In Arizona, for example, the Horseshoe Bend overlook, which offers a scenic view of a canyon, has gone from something of a local secret to #instafamous. Roughly 2 million people now visit each year, compared with just a few thousand as recently as five years ago.
At many parks, bigger crowds tend to bring out those who are less experienced or prepared—and they often leave trash, cause traffic jams, and damage the environment when they wander off trails. Some places have also noticed an increase in medical emergencies. And while the number of visitors has gone up, park budgets and staff numbers have generally stayed the same, making it difficult for officials to handle the larger groups.
That’s why last November, the Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board in Wyoming asked visitors to stop geotagging photographs on social media in an effort to protect the state’s pristine forests and remote lakes. They say that by sharing a precise location on Instagram, users put fragile ecosystems and wild animals at risk.
But many influencers say that they’re helping to bring business to areas that depend on tourists. Emily Breeze Ross Watson from Charlotte, North Carolina, visited Jackson Hole in 2018 and posted photos of herself posing with a herd of bison and strolling in sight of the Grand Tetons mountain range. The local Four Seasons resort paid her to tag her location for more than 63,000 followers to see.
“I definitely think it is cool to bring awareness to the area,” she says.
On their trip, Watson and a friend, Brittany Turner, visited Jenny Lake, a spot they say they found out about through Instagram posts.
“I was in awe of it,” Turner says. “I can’t imagine them getting mad.”