PROMO Outdoors - Camping Tent Trees Forest Recreation - iStock - Matthew H Irvin

High gas prices, Yellowstone flood could contribute to decline in campers this summer

© iStock - Matthew H Irvin
David Beasley | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – Rising gas prices on top of the historic Yellowstone flood could contribute to a slight drop in tourism this year, a Wyoming State Parks official is warning.

Last year, state park attendance in Wyoming was down about 4 percent from 2020, Wyoming State Parks spokesman Gary Schoene told The Center Square. He predicts that state park attendance may be down 4-5 percent again this year.

Wyoming's average gallon of regular gas is $4.85 as of Friday, data from AAA shows. That's up from $3.18 this time last year.

Even as gas prices topped $5 per gallon in some counties like Teton and Park, some tourism-reliant businesses in Cody told the Cowboy State Daily that reservations are surpassing numbers from last year.

According to Schoene, two state parks, Curt Gowdy and Buffalo Bill, are booked up at 97 percent for most of the summer, while others are in the 90 percent range.

Even so, the price of gasoline is likely discouraging some people from camping, he said.

"2020 was unique in that we were about the only thing opened," Schoene said. "Plus being an outdoor venue, we were the perfect place to social distance. It was kind of a perfect storm for us."

Another problem the state's tourism industry is facing is the fallout from flooding at the biggest attraction in the state, Yellowstone National Park. State parks attract visitors who stop off on their way to or from Yellowstone.

Last week, historic flooding forced the park to temporarily close as thousands of visitors had to evacuate. Gov. Mark Gordon encouraged travelers displaced by the closures to stay in state parks. 

The southern park of the park was reopened on Wednesday.

"With the Yellowstone situation, we're finding that people who had reservations for Yellowstone who were also going to camp at a Wyoming state park on their way to Yellowstone, are now just canceling their reservations for everything," Schoene said.

Some state parks attract out-of-state visitors in their own right, unrelated to Yellowstone. Curt Gowdy State Park, known for its mountain biking trails, attracts visitors from other states including Colorado and Nebraska in addition to Wyoming, Schoene said.

But the huge size of Western states makes driving even more expensive, even within Wyoming, Schoene noted.