The Economic Value of Trails in Arizona: A Travel Cost Method Study

How to cite this study

Duval, D., Frisvold, G. and Bickel, A. 2020. The Economic Value of Trails in Arizona: A Travel Cost Method Study. University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona.


This study estimates the value Arizona residents derive from visiting motorized and non-motorized trails. The authors also estimated total annual trail use, Arizonans’ perceptions of trails, and favorite and most frequented trails. The value for Arizona residents from non-motorized trail use is around $8.3 billion per year; the value from motorized trail use is about $5.2 billion per year.


This study is relevant to leaders interested in estimating trail visitation levels, residents’ perceptions, and determining the intrinsic value that residents obtain from participating in trail-based outdoor recreation. These estimates can help inform policymakers and planners in managing different forms of outdoor recreation and natural resources at a state or regional level.

The methods the authors use to measure trail value differ from traditional economic impact studies. The authors measure the value from trail use as the total benefit an individual receives from trail use, quantified as individuals’ willingness to pay to travel to use trails. While this measurement, called consumer surplus, is well-vetted in the literature, it is a technical economic concept that may be more difficult to communicate and therefore be less compelling than traditional economic impact studies. The applicability of consumer surplus methods will depend on the audience the researcher is trying to reach.


This study is located in Arizona and analyzes trails managed by Arizona State Parks, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and other land management agencies.

Trail Type

This study includes motorized and non-motorized trails in Arizona. There are 9,912 miles of  non-motorized trails in their study areas and 57,132 miles of motorized trails. Non-motorized uses include walking, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding/equestrian use and motorized trail uses include dirt biking, ATV, UTV, side-by-side, and four-wheeling, among other activities.


This study was conducted as a complement to the Arizona State Parks 2020 Trails Plan, to provide estimates of non-motorized and motorized trail use levels and consumer surplus of Arizona residents. This study uses data from a stratified random sample survey of Arizona residents 18 years and older that was collected for Arizona’s 2020 Trails Plan. This study was funded by the Arizona State Parks Board as part of the 2020 Trails Plan.


  • In 2019, Arizonans used state trails for non-motorized recreation an estimated 83,110,000 times, and for motorized recreation an estimated 20,117,000 times.  Approximately 59.2% of Arizona’s adult population engaged in non-motorized trail use in the past year, and while about  24.4% of the adult population participated in motorized trail use in the past year.
  • Non-motorized trail users averaged 27 trail visits in the past year, and motorized trail users averaged 16 trail visits.
  • The consumer surplus derived from non-motorized trail use in Arizona by in-state residents, based on a midpoint estimate, is $8.3 billion per year. The consumer surplus derived from motorized trail use in Arizona by in-state residents is an estimated $5.2 billion per year.
  • Consumer surplus for non-motorized trail use was $100 per visit. Consumer surplus for motorized trail use was an estimated $259 per visit.
  • When asked the importance of having trails nearby in deciding where to live, more than 77% of respondents who participated in non-motorized trail recreation in Arizona report trail proximity as somewhat or very important. This remains true for those who had participated in the past year or those who have ever participated in non-motorized trail recreation at some point. 
  • When asked the importance of having trails nearby in their decision of where to visit, about 83% of respondents who have ever used non-motorized trails or who have used them in the past year consider trails somewhat or very important in their decision of where to visit. For individuals who have never used trails for non-motorized recreation or who haven’t used them in the past year, these percentages are slightly lower, ranging between 67% and 71%.


The data used in this study was originally collected as a part of Arizona’s 2020 Trails Plan. The survey obtained information on respondents’ non-motorized and motorized trail use in the past year, their favorite trail, most frequently used trail, distance traveled to the trail, home zipcode, and demographic information. It was administered between July 31, 2019 and August 17, 2019. Half were contacted by telephone and half through an online invitation. Consumer surplus was measured through the travel cost method. Aggregated consumer surplus at the state level was also measured using statewide trail use and population. Travel costs were estimated using data from the 2020 Motorized and Non-Motorized Trail Plan.  A trail user origin-destination matrix was also developed to model trail demand and where trail users in Arizona travel for non-motorized and motorized trail recreation. Trails characteristics such as slope, land cover, temperature, and length were compiled using ArcGIS. While this study analyzes data for all trail areas in Arizona, the data is aggregated and run as a single-site, individual travel cost model. The estimates from the travel cost model are not site-specific but represent an average across all locations throughout the state. 

Added to library on November 21, 2023