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Publication Information

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Title: Monitoring visitor use in backcountry and wilderness: a review of methods

Author: Hollenhorst, Steven J.; Whisman, Steven A.; Ewert, Alan W.;

Date: 1992

Source: Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-134. Berkeley, Calif.: Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. 10 p

Publication Series: General Technical Report (GTR)

Description: Obtaining accurate and usable visitor counts in backcountry and wilderness settings continues to be problematic for resource managers because use of these areas is dispersed and costs can be prohibitively high. An overview of the available methods for obtaining reliable data on recreation use levels is provided. Monitoring methods were compared and selection criteria were developed based on units of measure, efficiency and affordability, validity and reliability, and compatibility with agency objectives. Using these selection criteria, some general recommendations of methods for monitoring visitor use in wilderness and backcountry were derived. Permit methods offer the benefit of obtaining extensive and accurate use data, but have high administrative costs and are inconvenient for visitors. Registration techniques provide extensive data and are particularly applicable where rationing use is not a management objective. Permit and registration techniques, however, do require considerable resources to validate for visitor noncompliance. Indirect counts with electronic or mechanical devices in combination with self-report surveys or self-registration meet most management and research needs by providing data on total use and meaningful information about the type of use. Proper study design controlling for sampling bias can make this combined approach an attractive alternative.

Keywords: visitor counts, visitor statistics, visitor use monitoring methods, wildland recreation, backcountry, wilderness

Publication Notes:

  • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.



Hollenhorst, Steven J.; Whisman, Steven A.; Ewert, Alan W. 1992. Monitoring visitor use in backcountry and wilderness: a review of methods. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-134. Albany, CA: Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; 10 p.


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