Man riding a bike along lake

Billion Dollar Outdoors

Wisconsin’s diverse outdoor recreation activities bring in billions of dollars year-round.

That is the finding of a recent report by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s Office of Outdoor Recreation.

The report reiterates recent U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data showing Wisconsin’s outdoor recreation industry’s strong foundation contributes $7.8 billion to the state’s gross domestic product. Over 93,000 jobs across diverse sectors – from tourism to manufacturing to retail and the arts – are supported by outdoor recreation and contribute $3.9 million in compensation to Wisconsinites. The pace of the industry’s growth was faster than Wisconsin’s overall economy prior to the COVID-19 pandemic: between 2012 and 2017, GDP from outdoor recreation grew by 12% while overall state GDP grew by 7%.

More Than Just a Bike Ride

The largest contribution to state GDP is from nature-based activities, led by motorcycling and ATVing, boating/fishing, RV-ing, and bicycling. Beyond nature-based outdoor recreation activities, other outdoor recreation activities that contribute to state GDP include field sports, game areas (includes golf and tennis), guided outfitting and tours, and festivals and sporting events.

Wisconsin is a National Powerhouse in Outdoor Recreation Manufacturing

Wisconsin ranks fifth among US states for share of jobs in outdoor recreation manufacturing and is home to headquarters and manufacturing facilities of dozens of well-known outdoor brands including Bending Branches, Burger Boat Company, Harley-Davidson, Johnson Outdoors, Mercury Marine, Mathews Archery, MirroCraft Boats, Pacific-Cycle, Planet Bike, Saris, St. Croix Rods, Trek Bicycles, Vortex Optics, Wigwam, Yamaha and more.

Outdoors and COVID

Getting outside has never been more important. Wisconsin’s outdoors provide wide-open spaces where people can responsibly distance while enhancing physical, mental, and social well-being. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are seeking outdoor experiences in unprecedented numbers. Even though Wisconsin’s economy was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s outdoor recreation industry is seeing the economic impact of this amplified interest. Business who were able to respond to changing recommendations reported increased demand for products, gear and services.

Amplified Interest by Spring 2020:

  • 371% increases for hikes and trailers on
  • 24% increase in sales of Wisconsin ATV trail passes
  • 100% increase in first-time buyers of Wisconsin fishing licenses
  • 18% more weekend visitations to Wisconsin state parks
  • 70% increase in national boat sales
  • 121% increase in national sales of leisure bikes
  • 10.8% increase in national RV sales



Attend the upcoming virtual a virtual Tourism Summit on Thursday, April 22, from 9 a.m.-12 p.m., hosted by UW-Green Bay with collaboration of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and Northeast Wisconsin destinations.

Outdoors enthusiasts spend money! The Tourism Summit is tailored for any business or frontline worker associated with tourism in Wisconsin, including restaurants, hotels, sporting goods retailers, ATV, boat or RV Dealers, other recreation and attractions, communities and more. The Tourism Summit is hosted by UW-Green Bay’s Division of Continuing Education and Community Engagement.

Learn more about the Tourism Summit by visiting or by contacting Judy Price, Outreach Specialist at and 920-366-8328.


Travel Wisconsin. “Report Shows Outdoor Recreation a Key Driver of Wisconsin Economy.” October 28, 2020.

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