With tourism booming at national parks, these destination retailers make sure they have souvenirs that appeal to everyone.

May 23, 2024

Most destinations have their peak season, but national parks tend to stay busy regardless of the season. People love escaping to America’s 63 national parks to take in the beautiful views and retreat from technology and crowded urban areas.

People also love collecting souvenirs that showcase the national parks they have visited. Each national park offers a variety of visitor center stores as well as concessionaire-run shops packed with gifts and souvenirs for tourists to commemorate their trips.

Tourism has generally increased to national parks and state parks. Fran Delgado is a senior buyer for ExplorUS, which is a hospitality management company based in Overland Park, Kansas, that operates small- to medium-sized national and state park concessions. The company oversees 80-plus retail locations across the country. Delgado notes that her stores have experienced a bit more foot traffic in recent years compared with just a decade ago. She attributes that to a wider demographic of people interested in visiting the parks.

“Over the last 10 to 20 years, the client has become different,” she explains. “It used to be just outdoor people who went to parks. Now, it’s everybody.”

From pennants to hats, customers enjoy souvenirs that feature name drops of the park they visited.

This trend also seems to be the case for retailers at Death Valley National Park. David Blacker, executive director at the Death Valley Natural History Association, oversees retail operations at the three visitor center stores at Death Valley National Park. Regardless of the store, Blacker says the park’s stores seem to stay busy year-round. He suspects that’s the case for most national park retailers.

“In a way, retail is retail. But when you work at a national park store, it’s pretty much like Christmas all the time. It’s always busy,” says Blacker. “People come to national parks year-round — there isn’t much downtime.”

In the past, national park stores focused primarily on selling educational merchandise for avid park enthusiasts. But with more people interested in visiting national parks today, these destination retailers have had to expand their souvenir offerings to make sure there’s something for everyone visiting the parks.

Stuck on stickers

National park stores carry a wide variety of souvenirs for customers to choose from, be it T-shirts, hats, magnets or coffee mugs. But lately, many national park retailers say stickers have been a hot seller for them.

That category has also boomed for the visitor center stores at Death Valley National Park. With an increased interest in stickers, Blacker says destination retailers should stock a wide variety of sticker styles and designs.

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The sticker craze is also popular on the East Coast. Greta Miller, executive director of the Shenandoah National Park Association, says stickers are top-selling souvenirs at Shenandoah National Park’s two visitor center stores.

“We’re certainly seeing a big shift to stickers and magnets versus in the past it used to be everybody had to buy a postcard,” she says. “It’s gotten to where postcard sales dwindled to almost nothing, but stickers to put on all your gadgets has skyrocketed.”

Blacker also suspects that the sticker craze is here to stick for a while.

“If you have a standard water bottle, you can put a lot of stickers on it,” he says. “Or put them on your laptop or your car. I see more and more cars covered with national park stickers. I think this trend will carry on for a while.”

Nature and night

Regardless of the souvenir type, park visitors also enjoy souvenirs that feature nature themes connected to the park that they visited. For Shenandoah National Park’s visitor center stores, black bears are a popular theme.

“We sell a lot of things with black bears — that’s what everyone wants to see at our park,” says Miller.

From pennants to hats, customers enjoy souvenirs that feature name drops of the park they visited.

On the other hand, fish themes are popular on souvenirs at The Pond Gift Shop in Spearfish, South Dakota, just near the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery & Archives. Nancy Cole, gift shop manager at The Pond Gift Shop, notices a lot of customers enjoy the store’s silly-looking fish slippers and sandals.

“It’s a bit of a gag gift,” she says. “A lot of dads and sons go walking out of here with the fish sandals. But they’re pretty well-made and pretty cute — I get those from Rivers Edge.”

Products that feature night sky imagery also sell well for national park retailers. Blacker explains that many visitors want to stargaze when they come to national parks.

“Not all parks are lucky enough to have buffalo or geysers you can drive right up to, but it gets dark everywhere,” he adds. “So for us national parks that don’t have a lot of flora and fauna, it’s great to be able to have a galaxy above us that we can look at.”

Durable and sustainable

Protecting the environment is another important message at national parks, so it’s no wonder that park stores sell a lot of eco-friendly souvenirs.

Miller notes that many parks plan to phase out single-use plastic water bottles at their shops in the near-term future. With that transition, more park stores might benefit from selling reusable water bottles. Miller says Shenandoah National Park’s stores offer several stainless steel water bottle options.

ExplorUS, which manages dozens of park stores across the country, stocks locally made goods at each of its locations.

Delaware North, a hospitality company headquartered in Buffalo, New York, oversees 42 gift shops at national parks and resort hotels across the country. Cendy Sangermano, director of merchandise at Delaware North, notes that all of its gift shops feature sustainable products, whether it be sustainably made gifts or gifts promoting reuse.

She adds that branded drinkware is trending as well. “It’s all about branded drinkware — Hydro Flask, Stanley, Corkcicle,” she says. “Over 13% of our sales come from what we deem as co-branded product with a brand name and site-specific name drop.”

Merchandising mix

Blacker notes that park souvenirs should always help support the message that the park wants to share with the public. “I look at the products we sell as reminders of the stories the park wants to share and a constant connection back to the park,” he explains.

Delgado says it’s important to offer souvenirs that are tied directly to the park, be it a name drop of the park on a T-shirt or one of the park’s trail maps on a magnet.

“Everyone wants to bring home some kind of memory of their visit,” she says. “Whether it’s the design on a shirt or a mug or a keychain, they want something that reminds them of their trip so that’s what we focus on.”