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Exploring the Diverse Motivations of Day Hikers: Implications for Hike Marketing and Management

Sarah R. Wilcer, Lincoln R. Larson, Jeffrey C. Hallo, Elizabeth Baldwin


Day hiking is a popular outdoor recreation activity, yet relatively little is known about hikers and their reasons for participating. Focusing on the popular First Day Hikes initiative, we sought to discover who hikes, why, and how those motivations might differ among sub-groups of hikers. Data were collected using intercept surveys of First Day Hikers (n = 1,934) across three states on January 1, 2016. We identified 10 broader categories of hiking motivations addressing a wide range of physiological and psychological needs. These included enjoying nature (reported by 27% of participants), trying something new (22%), celebrating the new year (19%), learning from others (15%), spending time with family (14%), and exercising (14%). Logistic regression models exploring motivation correlates showed that hikers’ motivations varied across socio-demographic groups (e.g., age, first-time hikers, hikers with children) and influenced the types of hikes selected. Some of these differences were anticipated. For example, compared to other groups, first time hikers were more likely to be motivated by trying something new and hikers with children more likely to be motivated by spending time with family. Models also yielded new insights. Compared to repeat hikers, first time hikers were more likely to hike for exercise and health reasons and older participants were more likely to hike for exercise. Participants who chose easy hikes were more likely to be motivated by learning from others and spending time with family; participants who chose hikes close to home were more likely to be motivated by exercise and celebrating the New Year. Overall, a majority of First Day Hike participants lived within 30 miles of the state park they visited, highlighting the important contributions of local parks (especially state parks) to outdoor recreation. With enhanced knowledge of day hiking motivations, managers will be better equipped to create and advertise hiking opportunities with certain combinations of attributes that offer a variety of desired benefits to diverse constituents. Additional research exploring hiking motivations and preferences will continue to inform marketing and management approaches that appeal to different types of hikers. 

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Diversity; Hiking; Marketing; Motivations; Outdoor Recreation; Parks

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