Outdoor Recreation Opportunities

How are we doing?

Percent of Federal Recreational Land (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 5.4% in 2019. Since 2001, Tucson has seen some volatility in 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 park located nearby. Visits declined significantly in 2018 but subsequently increased in 2019. Park visits remained steady nationwide between 2001 and 2013 followed by substantial increases in 2014 and 2016. The nation followed the same general pattern in 2019 as Tucson and Arizona with an overall increase in national park visits.

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.