Most Tourists Don’t Stray Far From the Road When Taking Photos in National Parks

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A trip to a national park is a chance for many to get away from the urban setting. A trip to a park like Yellowstone, Yosemite, or Pinacles offers stunning natural views and features.

National Parks in the U.S. are Highly Popular with Tourists

Many U.S. national parks are incredibly popular, receiving hundreds of thousands to millions of visitors a year.

Of the most visited National Parks in the National Park system, Great Smoky Mountains National Park ranks the highest with over 12 million visitors a year.

Other highly popular National Parks are Yellowstone National Park, Zion National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Where Do Tourists Go When They Visit National Parks?

Cartography students from the University of Wisconsin at Madison wanted to see just how far from the manmade world tourists really get when visiting a U.S. National Park.

Nick Underwood, Clare Sullivan, and Peter Newman mapped out 800,000 geotagged photos posted to Flickr to analyze how far those pictures were taken from a road.

National Parks like Yosemite offer stunning views.  Upper Yosemite Falls has a total plunge of 1,430 ft (440 m). Yosemite Falls is one of the most famous waterfalls within Yosemite National Park. Photo: Alex Demas, USGS. Public domain.
National Parks like Yosemite offer stunning views. Upper Yosemite Falls has a total plunge of 1,430 ft (440 m). Yosemite Falls is one of the most famous waterfalls within Yosemite National Park. Photo: Alex Demas, USGS. Public domain.

The trio found that out of the 800,000 photos, only 14% were taken from a location more than one mile from a road in a park. When mapped, the photo locations are densely clustered around road networks to the point that the roadways are evident in a hexagon bin map of photos.

The trio used violin plots to further illustrate that picture taking was mostly clustered close to road networks.

Hexagon map of photo locations in Yellowstone National Park. Source: Underwood, Sullivan, and Newman.

The group noted that there were some anomalies such as Glacier Bay National Park. However, many of the photos that were logged as being far away from a road were actually taken from cruise ships.

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