Assessing Trailhead Use in the Santa Monica Mountains

The LA region is home to the nation’s largest urban national park, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA). Accessed by over 33 million people annually, this park is a unique biodiversity hot spot, home to over 1,000 plant species, 400 species of birds, 45 species of mammals, and 35 species of reptiles and amphibians. Offering over 500 miles of trails for public recreational use, the SMMNRA offers visitors opportunities for wildlife viewing, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, swimming, picnicking, and more.

Yet the park lacks current information about visitors and their patterns, needs and expectations.  To address this gap, the National Park Service (NPS), responsible for management of the SMMNRA, recently awarded the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation a grant to conduct a visitor-use survey at the park. This study aims to learn from current visitors in order to meet the needs of a diverse population and to reflect this diversity in management and programming. The last visitor-use survey was done 15 years ago. Since then, the population of Los Angeles has grown significantly and the demographics of surrounding communities have changed.

The Luskin Center will start research this year and plans to conduct the survey during the summer of 2018. The results of the survey will be used by NPS as they make decisions about resource allocation for the park. The Luskin Center will work closely with NPS to determine successful ways to balance access to the Santa Monica Mountains for the public’s recreational use with the protection of park resources.

For more information or to get involved in this project as a volunteer or graduate student researchers, please contact the project manager Kelsey Jessup at