Tracking How Visitors Move through National Parks Using Social Media

People walking in a national park

The ardent sunshine at Bryce Canyon is part of the reason people visit that national park. But a soaking rainstorm, or an unseasonably hot day can change how recreationists move through their activities. Managers already know that daily weather can impact the number of people who show up to parks and protected areas, but they can also benefit by better understanding how visitors change their movements within a park according to daily weather conditions.

Research from Emily Wilkins and her team investigates the impact of daily high temperatures and summer rain on the way people visit 110 National Park Service units. They connected geotagged social media photos to weather for the day, as well as visitors’ elevation and their distance to things like roads, parking areas, and visitor centers. They found that daily weather has a clear impact on where visitors go within parks, but the pattern varied by ecoregion. In most places, visitors stayed closer to infrastructure on rainy days. Temperature also affects visitors’ movements, but the change depended on ecoregion—whether they were hiking in the marine west coast forests, or the tropical wet forests of southern Florida.

Maps showing patterns of where visitors go in each park

View final report