Jul 7, 2022 - Business

North Carolina's national parks are moneymaking juggernauts

πŸ• National Park visitor spending, 2021
Data: National Park Service; Note: Delaware does not include any National Parks that collect visitor data; Map: Axios Visuals

North Carolina brought in $1.7 billion from visitors to its national parks last year, the second most of any state, per new data from the National Park Service.

Driving the news: North Carolina has become a tourism powerhouse thanks to the natural beauty of its mountains and central location on the East Coast, with 21 million visits to its national parks and other sites managed by the NPS.

  • The state only trails California when it comes to visitor spending at national parks, according to the NPS.

By the numbers: North Carolina's strong tourism performance β€” up 30.8% from 2020 β€” is mainly due to two juggernauts of the National Parks System: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

  • The two are the most visited national parks (and parkways to be exact) in the entire country, with both bringing in $1.3 billion respectively.
  • 62% of spending related to the Blue Ridge Parkway was done in North Carolina, with the rest in Virginia.
  • 44% of spending related to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was in North Carolina, and the rest was in Tennessee.
Cars park along the road to look at leaves changing colors during the fall.
Heavy traffic greets visitors at the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, North Carolina. Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

The third most valuable national park site in the state is the Cape Hatteras National Seashore along the Outer Banks, which brought in $226 million in visitor spending.

Why it matters: These parks are a boon to the economy of North Carolina, especially the rural and mountainous areas of Western North Carolina.

  • They also are an important amenity for state residents. As anyone living in Raleigh or Charlotte knows, people love to say they live just a few hours from both the beach and the mountains.

Of note: The National Park Service measures economic output as the total estimated value of the production of goods and services from visitor spending near park lands.

Word of advice: It's definitely cliche at this point β€”Β and it's nigh impossible to find a cheap place to stay β€”Β but driving the Blue Ridge Parkway as the leaves change is 100% worth the trip.

The Blue Ridge Parkway with its leaves changing orange and yellow.
The Blue Ridge Parkway in late October. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios
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