Roads and the National Parks

Mapping 800,000 geotagged photos to understand how we experience the national parks.

By Nick Underwood, Clare Sullivan, and Peter Newman

6.38 million people visited US national parks last year. But how many of them experienced wildness?

Yellowstone National Park: NPS photos.

In an analysis of nearly 800,000 Flickr photos taken in national parks, only 14% were taken more than one miles from roads. If we take the locations of Flickr photos as a proxy for movement patterns in the parks, about 240 million of the total 313 million National Parks visitors stayed with a mile of roads during their 2018 visits.

One circle = 45,000 visitors

When we map the locations where photos have been taken in parks, roads reveal themselves starkly in the visual footprint.

Yellowstone National Park

To compare movement patterns between parks, we can visualize the distances photos are taken from roads with violin plots. Violin plots are essentially smoothed and centered histograms.

Yellowstone National Park

Many of the parks display similar characteristics, with the vast majority of photos taken extremely close to roads. Notable outliers include Glacier Bay National Park, where the majority of photos are taken from cruise ships. Click a violin plot below to explore movement patterns in a park.

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