Park visitor survey

Surveys of domestic visitors to NSW national parks show a trend of increasing visitation. From 2020 to 2022, visits increased by over 5%, achieving the second highest visitation estimate on record.

We conduct a population-wide visitor survey every 2 years to gather information from Australian residents about their use of NSW national parks. Information is collected on how many, and which parks survey participants visit, activities and experiences they undertake, levels of satisfaction, etc. The survey helps us with park management and planning for visitor facilities.

Survey results

Domestic visitation trends

Visitation to national parks in New South Wales has grown by 49% over the past 10 years, reaching more than 53 million visits in 2022. This was achieved despite the state experiencing its second-wettest year on record since 1900.

Park visitation by year Adult visitation Child visitation Total visitation
2008 31,128,875 6,798,741 37,927,616
2010 27,262,279 6,581,347 33,843,626
2012 28,745,337 6,750,287 35,495,624
2014 31,674,661 7,761,387 39,436,048
2016 40,103,897 11,558,047 51,661,944
2018 45,333,817 14,902,193 60,236,009
38,541,509 11,543,729 50,085,238
2022 40,499,303 12,506,400 53,163,728

Factors influencing visitation

Visitation in 2020 and 2022 was impacted by major wide-spread disruptions, including natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2019–20 bushfires were unprecedented in their extent and intensity, with more than 37% of the NSW national park system impacted. Many parks were closed or had restricted access from December 2019 through to March 2020, with 257 visitor precincts being closed. Severely bushfire-damaged precincts were closed for longer periods while repair works were completed.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated travel and border restrictions impacted access to NSW national parks from March to December 2020. The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) was required to close or restrict park access as part of the government’s coordinated response to the pandemic. For example, national park campgrounds, accommodation, visitor centres, tours and events were closed. At times, NSW residents were restricted to travel only 5 km from their home, and interstate and international visitation was curtailed.

The 2022 eastern Australian floods were one of the nation’s worst-recorded flood disasters. New South Wales averaged annual rainfall of 863.6 mm, which was 55% above the 1961–1990 average and the second-highest on record. Flooding occurred from the Northern Rivers to the Illawarra coast. It was the wettest July on record for the Central Coast and a very wet August across the state. Spring was the wettest on record and the coolest since 1992. While NSW national park visitation was high in early summer, visitation was below the norm for the rest of 2022, indicating that significant and prolonged rain events did impact park visitation.

Park 2020 visits 2022 visits
Blue Mountains 6,173,567  6,406,246
Royal 5,307,483 5,059,903
Ku-ring-gai Chase 3,099,270 4,404,512
Lane Cove 2,759,428
Sydney Harbour 2,209,916 1,930,415
Kamay Botany 1,794,002 907,974
Kosciuszko 1,466,986
Garigal 428,088 1,184,537 

Intrastate visitation comprised 87% of all visits, with 13% of visits from interstate, including 4% from Melbourne.

Park visitation estimate 2022 Adult visits Child visits Total visits
Number % Number % Number %
Sydney 22,903,294 56.55% 6,920,365 55.33% 29,823,659 56.26%
Remainder NSW 12,764,396 31.52% 3,422,400 27.37% 16,186,796 30.54%
ACT 524,186 1.29% 211,812 1.69% 735,998 1.39%
Melbourne 1,641,164 4.05% 952,865 7.62% 2,594,030 4.89%
Remainder Vic 635,532 1.57% 178,682 1.43% 814,214
Brisbane 780,022 1.93% 268,931 2.15% 1,048,952
Remainder South East Qld 387,084 0.96% 122,111 0.98% 509,194 0.96%
Remainder Qld 249,846 0.62% 124,177 0.99% 374,022 0.71%
SA 218,215 0.54% 108,456 0.87% 326,671 0.62%
WA 155,112 0.38% 77,093 0.62% 232,205 0.44%
Tas 100,118 0.25% 49,760 0.40% 149,877 0.28%
NT 140,336 0.35% 69,749 0.56% 210,085 0.40%
Total Australia 2022 40,499,304 100.00% 12,506,399 100.00% 53,005,703 100.00%

Over 40% of visits to our parks are part of a regular routine, 32% are day trips and 19% are part of an overnight or multi-day trip.

Chart showing the proportion of types of trips to NSW national parks

Just over 49% of NSW national park visitors indicated that the only reason for their trip was to visit the park. Another 20% of visitors indicated that the park was the main reason for their trip.

Chart showing percentage of visitors for whom visiting the NSW national park was the main reason for their trip

This chart shows the demographic spread of adult visitors to NSW national parks in survey years.

Chart showing age distribution of adult visitation to NSW national parks

Walking was consistently the most common activity undertaken in parks, with 70% of visitors listing it as their main activity. This had increased slightly from 68% in 2020.

Other activities undertaken by park visitors included:

  • water-based recreation at 17%
  • touring and sight-seeing at 16%
  • picnicking/dining at 12%.

Chart showing main activities undertaken at NSW national parks, and their relative popularity across the past 15 years

The proportion of visitors very satisfied with their park experience in 2022 was the highest recorded, with 66% of visitors very satisfied, which is 3% higher than in 2020.

Chart showing levels of visitor satisfaction with most recently visited NSW national park

2022 survey

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) used a random representative population-based telephone survey to collect this data. More than 1,200 people were interviewed in 13 waves every 4 weeks from 4 January to 13 December 2022, with the overall sample size after wave 13 being 15,623 people. Respondents from New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory were surveyed about NSW national parks they had visited within the last 4 weeks. Visits from the rest of Australia were estimated. This methodology has been used since 2008.

For more information on the 2022 survey, read Annual Visits to NSW NPWS Managed Parks in New South Wales 2022 (PDF 3.41MB).

2020 survey

Annual Visits to NSW NPWS Managed Parks in New South Wales 2020 (PDF 3.0MB).

2018 survey

Annual Visits to NSW NPWS Managed Parks in New South Wales 2018 (PDF 2.7MB).

The study was based on a survey method developed by Parks Victoria. The Department of Planning and Environment wishes to acknowledge the generosity of Parks Victoria in sharing their experiences and the method.