Project goal: Study hikers’ travel patterns and wilderness values to inform management strategies for popular long-distance trails in the park.

Why this work matters: Two famous long-distance trails pass through the park: the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) and the John Muir Trail (JMT). Both trails travel south from Tuolumne Meadows; the eastern portion of the JMT merges with the PCT through Lyell Canyon and over Donohue Pass.

Every year, thousands of people hike on that overlapping high country section of the PCT/JMT. Many start their journeys outside Yosemite, using permits issued by the U.S. Forest Service, which oversees adjacent public lands. For PCT/JMT hikers starting within Yosemite, the park uses a quota system that has been in place since the 1970s. While the trailhead quotas have shifted over the years, Yosemite’s resource managers recognize the need to gather more in-depth information and implement data-driven strategies to protect wilderness ecosystems and ensure high-quality hiking experiences along the popular PCT/JMT route. First, they need to address key questions: How many people are using the trail? Where do they start and end their journeys? What are their expectations for their time in the wilderness?

Through this project, researchers are finding the answers, by surveying PCT/JMT hikers, gathering statistics on permits and trailhead quotas, and developing a model to examine travel patterns across park boundaries. Results will inform ideas for improving the ability of the National Park Service and other agencies to manage the trails, protect surrounding wilderness, and help people experience positive journeys, such as through updated permit systems and new trip-planning tools.

 How your support helps: Building on a 2019 donor-supported grant, your gifts will allow researchers to implement on-the-ground surveys and behind-the-scenes analysis to better understand the current PCT/JMT hiking situation, including how many people are accessing the Yosemite section of the trail, what their experiences are like, and what they value in a backcountry setting. Ultimately, this research will help park managers protect both wild ecosystems and positive recreational opportunities.

Partnering with Yosemite National Park; Pennsylvania State University; and University of California, Merced.

Ed Dunlavey

Wilderness Manager, Yosemite National Park

Project Notes

"Yosemite's trailhead quota system, based on research by Jan van Wagtendonk, has been in place since the 1970s. … The quotas have been adjust over the years in response to perceived changes in visitors' travel patterns and documented resource concerns, but continuing research to understand visitor travel patterns within the park and across agency boundaries is essential to ensuring a continued quality wilderness experience."