Document Type


Date of Degree Completion

Spring 2022

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Cultural and Environmental Resource Management

Committee Chair

Jennifer Lipton

Second Committee Member

Carla Jellum

Third Committee Member

Sterling Quinn


This research explores the claim that “geotagging ruins nature” by quantifying and qualifying patterns in geotag use and visitors’ experiences in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, in Washington, United States. Many have raised concerns that geotags increase recreational visitation to public lands, which subsequently contributes to negative resource impacts. Others, however, claim that geotagging has made the outdoors more accessible to less privileged communities and raise concerns that condemning geotags will perpetuate the exclusion of certain groups from outdoor recreation. This debate is studied within federally designated Wilderness, which is legally defined as “untrammeled by man,” a definition rooted in problematic colonial wilderness narratives. This research critically acknowledges these narratives by asking, not just if geotags contribute to visitation, but also which, why, and how individuals are impacted. It uses a GIS Kernel Density Estimation to determine which locations are most frequently geotagged on Flickr and Instagram and then surveys visitors at these sites to ascertain if geotags played a role in their travel decisions. It also explores how recreational impacts affect visitors’ experiences and explores visitors’ expectations for wilderness. The findings of this study suggest that social media does play a role in some visitors’ travel decisions, however, few visitors consider geotags specifically when making their decisions. Furthermore, this research suggests that, despite individuals’ concerns that geotags are “ruining nature,” most visitors’ expectations are still being met within frequently geotagged sites in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.