Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



Major Professor

William E. Hammitt

Committee Members

Edward E.C. Clebsch, Edward R. Buckner


Studies of backcountry or wilderness use to date have been based on summer or peak season use. Due to the lack of research concerning winter backcountry use, a comparative study was conducted to investigate potential differences in the behavior, use, and user characteristics of winter and summer backcountry campers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Major questions to be addressed in the study were: (1) are the user characteristics and use patterns of winter backcountry campers significantly different from those of summer campers? (2) are the motives of winter backcountry campers different from those of summer campers? and (3) is area substitution on a seasonal basis a major motive for winter backpacking in the Park?

A sample of Park backcountry overnight use permits from the 1979 winter and summer seasons and a mail questionnaire were used for data collection. Use data were surveyed from 580 permits from each season. A two-page mail questionnaire was sent to 300 winter users to gain further information about use and user characteristics, past backpacking experience, motives for winter use, and the possibility of area and seasonal substitution.

Results indicate: (1) place of origin (state), day hike originated (weekend versus weekday), type of hike (loop versus non-loop), length of stay, and miles hiked were all significantly different (p ≤ .001) between winter and summer users; (2) the "typical" winter backpacker in the GSMNP is male (99%), averages 30 years of age (29.5), has been backpacking for 10 years, averages 6.7 trips and 19 days backpacking per year, and participates in winter backpacking significantly more (p ≤ .001) than he does in spring, summer, or fall camping: (3) the major motives for winter camping were "experiencing the winter environment" and "avoiding crowds"-- especially summer crowds; and (4) GSMNP winter backcountry campers definitely substitute other areas for the Park during the heavy use summer season.

Therefore, while previous backcountry research has shown little evidence for use differences between western and eastern users, there is some evidence to suggest such differences between the winter and summer user.

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