Colorado’s fourteeners saw 311,000 hiker days in 2016, according to trailside counters that measure use on the state’s 54 14,000-foot-high peaks.
That’s up more than 50,000 from 2015, but the 16 percent increase likely reflects a more accurate tally as the Colorado Fourteener Initiative was able to double the number of counters on the trails that lead to summits.
With 20 infrared counters positioned on trails accessing 23 fourteeners in 2016 — up from five in 2014 and 10 in 2015 — the group has been able to more accurately measure hiker traffic. A hiker day is one hiker on the trail for one day.
“Our predictive model gets better with more data points,” said the initiative’s executive director Lloyd Athearn.
But there was still an increase in traffic. Mount Elbert, the state’s highest point and most trafficked peak for the second year in a row, saw 29,000 user days in 2016, up from 25,000 in 2015. Mount Sherman and Pikes Peak also saw more hikers, while the easy-to-get-to Grays and Torreys peaks, Mount Bierstadt and Quandary Peak saw consistently high numbers similar to 2015.
Athearn suspects the somewhat static numbers on those close-in fourteeners probably has more to do with capacity for parking than demand.
“People oftentimes will say ‘Oh my there are so many more people on Grays and Torreys or Quandary’ but it seems to be pretty consistent over the last few years,” Athearn said. “I think capacity limitations in terms of parking and roads is behind that. When parking lots and roads are full, you can’t fit any more cars and when you can’t fit any more cars you can’t get any more people on the trails.”
Last year the initiative’s team installed counters on several remote and difficult fourteeners, including Wilson Peak and Mount Sneffels. Those counters showed higher use than the initiative predicted in 2015 based on counter numbers from similar peaks. Most of the routes that showed increased traffic are the least-climbed in the state, with fewer than 5,000 hiker days a year.
The Colorado Fourteener Initiative ran its use numbers through an economic model to find that hiking fourteeners delivered an economic impact of $84.3 million to the state, based on studies by Colorado State University economists.
All these numbers support the protection of Colorado’s well-trod peaks by showing more than just growing demand. With the Colorado Fourteener Initiative’s trail work, the group is able to see how traffic impacts trails and identify areas in need of critical work. In 2015, the group released its first “Fourteener Report Card,” a three-year inventory of trails winding up 39 fourteeners. That report revealed the state’s fourteeners were indeed getting loved to death, with trails needing at least $24 million in repairs and reconstruction.
Crunching the latest usage numbers, trail protectors can correlate use with impacts and identity if problems are related to more people on the trails, trail-design and construction issues, or even weather.
“This helps us stay on track with our promise of trying to protect these peaks and make sure they’ve got sustainable trails on them,” Athearn said
The map and list show all peaks higher than 14,000 feet in elevation in Colorado. Click a map marker for details, including estimated hiker use days in 2016; use the dropdown menu to zoom to a peak; click the icon in the top right corner of the map to switch between topographical, terrain and satellite views.