Profile of 2008 Minnesota Recreational Trail Users

Place: Statewide


This study found that walkers and hikers, while they have fairly low per-trip spending, generate nearly two-thirds of the total economic impact from trails-related recreation in Minnesota because many people participate and they participate often. Motorized recreation–both summer and winter–has the highest individual expenditures per trip.


This is the only study we are aware of that uses similar methods and sampling, and asks the same questions, of such a broad range of trail users. This consistency makes it easier to assess, at a glance, which activities are generating the greatest impact. However, it is important to keep in mind that respondents for cycling, mountain biking, and walking were originally drawn from the general population, while cross-country skiers, horseback riders, and motorized users were drawn from trail pass holders or vehicle registrations and may be more avid users, with higher daily expenditures.


The study is statewide in Minnesota, with data summarized statewide and by five regions within the state.

Trail Type

This study summarizes activities for several types of recreational trail users: all-terrain vehicles, cross-country skiing, cycling, horseback riding, mountain biking, off-highway motorcycles, off-road vehicles, snowmobiling, and walking/hiking.


The purpose of this study is to provide an overview of popular trail-using outdoor activities in the state with the goal of informing public policy and management around recreational trails state-wide. The study was commissioned by the Minnesota Recreational Trail Users Association and supported by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Carlson Chair for Travel, Tourism and Hospitality at the University of Minnesota.


Eighty-one percent of respondents to a survey of Minnesotans reported being trail users. Information for individual trail users is summarized in the following table.


Activity Average trip expenditures, <30 miles from home Average trip expenditures, >30 miles from home Annual participants (% of MN population) Total annual economic impact from trip spending
All-terrain vehicles $28 $46 357,300 (10%) $137.9 million
Cross-country skiing $12 $54 227,000 (6.5%) $41.1 million
Cycling $8 $35 1,010,500 (29%)* $337.6 million
Horseback riding $27 $43 157,000 (4.5%) $49.9 million
Mountain biking $2 $12 1,010,500 (29%)* $89.8 million
Off-highway motorcycles $32 $63 Not available $11.9 million
Off-road vehicles $23 $69 Not available $4.4 million
Snowmobiling $42 $49 342,000 (10%) $172.8 million
Walking and hiking $5 $39 1,896,400 (54%) $1,425.6 million
* Only total cycling participation estimates were available, so the authors split participation between road cycling and mountain biking.


Potential respondents were identified from lists of individuals who had purchased trail passes (cross-country skiing or equestrian), or had registered recreational vehicles with the state (off-highway vehicles, ATVs, and motorcycles). A sample for mountain bikers, road bikers, and walkers was obtained by sending a mail survey to licensed drivers in the state to identify potential participants. Of the initial sample of 16,378, they received 3,126 returned surveys (a 19% response rate). Participants in individual activities were then sent a subsequent activity-specific survey.

Respondents were mailed a survey asking them about trail experiences, trips, expenditures, sources of conflict, and demographics. Response rates for the individual activities follow:

  • All-terrain vehicles: 43 percent (417 respondents)
  • Cross-country skiing: 61 percent (521 respondents)
  • Cycling: 35 percent (189 respondents)
  • Horseback riding: 60 percent (458 respondents)
  • Mountain biking: 53 percent (134 respondents)
  • Off-highway motorcycles: 37 percent (314 respondents)
  • Off-road vehicles: 50 percent (382 respondents)
  • Snowmobiling: 35 percent (283 respondents)
  • Walking: 58 percent (451 respondents)

The authors estimated economic impacts using state-wide participation estimates in previous studies.


Schneider, I., A. Schuweiler, and T. Bipes. 2009. Profile of 2008 Minnesota Recreational Trail Users. University of Minnesota Tourism Center.