Planning and management for recreational activities in protected areas involves an understanding of many complex factors. Segmentation of recreation demand and of the main physical or sporting activities can contribute to the design of more efficient management strategies, which may help to maintain or significantly enhance satisfaction with the recreation experience, and this in turn could improve the interest in and appreciation of the natural environment. The current study examined the motivations of hikers in three small Natura 2000 protected areas. It establishes a typology or categorization as a contribution to better management based on a survey conducted through on-site personal interviews with a representative sample of 569 hikers. Through an analysis of the principal intervening components by means of cluster analysis, we identified three groups of hikers based on three motivational dimensions: (1) nature-minded hikers, (2) sporting hikers and (3) general-purpose hikers. The most striking results were the significant differences among group variables related to visit behaviour (frequency and duration of visits and number of people per group), previous knowledge (protection status of the areas) and recreational frequentation (trail categories and protected areas visited). A positive correlation between the degree of sympathy for nature and the degree of satisfaction with the recreational experience (including positive evaluation of the public facilities, signposting and services offered) was also observed. The results are discussed in terms of their applicability and implications in hiking management in protected natural areas such as those of Natura 2000.