First Day Hikes: Participation, Impacts, and Implications for the Future


  • Sarah R. Wilcer Clemson University
  • Lincoln R. Larson North Carolina State University
  • Jeffrey C. Hallo Clemson University
  • Elizabeth Baldwin Clemson University



Conservation, Hiking, Outdoor Recreation, State Parks


First Day Hikes, which occur on New Year’s Day, are part of a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to get more people outdoors. The concept became a national movement in 2012 when all 50 state park systems held at least one First Day Hike for the first time. In 2017, over 60,000 hikers across the United States attended one of nearly 1,300 First Day Hikes offered. Despite the popularity of the First Day Hike initiative, little is known about the First Day Hikers themselves or the broader impacts of this experience. Synthesizing data from three popular First Day Hike states (GA, MA, SC), our study used pre and post-hike feedback from participants to highlight positive and negative aspects of the hikes, assess broader program impacts, and identify potential opportunities for improvement in future years. Results illustrate a variety of factors driving the overall success of the First Day Hikes initiative and suggest that this and similar park-based programs have the potential to affect outdoor recreation participation, foster connections between people and nature, and inspire future stewardship behavior. Recommendations for managers derived from evaluation data and participant feedback include a more targeted emphasis on marketing toward and recruiting specific subgroups (such as first-time hikers, families with children, and racial/ethnic minorities), improving crowd control to enhance visitor experiences, and working to foster stronger enduring connections between First Day Hike participants and the parks they are visiting.Subscribe to JPRA

Author Biography

Lincoln R. Larson, North Carolina State University

Dr. Lincoln Larson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management at North Carolina State University. He has earned degrees in Biology (B.S., Duke University), Forest Resources (M.S., University of Georgia), and Natural Resources Recreation and Tourism (Ph.D., University of Georgia). Before coming to NC State in 2017, he worked as a postdoctoral research associate in the Human Dimensions Research Unit of Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources and as an Assistant Professor in teh Dept. of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Managment at Clemson University. At NC State, Dr. Larson’s teaching and research focus on characterizing and managing interactions between humans and the natural environment. His work, which is supported by a variety of federal and state government agencies (e.g., National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service) and nongovernmental organizations, is designed to help students, scientists, land managers, and the general public understand, communicate, and collaboratively respond to emerging challenges facing parks and protected areas. Dr. Larson has worked with student advisees and colleagues from many disciplines to publish more than 50 journal articles, technical reports, and book chapters covering a range of topics including human dimensions of natural resource management, nature-based recreation and associated health benefits, and environmental education. His undergraduate and graduate courses at NC State reflect his diverse experience and interdisciplinary approach to natural resource recreation planning and management.