The Outdoor Recreation Economy

National public lands are vital economic drivers in Western communities, strengthening local businesses and attracting new industries.

Outdoor recreation is an essential part of the West’s economy

Outdoor recreation is an important economic driver in communities across the West. From national parks and monuments to national forests, access to public lands is crucial to ensuring that outdoor recreation remains a vibrant part of Western economies.

In 2021, outdoor recreation contributed $454 billion to the U.S. economy, about 1.9 percent of total GDP. Outdoor recreation now supports over 4.5 million jobs across the country, a 13.1 percent increase from 2020. Outdoor recreation and tourism provide rural communities—that may otherwise be dependent on the boom and bust cycles of energy development—an opportunity to diversify their economies.

Many different industries depend on the outdoor economy, including companies that make recreation gear, local shops that serve tourists visiting national parks and public lands, the hospitality industry, and even non-recreation businesses located near public lands. In fact, research shows that in the West, protected public lands support faster rates of job growth and higher levels of per capita income.