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Public Lands

Technology in U.S. national parks, by the numbers

Technology has become an all-encompassing fixture of our lives, even when it comes to outdoor recreation. Here’s a snapshot of how it’s shaping our national parks—for better or for worse.


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It’s no secret that our national parks have become very plugged-in over the last couple of decades. As technology proliferates on our public lands, it can be hard to keep up with the scale of the developments. Here, we’ve collected some numbers to illustrate just how profoundly tech has come to shape the most wild places in our nation.

Cell towers, Wi-Fi, and more

63: Miles of fiber optic cable installed in Grand Teton NP

32: Number of national parks (out of 63) that offer some kind of public Wi-Fi

73: Number of national park-related apps in the Apple App Store

5: Number of cell towers inside Yellowstone NP

Source: National Park Service

Electric-vehicle chargers

With electric-vehicle chargers sprouting up in national parks, the electric-powered road trip could be right around the corner. Below are the historic numbers of EV chargers across all national parks, by year.

Source: National Park Service

Lifesaving tech

Four U.S. national parks are equipped with RECCO detectors, radars used to find stranded recreationists from aircraft by picking up special tags in clothing or packs. They are:

  1. Denali NP
  2. Lassen Volcanic NP
  3. Yellowstone NP
  4. Mt. Rainer NP

Source: RECCO

Can you hear me now?

There are over 100 cell towers in national parks. With coverage in 70 percent of the U.S., it’s getting easier to call for rescue—and harder to escape the outside world. Below is a map of current cell coverage in the U.S. (all carriers).

Out of all the national parks containing cell towers, seven of them were called out for improper installation or documentation of cell towers in a 2019 audit. Those parks are:

  1. Yosemite NP
  2. Everglades NP
  3. Wolf Trap NP for the Performing Arts
  4. Grand Teton NP
  5. Acadia NP
  6. Death Valley NP
  7. Yellowstone NP

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

The rise of the working vacation

Fewer North Americans are using camping to unplug, but Wi-Fi does help campers stay outside a few extra days, according to a recent study from the KOA (Kampgrounds of America).

Source: Kampgrounds of America

Reader poll

Wi-Fi and cell service while camping: Yay or nay? We polled 272 industry pros. Here’s what they said.

Drones in national parks

National parks are using drones to fight fires, find lost hikers, and more.

~10,000: Annual number of drone flights ordered by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI)

2015: Year the National Guard first used a drone for a search-and-rescue mission—in California’s El Dorado National Forest

800+: Total drones in the DOI’s fleet

Sources: National Guard, U.S. Department of the Interior

This story first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of our print magazine. Read the full issue here.