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  • Writer's pictureTeam Backcountry

Trail Traffic: 2020 in Review

In a year when the safest place to be was outside, we review the last 12 months on the Backcountry Wilderness Area trail systems.

When the Outdoor Foundation put out its 2019 Outdoor Participation Report last January, little did the world know that the Great Outdoors would soon rise as the chief environment for people to recreate, socialize, and handle the stresses that come with a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. According to the study, of the people who report they go (recreate) outside, 63 percent report they go outside within 10 miles of their home. For people who call Highlands Ranch home, this meant an increase in outdoor activity due to COVID-19 was likely to happen inside the community and on our trail systems.

In mid-December 2020, we pulled data from the trail counters we have located at all of the entrance and exit points of our three trail systems—Highlands Point, Rocky Gulch, and Wildcat Mountain. We started collecting trail information this way in 2018 and we now are noticing trends based on the way people are using our 13 miles of singletrack trails. Here's a look at what we're seeing. Note: When we reference a "trail use," this when a person enters and exits one section of trail.

When we're looking at 2019 vs 2020 in overall trail uses, there was an 86 percent increase.

The trail uses numbers skyrocketed in March, April, and May (during the COVID-19 Stay-at-Home order) when we usually see the main uptick in use starting in late-May through the summer. Not only were people exploring our trails more, but the dry summer weather left very few days when the trails weren't in good riding condition.

While all of our trails saw a distinct increase in 2020, over the last two years, the Wildcat Mountain Trails more than doubled its trail uses from around 20,000 users each in 2018 and 2019 to more than 40,000 uses in 2020.

While the growth curve is sharp, the use of the Wildcat Mountain trails still accounts for only 1 in 10 trail uses paling in comparison to the Highlands Point/Rocky Gulch trails.

The trails got a lot of use in 2020 and we couldn't be more excited that our community enjoyed them throughout the pandemic. If you are looking to avoid the busiest times on our trails, the data suggests heading out on Monday, Thursday, and Friday before 8 am or after 5 pm.

Even though a lot of people enjoyed the Backcountry Wilderness Area trail in the last year, our local wild place is still the nature escape you are looking for. At any given hour, there is only an average of just less than 25 trail uses per hour (or, about two people per mile of trail).


Notes and Thoughts

Why is there such a large increase in use from the Bucksnort gate on the Highlands Point Trails?

The Bucksnort Trail gate is situated between the Highlands Point trails (closest to the Grigs Parking Lot) and the Rocky Gulch trails, all popular routes. Additionally, the Zoe's Rest bench is located just to the west of the gate and is a regular stop for walkers and hikers, seeking a quick rest or some shade, who may continue on the Douglas Country East/West Trail rather than access the rest of the singletrack trails.

Why did the Rocky Gulch Gates see the largest jump in uses? The Rocky Gulch trail sits on the northeast slope of the Douglas Country East/West Trails, opposite of the Highlands Point Trail System. In addition to many users looping these trails into different routes, these trails also have direct access routes into a neighborhood of Highlands Ranch. Many of these residents may have realized how close these trail amenities are to their homes during the Stay-at-Home order and started exploring more regularly.


More than ever, it is our simple request for people to be kind to one another and our trail system. We're grateful to have this close-to-home refuge for when we need the fresh air, a little exercise, and an expansive view. Make sure to continue making trail etiquette a priority and helping fellow users when they need it. We always love to see what adventures you are on when you are enjoying our trails, so make sure to tag us on Facebook and Instagram. And as always, please let us know if you have any questions!

Team Backcountry

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