Motivations and Outcomes on Long-Distance Trails: A Case Study of the Means-End of Recreation Scale and Thru-Hikers


  • Nick Wilson George Mason University
  • Eddie Hill Weber State University
  • Edwin Gómez East Carolina University



thru-hiking, means-end theory, National Scenic Trails, MERS



 Thru-hiking is seeing an unprecedented surge in popularity in recent years, with the numbers of prospective thru-hikers only expected to continue to increase. Amidst this thru-hiking boom, this study used the Means End of Recreation Scale to determine the values and outcomes that motivate thru-hikers to hike and drive their trail selection. Utilizing responses from 268 thru-hikers in an online survey across the United States’ long-distance National Scenic Trails, the study evaluated how “trail variables,” such as (a) direction traveled, (b) experience with previous thru-hikes, and (c) whether a trail is a “Triple Crown” trail impacted thru-hikers’ outcomes from a thru-hike. Non-Triple Crown trail thru-hikers were found to be largely affected by trail attributes, more so than their Triple Crown counterparts. Results reveal outcomes from a thru-hike remain relatively unaffected by many of the evaluated trail variables, suggesting a certain universality in outcomes from a thru-hike, which can inform land managers and trail organizations to better manage the trails and provide the desired experiences to thru-hikers.

Author Biography

Eddie Hill, Weber State University

Park, Recreation and Tourism Studies



Allman, T., Mittelstaedt, R., Marti, B., Goldenberg, M. (2009). Exploring the motivations of BASE jumpers: Extreme sport enthusiasts. Journal of Sport and Tourism, 14(4), 229-247.

American Long Distance Hiking Association – West. (n.d.). Triple crown.

Amerson, K., Rose, J., Lepp, A., Dustin, D. (2020). Time on the trail, smartphone use, and place attachment among Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers. Journal of Leisure Research, 51(3).

Appalachian Trail Conservancy. (n.d.a). 2,000 Milers.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy. (n.d.b) Thru-hiking frequently asked questions.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy. (n.d.c) About us: Media room.

Berg, A. (2015). “To conquer myself”: The new strenuosity and the emergence of thru-hiking on the Appalachian Trail in the 70s. Journal of Sport History, 42(1), 1-19.

Cerveny, L.K., Derrien, M.M., Meyer, C., & Miller, A.B. (2022). Four dimensions of sustainable governance for National Scenic Trails, Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism. Advance online publication.

Cole, T., Thomsen, J. (2021). Navigating the challenges of the multi-phase thru-hiking experience. Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership, 13(3), 52-69.

Colorado Trail Foundation. (n.d.). The trail: The Colorado Trail.

Conron, K.J., Goldberg, S.K. (2020, July). Adult LGBT population in the United States. The Williams Institute, UCLA.

Continental Divide Trail Coalition. (n.d.). Explore the trail.

Donahue, B. (2017, September 25). Meet the hardest partiers on the Appalachian Trail. Backpacker Magazine.

Elkinton, S. (2008). The national trails system: A grand experiment. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service.

Fasczewski, K., Luck, J., McGrath, A., & Elslager, T. (2020). “It’s not all sunshine and rainbows”: A thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership, 12(3), 291-305.

Fondren, K., & Brinkman, R. (2022). A comparison of hiking communities on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. Leisure Sciences, 44(4), 403-420.

Frauman, E., & Cunningham, P.H. (2001). Using means-end approach to understand the factors that influence greenway use. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 19(3), 93-113.

Goldenberg, M., Cummings, J., & Pronsolino, D. (2008). A means-end study of outcome differences of females and males associated with Outward Bound and National Outdoor Leadership School. Research in Outdoor Education, 9, 10-26.

Goldenberg, M., & Soule, K. (2014). Outcomes of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership, 6(1), 44-54.

Green Mountain Club. (n.d.). The Long Trail.

Gutman, J. (1982). A means-end chain model based on consumer categorization processes. Journal of Marketing, 46, 60-72.

Hill, E., Goldenberg, M., & Freidt, B. (2009). Benefits of hiking: A means-end approach on the Appalachian Trail. Journal of Unconventional Parks, Tourism, and Recreation Research, 2(1), 19–27.

