Montana State Parks announced Friday that annual visitation for 2012 was up 7 percent over 2011, with more than 2 million visitors, which was the second-busiest year in state parks history.
During the past five years, annual visitation to state parks is up 10 percent, and up 25 percent from 2003-2012.
Chas Van Genderen, administrator for Montana State Parks, said “2012 was a great year for our state parks. These visitation numbers are good news for Montana’s families, communities and local economies.
"Our families and out-of-state visitors understand the great value of our state parks as places to camp, hike, fish, and learn about Montana’s heritage, while being affordable and fun.”
Giant Springs State Park in Great Falls had the highest visitation for the year of all state parks, with nearly 293,000 people stopping by, followed by Lake Elmo State Park with 215,041 visitors and Cooney State Park with 134,556 visitors, both near Billings.
Overall, Billings-area state parks saw the highest combined visitation for 2012 with more than 456,000 visitors, followed by Kalispell-area state parks with more than 442,000 visitors.
FWP data shows that 77 percent of the park visitors in 2012 were residents; the rest were from out of state.
In the Helena, Bozeman and Butte area, Spring Meadow Lake State Park had the highest visitation, with more than 102,000 people swimming, fishing or picnicking — a 31 percent increase from 2011. Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park saw a 10 percent increase over 2011 with more than 64,000 visitors, and Bannack State Park saw a 5 percent increase with more nearly 33,000 visitors. Missouri Headwaters State Park also saw a jump in visitation by 15 percent over 2011 with more than 25,000 park users.
In the Great Falls area, Giant Springs State Park had the highest visitation at almost 293,000 visitors, which was the most in the state. However, that figure was down by 10 percent from the previous year. From 2011 to 2012, Sluice Boxes State Park visitation increased by 21 percent, and the Smith River State Park followed with a 19 percent increase.
First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park saw a decrease in visitation by 11 percent, with more than 15,000 visitors.
Missoula-area state parks saw 45,000 visitors each at Salmon Lake and Placid Lake state parks. At Salmon Lake, that was an increase of 32 percent from the previous year. Travelers’ Rest State Park saw more than 24,000 visitors, an increase in 14 percent from 2011. Visitation to Lost Creek State Park was down by 19 percent.
In Eastern Montana, Makoshika State Park had the highest visitation with more than 73,000 people. That’s a 9 percent increase from the previous year. From 2011 to 2012, visitation at Brush Lake State Park more than doubled from 4,000 to 9,000 visitors, while Hell Creek State Park increased by 36 percent, with more than 32,000 visitors.
A number of state parks in Eastern Montana, however, saw decreases of more than 10 percent in visitation, including Tongue River Reservoir, Rosebud Battlefield and Medicine Rocks state parks.
For the Kalispell area, Wayfarers State Park had 112,000 visitors, which was up 8 percent from 2011. From 2011 to 2012, Les Mason State Park visitation increased 22 percent, with more than 11,000 visitors, followed by Lake Mary Ronan State Park at 20 percent with more than 27,000 visitors. Lone Pine State Park increased 1 percent for the calendar year with more than 66,000 visitors, and visitation to Wild Horse Island State Park was down by 10 percent.