Outdoor Recreation Opportunities

How are we doing?

Percent of Federal Recreational Land (2016)

Outdoor Rec Land Fuel 2016


In 2016, the Tucson Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) ranked fifth among 12 western MSAs, with 29.0% of its land cover comprised of federal recreational land. The Las Vegas MSA ranked first with 85.2%, and the San Antonio MSA ranked last. In Texas, three MSAs had less than one percent of their area held as federal recreational land. The Tucson and Phoenix MSAs both have a slightly higher percentage of federal recreational land than the nation as a whole. 

Why is it important?

Outdoor recreational land provides neighboring communities with direct social and economic benefits. Scenic views, outdoor recreational opportunities, and open space have been linked to amenity driven economic development, increased real estate values, and positive public health outcomes. Moreover, recreational land and outdoor leisure opportunities attract visitor spending, which in turn serves as an important input to local retail and service sectors. One study has estimated direct spending due to tourism at $19 billion in Arizona during 2012, supporting approximately 160,000 full-time equivalent jobs statewide.

What are the key trends?

The growth rate in national park visits in the Tucson MSA was up by 33.2% in 2021. That was a significant increase from the decline during the early part of the pandemic. Many national parks were partial or fully closed in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tucson fared better than the nation in the increase in park visits in 2021. Nationally park visits were up by 25.3% and the state of Arizona saw an increase of 39.5%. The increase in park visits in 2021 brought visitation back to normal levels seen prior to the pandemic for most regions.

Over the long term, Tucson has seen volatility in park visits, with rates increasing during periods of economic growth and decreasing during the prior recession. Following the 2008-2009 recession, Tucson and Arizona experienced five years of growth in visits to national parks located nearby.

Interested in learning more about tourism trends in Arizona? Check out the Tourism and Travel page on EBRC’s Arizona’s Economy online magazine. Looking for data on international tourism trends? EBRC’s Arizona-Mexico Economic Indicators site has the latest indicators on Arizona-Mexico Tourism.

How is it measured?

The percentage of federal recreational land is computed by dividing Type A, B and C federal lands by total land area for a geography. Type A lands include National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service; Type B includes Wilderness Areas; Type C includes Bureau of Land Management and other Forest Service lands, as well as Oregon and California Revested Grant lands (OLM). Data are courtesy of a 2019 Headwaters Economics report. While aggregate land-use totals are accurate estimates as of 2016, data releases by agencies vary. Percent change in National Park visits is computed from National Park Service (NPS), Integrated Resource Management Applications (IRMA) Visitor Use Statistics, which are published annually.