260,000 hikers scramble up Colorado’s 14ers each year, spending big in nearby towns

Jason Blevins
The Denver Post
Patrick Richardson looks at the view as he climbs just above tree line at about 12,000 feet on his way to the top of Mt. Elbert, Colorado's highest 14'er on July 30, 2016. Mt. Elbert is the highest point in Colorado and the second highest mountain in the lower 48 states. Mt. Elbert tops out at 14,400 feet only 12 feet taller than Mt. Massive, it's neighbor to the north.
Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post | THE DENVER POST

It might seem like every other person in Colorado is hiking a fourteener on any given summer Saturday. While it might not actually be that crowded, the state’s highest peaks do count for about 260,000 summit-scrambling trips every year.

All those feet headed to the 54 highest points in Colorado each year deliver $70.5 million in economic impact, with some hikers spending twice as much daily as a business traveler to Denver, according to the first study of the role fourteeners play in the state’s economy.

The most highly trafficked peaks closest to the Front Range deliver some of the biggest bumps, according to the hiking impact report compiled by the nonprofit Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, which works to protect and maintain trails reaching up the state’s highest mountains.

“I think now we have a much more compelling case to take to local governments and trailhead communities that benefit from all these fourteener hikers,” said Lloyd Athearn, the executive director of the 22-year-old Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. “There is a lot of money to be gained from people on these peaks, and just recognizing that helps us build these trails so we can continue to have these peaks as a great resource for people to come out and experience nature and find themselves and test themselves.”

“You can still, on so many of these high-traffic peaks, go up midweek and have a much more solitude-like experience. I guess I was surprised more people weren’t taking off during the week to beat the crowds.”Lloyd Athearnexecutive director of Colorado Fourteeners Initiative

The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative set up 10 compact infrared trail counters on the trails accessing seven of the state’s busiest peaks in 2015, up from five in 2014. This year the group added 10 new trail counters on trails accessing 10 peaks. A fourteener checklist compiled by more than 14,000 hikers on the wildly popular website helped calculate hiking trips on every other peak.


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