National Forest Foundation

Find Your Fourteener

Find Your Fourteener - Launching a Path Forward on Colorado's Iconic Peaks

With 54 peaks in Colorado above 14,000 feet, 48 of which span across six of the state’s National Forests, the opportunities to feel like you’re touching the sky are almost endless.

Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks, known as “Fourteeners,” are legendary among hiking aficionados. Every season people make 311,000 trips up one or more Fourteeners, making these some of the most popular hikes in the country. However, surging visitation is threatening fragile alpine biodiversity and critical water sources atop these peaks. Local trail groups are unable to keep pace with the growing impacts as more and more people tick “hiking a Fourteener” off of their bucket list. The problem is particularly acute on the 48 Fourteeners that lie on Colorado’s National Forests.

The tundra on Fourteeners – the largest tundra ecosystem in the lower 48 – is unique Colorado habitat. Home to rare plants and wildlife like the pika, marmot, rosy finch and ptarmigan, the tundra also delivers Colorado’s headwaters.

Collaboration is necessary to improve the future for Fourteeners. To engage local groups and expand the work each year, the National Forest Foundation (NFF) has launched Find Your Fourteener. This ambitious statewide campaign is bringing together Colorado stewardship organizations to protect the tundra by creating sustainable routes in areas most at risk from increasing use. 

Improving trails on Colorado’s Fourteeners is not a new idea; groups including the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI), the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, Colorado-based youth corps, and many other conservation and volunteer organizations have been involved with these trails for decades. These groups are now coming together, along with the National Forest Foundation, to more strategically address the needs of Fourteeners state-wide.

A member of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps builds new trail on Mount Elbert.

In 2015, CFI released a “Colorado Fourteeners Report Card” that rated Fourteener trail and ecosystem conditions, determining that more than $24 million in baseline investments are needed to create sustainable routes to the summits of all of Colorado’s Fourteeners. NFF will work with partners to tackle many of these projects in a tiered and strategic effort, and that will prioritize “front country,” “mid country,” and “back country” peaks.

When people first began climbing these sky-scraping peaks, Colorado had about half a million residents. Now, more than half that many people reach the summit of the state’s Fourteeners every year. Those early adventurers likely didn’t worry about fragile alpine plans or watershed impacts. However, today it’s critical that we work together to restore and protect these special places and ensure that one hundred years from now, new generations of adventurers can ford the same pristine creeks, skirt trout-filled mountain lakes, and feel the same sense of accomplishments that early mountaineers did.

The NFF’s Find Your Fourteener campaign is a long-term effort to ensure that these enduring peaks remain healthy, accessible and inviting for decades to come. As Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service said, “The vast possibilities of our great future will become realities only if we make ourselves responsible for that future.” That future is now and the responsibility is ours.

Species such as mountain goats coexist with hikers on trails in fragile, high alpine ecosystems like this route up Quandary Peak.

2017 Projects

Mount Elbert (with the Leadville District of the Pike & San Isabel National Forests, Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, Wildland Restoration Volunteers, Colorado Mountain Club, Colorado Correctional Industries)

Quandary Peak (with the Dillon District of the White River National Forest, Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, Colorado Mountain Club)

Pikes Peak (with the Pikes Peak District of the Pike & San Isabel National Forests, Rocky Mountain Field Institute, Colorado Mountain Club, Mile High Youth Corps)

Rock Rigging Training (with Rocky Mountain Field Institute, Southwest Conservation Corps, Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Mile High Youth Corps)

Alpine Stewards Training (with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado)

Technical rock rigging skills are essential for trail building and improvements in high alpine environments. In 2017 crews from organizations across Colorado come together to build capacity and learn these key skills.

Featured Blog PostS: 

September 6, 2017: Find Your Fourteener: Putting up a Big Tent to Support Trail Restoration

August 15, 2017: Finding Creative Solutions to Ramp Up Work on Colorado's Fourteeners

July 24, 2017: Appreciating Trail Maintenance on the White River's Quandary Peak First-Hand

May 4, 2017: Sustainable Access for Quandary Peak

April 17, 2017: Find Your Fourteener: Creating a New Path for Collaborative Stewardship

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