The Outdoor Foundation Releases 2011 Outdoor Recreation Participation Study (10/5/11)

October 5, 2011 - Nearly 50 percent of all Americans ages six and older participated in outdoor recreation last year, according to a new study released today by The Outdoor Foundation. That equates to 137.9 million Americans. The findings are part of the 2011 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, the nation’s leading report tracking American participation trends in outdoor recreation with a focus on youth, diversity and the future of the outdoors.

The Outdoor Foundation’s fifth annual Outdoor Recreation Participation Report helps a wide range of stakeholders including the outdoor industry, public agencies and community organizations better understand the trends in outdoor recreation participation — enabling groups to address America’s inactivity crisis and the disconnect between children and the outdoors. The report is based on an online survey of more than 40,000 Americans ages six and older and covers 114 different outdoor activities, making it the largest survey of its kind.

“This report shows that outdoor recreation and participation continues to play a major role in American life and is increasingly recognized as an important part of healthy lifestyles — especially for our children and youth,” said Chris Fanning, executive director of The Outdoor Foundation.

The study places significant emphasis on youth, and the findings reveal areas of both opportunity and optimism. For the first time, participation among youth ages 6 to 12 remained flat instead of falling. In addition, adolescent and young adult participation both grew by one percentage point. However, while overall participation for girls showed improvement in 2010, participation rates among boys leveled or fell.

“We are encouraged that the trends appear to be stabilizing with youth participation rates,” said Fanning. “Sharing the benefits of a healthy active outdoor lifestyle with all of our youth will ensure healthier children and healthier communities.”

The insights detailed in the 2011 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report are critical to national efforts seeking to understand and reverse America’s inactivity crisis. The following are some of the additional findings detailed in the Participation Report. More information can be found in the report on the page numbers listed.

Overall Trends in Outdoor Participation

  • Running, including jogging and trail running, was the most popular outdoor activity in 2010 with more than 50 million participants and a participation rate of 18 percent. page 19
  • 55 percent of outdoor participants traveled one hour or more to participate in outdoor recreation in 2010. At the same time, outdoor participants made an average of 57.8 passive outdoor outings, such as picnicking, unstructured playtime, visiting a community park or lunch outdoors at a park in 2010. page 20
  • The economy continues to have an impact on outdoor participation. More than 45 percent of outdoor participants have household incomes of $75,000 and up. More than half of participants are employed, and 42 percent of outdoor enthusiasts say the economy impacts how often they get outside. page 22
  • Despite the still uncertain economy and its proven impact on outdoor participation, 60 percent of all outdoor enthusiasts spent about the same amount on sports and recreation in 2010 as they had in previous years. page 23

Outdoor Lifestyles

  • The fitness and health benefits of outdoor participation are apparent. Outdoor participants rate their fitness level at 6.4 on a 10-point-scale versus 5.1 for non-participants. In terms of health, outdoor participants rate their health level at 7.5 versus 6.5 for non-participants. page 32
  • Easy access matters. The participation rate among Americans who live in communities with designated walking and biking trails is higher than those without such easy access. page 34
  • Modern technology has revolutionized the way we find information and communicate with each other. Outdoor enthusiasts in their young adulthood, ages 18 to 24, use technology to connect with the outdoors more than any other age group. Women are more likely than men to share their experiences using social media. page 36

Youth and the Outdoors

  • Youth and adolescents are motivated to get outside simply because they think “outdoor activities are cool.” While this cool factor is still present in young adults, slightly more participants in this age group cite exercise as their top motivator for outdoor participation. page 47
  • The importance of providing physical education in school can’t be understated. Among those who are current outdoor participants, 79 percent say they had physical education in school between the ages of 6 to 12. Almost 60 percent of adult outdoor participants took part in outdoor activities from ages 6 to 12, compared to only 21 percent of non-outdoor participants — a nearly 40 percent gap. page 49

Diversity and the Outdoors

  • As in previous years, participation in outdoor activities in 2010 was significantly higher among Caucasians and lowest among African Americans in nearly all age groups. page 57
  • Although their participation rate is much lower, African American and Hispanic outdoor enthusiasts tend to participate in outdoor activities more frequently than Caucasians. page 57

To download a complete copy of the 2011 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, visit The Outdoor Foundation website at

The Outdoor Foundation thanks Dr. Michael A. Schuett and Kyunghee Lee from the Center for Socioeconomic Research & Education at Texas A&M University for providing technical assistance with this report.