badlands scenery, Flathead Lake’s Wild Horse Island, and Tongue River Reservoir in the southeastern corner of the state.
Van Genderen said water-based parks were most popular, with more than a million visits — a 15 percent increase over 2008. Parks along Flathead Lake and Spring Meadow Lake State Park near Helena were among the water-based parks with record-breaking seasons.
Pictograph Cave near Billings and other parks with cultural features attracted more than 600,000 visits — a 12 percent increase—while parks with outstanding natural features, such as Lewis & Clark Caverns near Whitehall, saw a 9 percent increase in traffic in the past year.
“In another positive trend, 95 percent of visitors surveyed recently said their experience at a Montana state park was good or excellent,” Van Genderen said.
Camping also grew significantly, with a reported 32 percent increase in overnight visits in 2009 compared to 2008. More than 287,000 visitors stayed overnight at a state park in a tent, RV, rental cabin, yurt, or tipi.
“Half of state parks offer camping now, many with improved services such as interpretive programs, showers and group-use shelters,” Van Genderen said.
Many state parks offer affordable vacations close to home and convenient getaways for those with a few minutes or hours to spend in the outdoors. Giant Springs State Park in Great Falls, with its trails along the Missouri River, reported a record 302,000 visits in 2009, making it the most visited park in the system.
To learn more about Montana’s state parks, visit fwp.mt.gov.