RALEIGH, N.C.(WNCN) – More than 300 million people visit national parks across the country every year. As they travel from one park to the next, visitors pump billions of dollars into local economies in the process.

In 2021, the National Park Service counted 297 million park visitors nationwide, a 25 percent increase in visitors from the previous year. Twenty-one million of those visitors came to North Carolina.

New data from the NPS showed those visitors spent $1.7 billion in 2021, an increase from 2020’s $1.3 billion and the highest spending since 2012. While that $1.7 billion is a small fraction of the $20.5 billion spent nationwide, North Carolina saw the second-highest spending in the country. California saw the largest visitor spending with $2.4 billion.

National Park Service

Most visited parks

National Park Service

Cape Hatteras National Seashore was a huge driver of spending with 3.2 million park visitors in 2021. The NPS estimated they spent $226 million in local gateway communities while supporting 3,200 jobs. In 2020, visitors to Cape Hatteras spent $172 million.

Nearly 16 million people visited the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2021. All together, the NPS estimated 62 percent of people visited the North Carolina portion of the park spending about $806 million.

Furthermore, about 44 percent of guests in the Great Smoky Mountains visited the North Carolina side of the park. Those guests spent an estimated $572 million.

Smaller parks in the state also contributed to local economies.

  • Cape Lookout National Seashore visitors spent $27.6 million;
  • Guilford Courthouse National Military Park visitors spent $14 million ;
  • Moore’s Creek visitors spent $4.4 million;
  • Fort Raleigh visitors spent $19.1 million;
  • Wright Brothers visitors spent $31.4 million.