Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State 2020 Update

How to cite this study

Mojica, J. and Fletcher, A. 2020. Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State, 2020 Update. Tacoma, WA: Earth Economics.


This report provides a comprehensive analysis of the economic impact of outdoor recreation in Washington State. The report includes estimates on spending, jobs, income, impact on GDP, consumer surplus, and environmental benefits of outdoor recreation. In 2019, outdoor recreation in Washington contributed $26.5 billion in spending and supported 264,000 jobs, compared to $21.5 billion and 200,000 jobs in 2014.


This study is relevant to leaders interested in understanding the economic impacts of outdoor recreation across a large area, and measured in multiple ways. This report includes data on many types of economic impacts as well as monetized environmental benefits. These estimates can help inform policymakers and planners in managing different forms of outdoor recreation and natural resources at a state or regional level. Though this report was released in 2020, the report interprets recreation participation from 2019 and does not reflect the impacts of COVID-19.


This study covers the economic impact of outdoor recreation in Washington.

Trail Type

Washington has hundreds of outdoor recreation activities that are enjoyed by residents and tourists and around 19.8 million acres of recreational land. Activities on this land include hiking, biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, camping, dirt biking, and using motorized vehicles.


The purpose of this report was to estimate the economic impact of outdoor recreation and the environmental benefits that public lands provide to Washington. This report updates the outdoor recreation economic analysis published by Earth Economics in 2015. Funding was provided by Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, and Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI).


  • Spending on outdoor recreation in Washington was $26.5 billion and supported 264,000 jobs in 2019. In 2014, outdoor recreation spending was $21.5 billion and supported 200,000 jobs.
  • For every $1 dollar spent on outdoor recreation, $1.52 in economic activity was generated in the regional economy. 
  • Outdoor participation increased 30% in the past five years, resulting in an increase in consumer spending. In 2019, Washington residents and tourists participated in nearly 600 million days of recreation outdoors, with 90% taking place on public lands.
    • 2019 trip-related spending was $18.8 billion and an additional $7.7 billion was spent on gear, equipment, and repairs. 
    • State and local taxes generated from both trip-related and gear spending were over $3.4 billion.
  • Outdoor recreation contributed more than $20 billion to Washington’s $610 billion GDP, approximately 3.2% of the state’s total.
  • Each year, Washington’s public lands provide between $216 billion and $264 billion in environmental benefits. These benefits include aesthetic values, science and educational opportunities, food, air quality, water quality, climate stability, disaster risk reduction, soil retention, water supply, habitat, and recreational opportunities. 
  • The consumer surplus value of recreation on public lands is $33 billion. This value represents the benefit that recreationists receive when they enjoy recreation at a cost lower than what they are willing to pay.


Spending outcomes associated with outdoor recreation were calculated by multiplying the number of participant days a recreation site received by the average spending rate per person. Spending per person was calculated by the type of park, how far participants traveled to access recreation (local or non-local), and how many days and nights were spent at the recreation site. Recreation from public agencies like the U.S. Forest Service was taken into account as well as private landholders like private campgrounds. To determine direct, indirect, and induced effects, IMPLAN input-output modeling was conducted between industries in a regional economy, and a multi-regional input-output model was used to estimate how spending in one region affects the rest of the state. This model calculated the effects of expenditures on economic contribution, value added to GDP, jobs, income, and tax revenue using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Consumer surplus was calculated by subtracting the costs incurred to participate in an activity (such as  travel costs, entrance fees, or parking) from the participant’s total willingness to pay for an activity. The data used for this calculation was from a recreation value database created by an environmental economics professor, and a U.S. Forest Service report. Finally, environmental benefits provided by the public were also valued using a variety of economic approaches including travel costs and estimates from surveys like willingness to pay to protect a resource.

Added to library on November 27, 2023