Hill, E., Goldenberg, M., Zhu, X, & Gómez, E. (2022). Using Means-End of Recreation Scale (MERS) in outdoor recreation settings: Factorial and structural tenability. Journal of Leisure Research, 53(3), 492-507.

Hill, E., Gómez, E., Goldenberg, M., Freidt, B., Fellows, S., & Hill, L. (2013). Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trail hikers: A comparison of benefits and motivations. Journal of Unconventional Parks, Tourism & Recreation Research, 5(1), 9-16.

Howard, I., Goldenberg, M. (2020). Women thru-hiker experiences on the Pacific Crest Trail: Gender influences, factors of success, and personal outcomes. Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership, 12(1), 41-61.

Jones, J.M. (2022, February 17). LGBT identification in U.S. ticks up to 7.1%. Gallup.

Kedrowski, J.J. (2009). Mapping a section of the Continental Divide Trail in Colorado’s South San Juan Wilderness. International Journal of Wilderness, 15(3), 17-22.

Kelly, M. (2021). The A. T. and Race. Appalachian Trail Conservancy. (Reprinted from the Winter 2021 issue of A.T. Journeys magazine)

Kim, B., Sam Kim, S., King, B. (2016). The sacred and the profane: Identifying pilgrim traveler value orientations using means-end theory. Tourism Management, 56, 142-155.

Klenosky, D. (2002). The “pull” of tourism destinations. A means-end investigation. Journal of Travel Research, 40, 385-395.

Klenosky, D., Gengler, C., & Mulvey, M. (1993). Understanding the factors influencing ski destination choice: A means-end analytic approach. Journal of Leisure Research, 25(4), 362-379.

Kwapis, K. (Director). (2015). A walk in the woods [Film]. Broad Green Pictures.

Lum, C.S., Keith, S.J., & Scott, D. (2020). The long-distance hiking social world along the Pacific Crest Trail, Journal of Leisure Research, 51(2), 165-182.

MacKaye, B. (2010). An Appalachian Trail: A project in regional planning. The Hudson River Valley Review, 27(1), 45-56. (Reprinted from “An Appalachian Trail: A project in regional planning,” 1921, The Journal of the American Institute of Architects, 9, 2-8.

Mattson, K. (2020). The long trail to socialism. Dissent, 67(3), 17-23.

National Park Service. (n.d.). National scenic trails. U.S. Department of the Interior.

North Country Trail Association. (n.d.). Explore the trail.

Olivier, J. (2022, April 25). Fixing the Appalachian Trail’s overcrowding crisis. Backpacker Magazine.

Outdoor Foundation. (2022, September 19). 2022 Outdoor participation trends report.

Overholt, J. R., & Ewert, A. (2015). Gender matters: Exploring the process of developing resilience through outdoor adventure. Journal of Experiential Education, 38(1), 41–55.

Pacific Crest Trail Association. (n.d.a). 2,600 Miler list.

Pacific Crest Trail Association. (n.d.b). Northbound vs. southbound.

Pacific Crest Trail Association. (n.d.c). Discover the trail.

Reiss, L. (2021). No façade to hide behind: Long-distance hikers’ journeys through self and society. The Journal for Undergraduate Ethnography, 11(1), 56-72.

Rohn, K.C., & Conway, P.F. (2023). Thru-hiking and thriving: Exploring college student experiences on the Appalachian Trail. Journal of Experiential Education, 46(2), 161-179.

Schuring, S. (2019). Meandering motivations: A look into the changing motivations of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers (Unpublished master’s thesis). Ohio University.

The Trek. (2019, January 21). Northbound, southbound, flip-flop: The basics of Appalachian Trail thru-hiking routes.,the%20cost%20of%20other%20complications.

Thomsen, J.M., Metcalf, E.C., Coe, K., & Ocañas, A.R. (2022). Thru-hikers’ attitudes about potential management actions for interactions with grizzly bears along the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism. Advance online publication.

Turley, B., & Goldenberg, M. (2013). Assessment of readjusting to life after completing a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership, 5(1), 96–107.

Vallée, J-M. (Director). (2014). Wild [Film]. Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Yun, J., Peden, J. (2018). Situational influences on experiences of long-distance hikers. Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership, 10(3), 226-237.






Regular Papers