Potential effects of warming climate on visitor use in three Alaskan national parks


Albano, C.M., Angelo, C.L., Strauch, R.L., Thurman, L.L.  2013. Potential effects of warming climate on visitor use in three Alaskan national parks. Park Science 30(1):37-44.


Alaska’s national parks draw millions of people annually to enjoy wildlife, breathtaking scenery, and recreational adventure. Visitor use is highly seasonal and occurs primarily during the summer months when temperatures are warm and daylight is long. Climate is an important consideration when planning a trip to Alaska’s national parks because of the great distances and associated costs of travel for many visitors. As a result of projected climate warming, peak visitor season of use in Alaska’s national parks may expand.

To examine the potential effects of warming climate on park visitor season of use, we used regression analyses to quantify the relationship between historical (1980-2009) visitor use and monthly temperatures for three Alaskan national parks and identifi ed the monthly mean temperatures at which the peak visitor season of use occurred in each park. We compared these contemporary temperatures with projected future average monthly mean temperatures for 2040-2049 and 2090-2099 to provide context for how visitation might be affected by warming climate.

Based on historical relationships among temperature, visitor use, and increased temperatures associated with climate change, our analysis suggests that peak season of visitor use could expand into May and September depending on the park, the climate scenario, and the time period. As a consequence of a warming climate, planning by the National Park Service and other stakeholders may need to consider this transition in temperatures and the potential for an extended peak season of visitor use, along with other climate-related changes (e.g., extreme weather), climate-induced environmental changes, and shifts in recreational opportunities that will likely accompany climate change.