When I reached the ridge, I felt like I was standing in the staff only area at Disney World, peering over the fence at the guests milling around the park. The entire trail unfolded before me from peak to parking lot, like a long queue for a tourist attraction.
Great article. The idea of "paywalling" them is sad to me, as that is quite literally gatekeeping nature based on income. I can't help but always come back to the defunding of the Forest Service — and perhaps just a simple registration system. You can only hike if registered, but registering should be free. Ben plans to drag me up Mt. Wilson next year — next to but not the same as Wilson Peak. I've never "bagged a 14er" and don't care about it. Some of these 14er hikes don't even look all that interesting, and I can't connect with what's so special about climbing one.
That said, people obviously connect with them! Looking forward to reading more.
This is a fascinating post and gives me a lot to think about! I don't have a strong opinion, because I'm not driven to summit 14ers (I've only made it up Sneffels and Handies), and I haven't experienced the crowding. I'm doing Wilson Peak this weekend, and if I end up writing about it, I'll be sure to link to this post!
Very cool! I think the 14ers represent a tangible achievement for hikers, almost like trophies to collect. I personally don't like the word peakbagging, it seems to disrespect how challenging it can be to go up each and that there's no guarantee you'll end up getting to the top. I'm one of those people looking to climb as many 14ers as I can - I started hiking in May 2022, and since then I've done two. Me, I treat each peak with respect and am as responsible about the outdoors as I can be. I like the idea of a free registration that Kelton mentioned in another comment, as long there are a reasonable number of slots each day.
Great read, just subscribed. I blog about hiking too, do give my page a look if you can. :)
For over 18 years I've been traveling from Iowa, and now St. Louis, to the Sangre de Cristo range to hike up Lake Como road to camp and climb. In fact I'm heading there for the third time this year next week. I go at least once a year, but as many times as six over each season. Gas is my highest expense but each visit runs me around 350-500 dollars. I've spent years acquiring the gear for all four seasons so that expense has been met. I specifically enjoy that range for the seclusion and lack of people. If there where fees I would probably pay them, but I can see additional fees making it more difficult for the lower income level to enjoy Colorado's mountains. I believe fees actually affect the locals more than myself because living there your more likely to spend more time wanting to enjoy the mountains. Spending any length of time on 14ers Facebook page you feel a small group of active climbers living in Colorado posting great adventures would be the ones accumulating this possible extra expense. I don't really have as much skin in the game. Even if I come six times a year addition fees would not be the greatest expense. Tough topic. Good article. Made me think.
I agree completely
14 and parks ie
RmNP ..in my home town of estes park ..is overused ..wild creatures habitat is being disturbed by the selfie seeking tourist
Our town itself I inundated with hordes of tourists exhausting the limited resources we have here including food , medical and search and rescue missions..
I'd be all for making this national.park.a preserve and no motor vehicles allowed
By foot or bicycle only .
Conversely Parks could raise daily use fee and use a 24/7 paid toll gate ..so early birds would still have to pay
This might sway the number of visitors ..also we need to.take away airbnb permits..so.the folks who work up.here would have an option to.rent a home ..
It's not really a community as much as it is a tourist trap..
As a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, I love to see all the people on the trails. The popularity of Longs Peak, Quandary, Bierstadt, etc.. I am not sure any fee system or reservation system will deter people from crowding those peaks. The word is out and the population is here to stay. That said, I'd love to see a modest parking fee that goes to maintain the trail system, improves parking, staffs rangers on busy weekends and also puts up signage to educate users about the fragile alpine environment. If there is an income/equity concerning paywalling access to the outdoors a voucher program can be setup as well.
For those that want more solitude and more remote hiking there are still mountains and trails that don't get many visitors in Colorado. There's plenty to go around. If you want solitude on a 14er do it on a weekday or in the offseason. I have been to Yosemite twice in December and had Mariposa Grove all to myself in blissful silence and snow.
Last weekend I ran the Pikes Peak Ascent, 1500 trail runners all on the Barr Trail at the same time. Now that is some crowding!
After the 1970s an
d 80s, I shifted to 12 and 13ers, and often appreciated the congested ant lines ascending 14ers across the valley, and relished my solitude. Honestly, I do not want swarms on the less popular trails.
I am saddened by the thought that only the rich can afford to hike the 14ers. I don’t mind a nominal fee or reservations, but consider what has happened with skiing. I’m of the generation that was upset because Arapahoe Basin increased their lift tickets to $3.75 (yes, really). Now, only the well off can afford to ski. Poor Colorado is being loved to death! I hear Montana iand Utah are really nice.
Something is missing - how do they plan to charge the fee and enforce it? There are many ways in the modern age to take payment, but who then enforces it, and what is the cost for enforcement?
I hiked Grays and Torreys in July of 2021 and yes, it was heavily trafficked.
I remember seeing people I didn’t normally see out hiking. In particular, I saw families of color. I saw teenagers in cotton hoodies and jeans. They didn’t seem like they were dropping money on outdoorsy gear or a dozen energy bars.
These hikes are indeed a huge draw. but not just for people “checking off a box”. hiking your first fourteener is an enormous accomplishment. pushing above 13,000 … feeling your legs burning and your head feeling slightly dizzy … it’s an enormous rush. you feel proud.
and it’s demonstrably getting people oit of the front range and into the mountains. which is fantastic.
for peaks like Grays and Quandary and Bierstadt, to me, this means beefing up the trail to handle national-park style crowds. it’s a linear path on a handful of peaks. it’s vastly lower impact than other things people could be doing in the mountains.
the good news is volunteer groups are already hard at work building stairways around switchbacks and steep slopes.
Interesting article with lots to think about. I don't live in the US and I'm not a hiker now but have been reading about the scene on Mt Everest. Where it seems that many people climb for the experience of standing room only at the summit just to tick off an event on a bucket list and knowingly risk their lives in the process. Your comments on that drive clarify a couple of things.