Spencer McKee nears the 14,064-foot summit of Humboldt Peak in Colorado's Sangre de Cristo range.

Spencer McKee nears the 14,064-foot summit of Humboldt Peak in Colorado's Sangre de Cristo range. Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak can be seen in the backdrop. Photo Credit: Spencer McKee.

The year of 2021 saw a massive decline in number of fourteener hiking days in Colorado when compared to 2020, falling much closer to overall numbers seen in 2019 and significantly behind overall numbers seen in 2018.

According to a report released by Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, 303,000 hiker use days took place across all of Colorado's fourteeners in 2021 – a 27 percent drop from the previous year. In 2020, 415,000 hiker use days took place on fourteeners statewide, in 2019, there were 288,000, and in 2018, there were 353,000.

One shift to note that's found in the 2021 data is the 65 percent year-over-year decline in estimated hiker use days that took place in the Mosquito Range, which is home to some of the state's most popular peaks, including Mount Lincoln, Mount Bross, Mount Democrat, and Mount Sherman, linked on a route commonly called the 'Decalibron Loop.' The key factor in this drop is likely a closure of the route that was put in place by the private landowner for a large portion of the season, between May 1 and August 6. While an estimated 49,000 people hiked these peaks in 2020, only 17,000 hiked them in 2021. The hiker numbers on this route will likely see a big increase this year if plans to keep the route open are effective.

There was also a significant drop seen on Quandary Peak, which implemented a new parking and shuttle system. About 35,000 people (best estimate) climbed Quandary in 2021, compared to 49,000 in 2020.

The year-over-year drop in hiker numbers also meant a drop in economic impact of the state's fourteeners. In 2021, the statewide economic impact of fourteener climbing was estimated at $82.2 million, a 27 percent decrease compared to the $112.5 million estimated impact in 2020. This compares to $78 million in 2019 and $95 million in 2018. Economic impact numbers are based on a 2009 study that determined an average spend of $271.17 for Quandary Peak climbers, including equipment, gas, food, lodging, equipment, and other retail purchases. Obviously, a lot has changed since 2009, but the same baseline is used today.

In terms of why there was such a massive drop-off in hiker use numbers between 2020 and 2021, there are several related factors.

Access and parking restrictions on some of the state's most popular peaks are two reasons noted by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. Another big factor could be the reopening of the world as the coronavirus pandemic eased. As more businesses reopened, there were more options of where people might choose to spend their leisure time. Additionally, with more people returning to work, there may be less free time for outdoor recreation, in general.

Why do you think Colorado's fourteeners saw such a big shift in 2021 compared to prior years? Let us know in the comment section below.

Learn more about the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, which does a ton to take care of Colorado's tallest peaks, here.

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(2) comments

Phillipsjt10

I think 2020 during the height of the Covid pandemic is a major reason why we saw such a spike in hiking Colorado 14ers. People were either out of work or “working” remotely. People were also told that outside activities were safe so naturally hiking fit the bill. Colorado 14ers are still the popular thing to do when it comes to hiking in CO Anything along the front/mosquito range on a summer weekend you can still expect to see massive crowds. My wife and hiked several last summer and more this summer and can definitely attest to that. For the enthusiasts trying to conquer all the peaks researching alternate routes to summits is key. For example hiking the popular Grays and Torreys peak from the east or southwest ridge is incredibly rewarding and gets you away from the crowded north slopes close to I-70.

Sojourner

Having to pay a shuttle to take a person to the base of Quandry would definitely stop me from hiking that. Glad I hiked Quandry years before fees were put into place. When there's so many other 14'er's you can hike for free, why pay?

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