Climate and Visitation to Utah’s “Mighty 5” National Parks
The relationship between climate and visitation to managed natural areas has been analyzed at a variety of different spatial scales. We expand upon our existing knowledge on this topic by: (1) determining how a wide range of climate variables affect visitation across a regional tourism system; and (2) identifying which variables affect visitation system-wide and which variables only affect visitation at specific parks. Our analysis focuses on five national parks located in southern Utah (USA) commonly referred to as ‘the Mighty 5’. We found monthly average daily maximum temperatures were the best predictor of system-wide visitation, suggesting average daily maximum temperatures play a more direct role in tourists’ travel decisions relative to other climate variables, including other derivations of temperature. We also found declines in monthly park visitation for three parks (Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef) once average daily maximum temperatures exceed 25 C. For Bryce Canyon and Zion however, monthly visitation continued to increase well above this threshold. The geophysical characteristics of these parks appear to mediate the relationship between average daily maximum temperature and visitation. The commonly found ‘inverted U-shape’ relationship between temperature and visitation should not be seen as a universal maxim. We also found precipitation to be a poor predictor of system-wide visitation, but a significant factor shaping the travel decisions of visitors to Bryce Canyon, the only park to offer snow-based outdoor recreation opportunities. Future research should not disregard the possibility of precipitation being a significant factor shaping visitors’ travel decisions. By conducting our analyses at two distinct scales, we have found there is a difference between the individual climate variables that are regionally-significant drivers of visitation and those that are locally-significant drivers of visitation. Scale matters in analyses of the relationship between climate and visitation.