Climate Change, Seasonality and Visitation to Canada’s National Parks


  • Brenda Jones
  • Daniel Scott


National parks, tourism, climate change, Canada


For over a decade, the scientific community and park professionals have recognized that climate change will have critical implications for park conservation policy and management (International Union for Conservation of Nature, 1993; Welch, 2005). The implications of global climate change for nature-based park tourism has only recently begun to be assessed.Nature-based tourism and related outdoor recreation are strongly influenced by climate. Climate can affect the physical resources that define the foundation of many tourism and recreation activities as well as the length and quality of tourism and recreation seasons. Any changes in the length and quality of tourism and recreation operating seasons brought about by changes in the climate would have considerable implications for visitation and related aspects of park managementCanada’s national parks are a major resource for nature-based tourism, with approximately 16 million person visits in 2003. Visitation to Canada’s national parks is highly seasonal and greatly affected by the country’s regional climates. This paper examined the potential impact of climate change on the annual number of visitors and the seasonal pattern of visitation in Canada’s national parks. Multivariate regression analysis using four climate variables and monthly visitation data for 1996 to 2003 was used to develop a monthly climate-visitation model for 15 highvisitation parks. Each park-specific model was then run with two climate change scenarios to assess potential changes in park visitation under a range of climatic conditions projected for the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s.Results indicate that Canada’s national parks could experience an increase in visitors under climate change due to a lengthened and improved warm-weather tourism season. In the 2020s, overall visitation levels were projected to increase 6% to 8%, with a number of parks projected to experience larger increases (+12% to 30%). The largest increases in visitation occur during the spring and fall months. Visitation was projected to increase between 9% and 29% system-wide in the 2050s and between 10% and 41% in the 2080s.Perhaps more importantly, the affects of climate change will be combined with other factors influencing park visitation in the future. When the potential affects of climate change were combined with those of demographic change (population, ageing and ethnic diversity) total person visits for the mid-2020s were projected to be at least three times greater (+20% to 23%) than that projected under climate change alone. If these findings are indicative of the impacts of climate change on future visitation, the implications for tourism and park management are substantive. Management implications of the findings include a probable need for more intensive visitor management strategies, especially in parks where visitor increases could significantly stress natural resources or lead to the escalation of conflicts among user groups. Although the primary focus of climate change adaptation within Parks Canada has thus far been the maintenance of ecological integrity, this research suggests that changes in visitor management strategies will be a required component in the development of Parks Canada’s climate change adaptation framework.





Regular Papers