How does your favorite US national park stack up?

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The US has almost 400 national parks, and has been keeping attendance data for about 100 years. With a holiday weekend coming up, I thought this would be a good time to crunch those numbers, and see how each park compares to all the others...

I first saw the tip of this iceberg in an article on fivethirtyeight.com. It was an interesting article, ranking the US national parks by their number of recreational visitors per year. Their graph caught my attention ... but upon closer examination, I noticed that it only showed the top ~50 of the ~400 parks, and only 10 of them were labeled in the graph. This seemed a bit limiting to me.

national_parks_orig

So, of course I had to download the data for all ~400 parks, and tried to find a way to show it all in a graph ... and also be able to identify how each park ranked over the years. I almost bit off more than I could chew. "Almost" being the operative word! :)

What I finally ended up doing was creating a separate graph for each national park - showing all the parks in gray, and the park-of-interest in red. For example, here's the graph of the Wright Brothers Memorial in my state, North Carolina:

us_national_parks_wright_brothers_nmem

At this point, I had almost 400 graphs ... now I needed an easy way for the user to find the one they are interested in. I used a simple SAS Proc Print table, with html links embedded, so you can click on the names to see the graphs. Since it's a simple html page, you can use your browser's built-in text search/find functionality to search for a given string (I believe most browsers use Ctrl+f to find text strings). Here's a screen-capture of the first part of the table of links - click it to go to the real page:

parks_text

So, how did your favorite park(s) do in the rankings? What were the parks you found in the graphs, with the highest and lowest attendance ranks overall? Do you prefer a popular (but possibly crowded) park, or a less-popular (and less crowded) park? Feel free to share your thoughts in a comment!How does your favorite US national park stack up? #dataviz Click To Tweet

And now for the trivia question ... which national park is my friend Margie posing in?!? :)

margie_park

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About Author

Robert Allison

The Graph Guy!

Robert has worked at SAS for over 20 years, and is perhaps the foremost expert in creating custom graphs using SAS/GRAPH. His educational background is in Computer Science, and he holds a BS, MS, and PhD from NC State University. He is the author of several conference papers, has won a few graphic competitions, and has written a book (SAS/GRAPH: Beyond the Basics).

8 Comments

  1. Hmm, national parks are not the same as national monuments or national historic sites - seems unfair to compare their attendance, especially when many national parks are located in remote areas. For example, Kasha-Katuwe national monument is managed by BLM, not NPS, so it's not on the list http://www.blm.gov/publish/content/nm/en/prog/NLCS/KKTR_NM.html Maybe further categorization would make the list of 400 easier to manage & digest?

  2. I would like to know the highest and lowest ranked parks. Can you create the graph so I can hover over the data to see which parks are highest and lowest for any given year?

    • Robert Allison
      Robert Allison on

      I could add html hover-text on the markers in my graphs ... but that would require ~400 html files, to go along with the ~400 graph png's.

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