Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore 2021: Record Visitors For Seventh Consecutive Year
Earlier this month we looked at a record breaking 2021 for Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and today we turn our attention to the Upper Peninsula where Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore also had an amazing year. Even before December visitor numbers were posted, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore had already exceeded its then-record 2020 that had more than 1.2 million visitors. This was the seventh consecutive year of record-breaking attendance, highlighting exactly why the National Park Service will begin charging entrance and user fees at Pictured Rocks in 2022. Today we will take a look at the statistics for each month and see if there are any interesting trends. First off, here is a look at the last seven years of attendance numbers at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore:
2021: at least 1,373,764
2021 got off to a normal start for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, as its 17,318 visitors was within 500 of 2020’s numbers and in the same ballpark as any of the last five years. February came close to doubling up the numbers from 2020 (39,000 vs. 20,034) and was by a slim margin the best February ever. Michigan Ice Fest was canceled in 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns, but that didn’t seem to keep people away from some of the best ice climbing opportunities in the state. Viewing frozen waterfalls, ice fishing, and exploring park trails on snowshoes or cross country skis are a few other activities that draw visitors to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the winter months. March 2021 continued the trend of doubling up on 2020 numbers (16,000 vs. 8,000) but was still short of the 20,000 visitors the park averaged in the same month from 2002-2008.
April was a second record month (and the first of four in a row to start the spring and summer) for Pictured Rocks in 2021, with more than 25,000 visits. This was close to doubling the 12,800 visits in 2020 and you have to go back to 1991 (22,000) to find another April that comes anywhere close. The more than 79,000 visits in May was a park record by more than 25,000 as well as an increase of 30,000 from 2020.
June’s 202,000 visits was an increase of 100,000 from 2020! It was also the best June on record by quite a large margin (2019 – 117,000). July set an all-time single month record with more than 378,000 visits. To put that in perspective, it was the best month in history by almost 50,000 visits and it is more than the total visits for any of the park’s first four years of operation (1979-1982). August had more than 294,000 visits, and trailed only August of 2020 (329,000 – previous best month ever) for attendance in that month. The three summer months combined for nearly 875,000 visits or 65 percent of the year’s total visitors! Kayaking and hiking continue to be two of the park’s most popular activities and are best enjoyed when the weather is favorable. Many reports on social media last year saw parking lots for popular waterfalls and hiking trailheads full, and continue to show how necessary it is that entrance fees are added so park improvement projects can begin/continue.
September (186,375) and October (95,057) showed a slight decline from 2020 but also proved that fall continues to be a popular time to visit. Both marks were the second best ever for their respective months, trailing only 2020 (199,000 and 133,000). We have always loved visiting the lakeshore in the fall, as the changing leaves help make for some memorable photos. An added bonus was that things were less busy than in the summer, though it seems that secret is getting out!
November (10,000) marked a decline of around 5,000 visits in 2020 but was still the third best result for that month in the last decade. December numbers were posted recently but are likely inaccurate and will be updated later. The NPs database shows only 400 visits which would be an all-time low for any month of the park’s existence. We will circle back and update this post once updated numbers are released.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore also saw three visitor deaths in 2021, as a man fell to his death after stepping past a fence at the Miners Castle overlook in June and two kayakers were lost in September. While these kinds of things have been rare at the lakeshore in the past, as more visitors come it is a possibility that injuries and fatalities will end up more in line with other parks (Grand Canyon National Park averages 12 deaths per year). Hopefully the addition of entrance and user fees allows Pictured Rocks to add more rangers and staff, and ensure that trails are marked with signs that will help keep everyone safe.