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Fourteeners In Elk Mountain Range: The Best, Most Expensive Trails In The State

Oct 22, 2019

Colorado Fourteeners Initiative staff working on Pyramid Peak trail in 2018.
Credit Colorado Fourteeners Initiative / Courtesy Photo

The Elk Mountain Range is home to fourteeners like Maroon Peak and Snowmass Mountain, and it has some of the best and most expensive approach trails in the state. That’s according to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative’s (CFI) 2019 Fourteener Report Cards, which grade things like erosion or trail width.

In the Elk Mountain Range, North Maroon Peak was given an A, and Capitol and Maroon Peak’s were both given C+, which is better than a few years ago.

Lloyd Athearn, the Executive Director of CFI, said the fourteeners in Elk Mountain Range are some of the hardest to hike in the state, so the trails are shorter, but cost just as much to build and maintain.

“Our trails are obscenely expensive, but they’re necessary to protect the ecosystem and to facilitate responsible climbing and hiking access,” Athearn said. 

Even for the short trails near the Valley, it can cost anywhere from $75,000 to $1,000,000 to build and maintain approach trails.

A group on volunteers through the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative working on North Maroon Peak Trail in 2018.
Credit Colorado Fourteeners Initiative / Courtesy Photo

Approach trails provide a safe pathway up the mountain until the terrain gets too rough, then the trail ends and the hikers start off-hill scrambling, or finding their own way to the top.

Before CFI constructed many of the trails leading to the peaks of the fourteeners in the state, hikers and climbers would off-hill scramble. That was having a harsh impact on the vegetation in the mountains, so approach trails help limit the impact on both the hiker and land. 

But Athearn said they cannot build all approach trails the same. Every fourteener has unique vegetation, native materials and possible environmental impacts. 

“Every peak’s a little different,” he said. 

Most of the approach trails in the state are built and maintained by CFI. Some fourteeners, like Snowmass Mountain, do not have constructed approach trails quite yet. 

Athearn said those mountains have harsher inclines and environments, so it is going to take a lot of money and working hours to build approach trails.