Quandary Peak in Summit County, Colorado is no stranger to its share of recreational visitors. Only hours from the Front Range at an elevation of 14,265 ft. and with relatively easy access to the summit, Quandary Peak is one of Colorado’s most crowded 14er. The Peak averaged almost 50,000 hikers annually, that was, until a new reservation pilot program was introduced during the 2021 season.
Recent hiker numbers released by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI), a non-profit company partnering with the U.S. Forestry Service and Bureau of Land Management to preserve the trails, suggest this new pilot program appeared to significantly decrease hiker usage.
In 2020, hiker numbers totaled almost 49,000 between June and October. In 2021, only 33,000 hiker days were recorded, a healthy 33% decrease from a year prior. However, when you actually look at the pilot program introduced on July 30th, almost halfway through the season, the year-over-year decline in hiker usage is a staggering 46%!
The new Quandary Peak reservation program costs visitors $5 for 3 hours of parking, $20 for 7 hours, or $50 for a full day. For those visitors not interested in trailhead parking they may choose to use a 30-minute commuter shuttle from Breckenridge to the base of Quandary. Shuttle reservations cost $5 for residents (proof required) and $15 for visitors.
User feedback about the pilot program showed the shuttle system as the more popular option with an overall satisfaction score of 7.5 out of 10 over those who used the trailhead parking and rated their experience an average of 4.43 out of 10. Unhappy trailhead users cited higher costs and added complications as their major complaints.
The pilot program’s expected decline in visitors is supposed to help maintain and preserve the natural beauty of Quandary Peak. So after the pilot program went into effect the daily hiker visits dropped nearly 50% (284 visits in 2020 versus 154 trips in 2021)! It’s no surprise that Summit County considered this pilot program a success and now plans to continue it in a more permanent fashion starting June 2022.
This isn’t only happening on Colorado’s most popular peaks, it’s also in Colorado’s State Park System. Reservations were introduced earlier this month at Eldorado Canyon State Park and dates are yet to be confirmed when it will start in July, but it is expected to last through September 15, 2022. The new program will require all vehicles to have a timed system entry. The park’s maximum capacity allows for a total of 200 vehicles. Those other state pass holders without a parking reservation can still enter via a free shuttle, Eldoshuttle.com.
The Quandary Peak program follows other newly introduced reservation systems like those at Rocky Mountain National Park, Hanging Lake, and Manitou Incline as the state grapples with how to best manage the massive interest in outdoor recreation and the inevitably overcrowding that comes along with it. It seems this overcrowding trend and responding parking reservation systems are here to stay, at least for the moment.