The National Academies

NCHRP 08-132 [Final]

Accessing America's Great Outdoors: Forecasting Recreational Travel Demand

  Project Data
Funds: $450,000
Research Agency: Resource Systems Group, Inc.
Principal Investigator: Mark Bradley
Effective Date: 8/5/2020
Completion Date: 3/30/2023

Recreational travel has expanded rapidly in the recent past and continues to stress our nation’s transportation system. Domestic leisure travel increased 2.0 percent in 2018 to 1.8 billion person-trips (U.S. Travel Association). Recreational visits to America’s national parks in 2018 exceeded 300 million for the fourth consecutive year, reaching 318.2 million, which is the third highest since record keeping began in 1904 (National Park Service, Office of Communications). This rapid growth in recreational travel continues to affect urban and rural areas throughout the country, placing new and changing demands (traffic congestion, air pollution, etc.) on transportation systems. Many national parks have experienced rapid, substantial changes in visitation rates over the last 5 years (as high as 40% and 60% increase at some units), resulting in congested access roads, intersections, and entrance stations for many parks as well as gateway or intervening communities (Yellowstone Transportation and Vehicle Mobility Study; Yellowstone National Park Visitor Use Study; Acadia Transportation Plan/FEIS). As a result, managing this travel demand has been increasingly challenging. 

What contributes further to the complexities is that outdoor recreation is also a significant regional and national economic generator, contributing $373.7 billion to the U.S. economy (or 2% of total GDP) in 2016. This value exceeded economic contributions of other industries that access similar lands (e.g., mining, oil, and gas extraction) at 1.4% of total GDP (
U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account). The outdoor recreation economy grew at a faster rate than the national economy, 3.8 percent in 2016 compared with the overall U.S. economy’s 2.8 percent growth during that same period. The economy of many communities in rural areas is highly dependent on recreational travel.

As the recreation sector of the economy has grown, transportation system performance has often been degraded, affecting the quality of the travel experience felt by both visitors and local community residents and businesses. Reasoned investment decisions affecting recreation-related multimodal transportation infrastructure, operations, and management are difficult without a greater ability to understand, document, and plan effectively for future system performance. Given these concerns, there is a great need for research to improve understanding of recreational travel demand and patterns and how to build on that understanding to improve overall transportation system planning, forecasting, and investment. Without this information, federal land managers, states, and communities have limited capability to make reasoned decisions about physical and operational transportation improvements. 


The objectives of this project are to develop the following:
  1. A recreational travel demand model component that is compatible with and can be incorporated into, or used in conjunction with, transportation demand models currently in use by state DOTs, MPOs, and other transportation planning agencies. 
  2. Guidelines for state DOTs and other affected transportation and land management agencies on enhanced recreational travel modeling using the recreational travel demand component: 
    1. Description and assessment of existing methods and procedures for evaluating recreational travel demand and associated data gaps, focusing on public lands (federal, state, and local). This assessment will provide the baseline needed for effective analytical approaches to measure the effects of changing recreational travel demand and the impact recreational travel has on transportation system performance.
    2. Identification and exploration of factors driving recreational travel volumes and patterns. The outcome and products of this study should clearly describe which factors are correlated with recreational visitation (number of visitors to a site) versus which factors drive changes in recreational travel (travel to and from sites).

These guidelines will help state DOTs and other transportation and land management agencies integrate recreational travel demand into overall transportation system planning and forecasting, enabling affected jurisdictions to make better-informed decisions about investments in multimodal transportation improvements, economic development, and other issues that may enhance traveler experience and improve quality of life for residents in affected communities.

Note: For the purposes of this RFP, “recreational travel” refers to travel to federal public land units (National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other federal land management sites); state parks and other state-owned recreation sites; and other public recreational destinations. These public land destinations may be in rural or urban areas. Commercially-owned destinations and theme parks are not included. “Recreational travel” includes both same-day and overnight travel and travel from both nearby and long-distance origins. “Recreational travel” includes both domestic and international visitors.
Status:  Web Only Document 380 may be found here: https://www.trb.org/Publications/PubsNCHRPWebOnlyDocuments.aspx. The recreational demand model components that accompany this report may be found here: https://github.com/NationalAcademies/NCHRP_08_132_Parkland_Recreation_Models

To create a link to this page, use this URL: http://apps.trb.org/cmsfeed/TRBNetProjectDisplay.asp?ProjectID=4744