By the numbers: Lakeshore visitation sets a record in 2021

kayakers at sunset

Did you visit the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore during 2021? If so, you were part of a record-setting year. According to recently released figures compiled by the National Park Service, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore saw 290,961 visitors in 2021, an increase of approximately 70,000 over 2020 and a number that sets a new record just barely topping the 290,059 visitors recorded in 2014, the famous year of the ice caves. The Lakeshore was one of 44 park units nationwide to set a new single year visitation record.  

Fueled perhaps by pent up desires to travel due to the pandemic, our national park sites across the country saw over 297 million visitors in 2021, an increase of 60 million over 2020.

The high numbers were praised by National Park Service Director Chuck Sams. “It’s wonderful to see so many Americans continuing to find solace and inspiration in these incredible places,” he said in the news release accompanying the visitation figures.

At the same time, the director urged visitors to seek out some of the lesser-known parks as well to spread out the use.

“We’re happy to see so many visitors returning to iconic parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite,” he said, “but there are hundreds more that should be on everyone’s bucket list.”

Director Chuck Sams – NPS Photo

In the Apostle Islands, higher visitation numbers can mean more congestion at popular spots like Meyers Beach and more potential for ecological degradation due to high traffic. Remember to stay on trails, use boardwalks where provided, camp and have campfires only in designated areas, and follow leave no trace practices when in the park. 

beach and boardwalk

Despite the record number of visitors, there is still plenty of solitude to be found in our park. Sometimes, however, it takes a little more planning to find it. To avoid congestion, remember to book your campsites and make your tour reservations early, shoot for weekdays rather than the usually busier weekends if possible, and consider shoulder season trips – spring or early fall – since the high summer months often see the most visitors.

Fall leaves, beach and boat

Another potential way to beat the crowds might be to consider experiences nearby but outside the park at such venues as Frog Bay Tribal National Park in Red Cliff, the trails and campsites of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, or other nearby town and state parks.

It may also help your sense of solitude to consider a few more statistics found in the recently released visitation numbers. Of the 423 sites managed by the National Park Service, the top 25 most-heavily visited locations made up nearly half of all visits in 2021. And if you think it is crowded here, consider this — the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia, the most heavily visited national park unit in the country, received 15.9 million visitors last year. For perspective, that single year total is more than twice the number of visits the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has received since official records began in 1973. 

That might make you feel a little less crowded in the islands.


Jeff Rennicke is Executive Director of the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. He is also an educator, outdoor adventure travel writer and photographer.