Raleigh, North Carolina – Last year, North Carolina’s state park system saw a record 22.8 million visitors enter its 41 parks, recreation areas and natural areas, according to data provided Monday by the Department of North Carolina’s natural and cultural resources.
Visits represent a 15% increase from the park’s 19.8 million visitors in 2020, when visits increased as more people sought outdoor activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic .
Jockey’s Ridge State Park was again the most visited park in 2021, with more than 1.8 million visitors, about 100,000 fewer visitors than in 2020. Jordan Lake State Recreation Area was the second park the most frequented. It saw the strongest year-on-year growth, up 84% from around 877,000 visitors in 2020, when it was the 9th most visited park.
The Falls Lake State Recreation Area saw 46% growth last year, making it the third busiest park in North Carolina. Nearly 1.5 million people visited the Wake Forest site, compared to 1 million visitors in 2020.
The 2021 figures reflect even greater public interest in visiting even after Covid-19 vaccines became widely available.
When the pandemic hit, many North Carolina residents turned to exercise in state parks they hadn’t explored before. When the state released its 2020 records, Gov. Roy Cooper said the numbers showed “our outdoor spaces have even greater value than we could have imagined before last year’s challenges.”
Among the 41 facilities in the park system, 29 units reported an increase in visitation in 2021. Ten units welcomed at least 1 million visitors. They include Jockey’s Ridge, Jordan Lake, Falls Lake, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, Pilot Mountain State Park, Kerr Lake State Recreation Area, Carolina Beach State Park, Fort Macon State Park, William B. Umstead State Park, and Eno River State Parks.
Umstead, the only state park within Raleigh’s city limits, saw a 2% increase in visitation; nearly 24,000 additional people visited in 2021.
Singletary Lake State Park, located between Fayetteville and Wilmington, again saw the fewest visitors, although it reported a 50% increase from 20,000 visitors in 2020 to 30,000 in 2021. Pettigrew State Park and Elk Knob State Park were the second and third least visited sites.