This study examines the effects of recreational use on the soil and vegetation at a site of ecological importance (Nacimiento del Río Mundo, Albacete, Spain). The most visited sites showed increased soil compaction of approximately 50%, bare ground increase to 61 +/- 10% and a decrease in richness (from 25 +/- 2 to 15 +/- 2 species), diversity (from 4.0 +/- 0.1 to 2.7 +/- 0.4) and stratification of plant species (from 80 +/- 11 to 21 +/- 4%). The most visited sites had 90% less plant species as compared to the least visited. Intense use was associated with the presence of nitrophilous plant and vegetal species with a morphology adapted to heavy trampling. The recreational areas showed a distribution pattern of impact radiating outwards from the most used and degraded point. At the most visited point, "Los Chorros" (the spring of the river), the impact radiated outwards for about 20 m. A pilot experiment examining the effects of one-year restriction to visitors for access to a formerly impacted area showed a plant cover increase by anthropic and not by native species of 57 percent units.