14er Hiking Use Estimates

2015 Colorado 14er Hiker Use Days Estimate--7.29.2016After several years of study, Colorado Fourteeners Initiative is releasing the following report that estimates that Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks –the “14ers– experienced 260,000 hiker use days in 2015. This level of recreational use suggests a statewide economic impact of more than $70.5 million, based on past 14er-related expenditure studies. Download the report in PDF.

CFI’s hiking use report culminates two seasons of data collection at nine sites tracking use on eight 14er peaks across the state. (A 10th location, Mount Democrat, was not included in the use projections due to concerns over the initial placement of the trail counter and the potential that its location might have led to inflated hiker counts on that mountain.) Projections based on crowdsourced 14er “checklists” posted on the 14ers.com website were used to suggest use levels on all other 14ers across the state. We made a few lists and pulled out some factoids from the study that you might find interesting. If you want to dig under the hood to learn more about how these estimates were calculated, check out this explanation of the methods used.

CFI has long been interested in the amount of hiking use these popular peaks receive. Colorado’s 14ers are among the most sought-after mountain peaks in the country. They also possess some of the most fragile alpine landscapes. Hiking use is confined into a very short four-month climbing season when the mountains are largely free of snow.

Natural resource impacts in the fragile alpine tundra environment, stemming from the lack of properly designed and constructed summit trails on the 14ers, led to CFI’s founding back in 1994. Our “14er Report Card” released in 2015 showed the need for $24 million to build out and improve the summit trail network. Better understanding hiking use levels, dispersal over the climbing season, and changes over time are important factors in determining the link between hiking use and changing on-the-ground conditions of natural surface summit trails.

CFI has 20 counters out on the 14ers this summer — twice as many as we did in 2015. Check back next year to see how our estimate of hiking use gets further refined as we have a broader array of data collection sites providing 24/7 monitoring of 14er hiking. Once we have several years of data, we will be in a better position to comment on long-term changes in hiking use.

Special thanks goes out to Emily Barnes, CFI’s 2016 summer CLIMB intern, who performed the analysis for this study and assisted in placing and dowloading trail counters this summer.