- Feb 18, 2019 at 4:11 pm #3579167
Brad RogersBPL Member
@mocs123Locale: Southeast Tennessee
Does this data include backpackers only or all visitors to these areas? I see more “done in a day” people than I used to, but I’m not sure I see more backpackers. It also seems like the average age of the people I see on the trail is older. I do see some college age kids (usually carrying way to much gear) and after that it seems like everyone has grey hair. I see very few late 20’s, 30’s, or 40 year olds on the trail. Of course I realize that is when maximum responsibility is with kids and home. Do people “come back” to backpacking after the kids leave the nest, or like me, do they continue to backpack through the years when the kids are at home?Feb 18, 2019 at 4:33 pm #3579172
James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
Yeah, I agree Brad. Mostly, 30-50 year old people are car camping with the kids, often working or being involved in school and other community activities. I see a quite a few single folk in their later years(around 40) often just starting to lighten up their packs from 20 years before. There are few solo young people on the trails. I see one or two per year, maybe. Mostly it is in groups of 2-4, a few 5 or more. However, once people slow down, there are a large segment of older people. Often in small groups (2-3) but as many are solo (counting each registration.)
The numbers the DEC gives are for all visitors. To get a reading on day hikers vs backpackers, they use the trail registers, but they are often a year or two out of date by the time they have them all in and tabulated. Seems to me they were published on the web, but they were buried. They sad 2.3M to the Eastern High Peaks area alone counting both groups. I haven’t gone over there in a long time, WAY too many people. Just driving by some of the trail heads is scary with half mile lines of cars parked by the road.Feb 18, 2019 at 5:59 pm #3579192
I’m one of those ” “come back” to backpacking after the kids leave the nest” people. My kids are in their later teens now, so that frees me to do more of what I want to do. Despite much outdoors time with my kids, they are completely uninterested in camping of any sort these days; I hope they’ll rediscover it and love it, but that’s not looking good right now! But they have to find it for themselves, or not.
I camped all through childhood, backpacked in my late teens, 20s, and early 30s, then got busy with career and kids. There was no way to keep it up during those years, it was just too busy. So returning to it in the last few years – without the blue jeans, leather boots, and 7 pound pack! So much better now. I’m also more willing to consider doing without than I was before.
Plus less fear now – I’m closer to the end of my life, so taking more risks outdoors seems acceptable, since no one needs me to be there for them. It’s not the youthful belief that nothing can happen to me, nor is it living on the edge because there’s nothing to lose. Just accepting that the mortality is close at hand, so why not go enjoy it all while I can?Feb 19, 2019 at 9:52 pm #3579413
D MBPL Member
@farwalkerLocale: What, ME worry?
Frankly, as hermits and as homesteaders, we find to our horror that there are more people EVERYWHERE. But we are old. :-) We are still land hunting and it’s really hard to find remote places, there are almost none. At least in our Southwest States. And please no talk of Alaska or Canada my mate will not go there…The buffers between humanity and forest are about gone. I remember talking to a fly fisherman a few years after the movie “A River Runs Through It” came out. He said that movie wrecked it for all the folks who loved the solitude and quiet of fishing for about five to seven years after the craze and that it was finally dying down as folks eventually figured out for the most part that it was not as easy as they thought or “just not their thing”. I believe “Wild” did the same for the PCT and other trails but it’s not dying down, it’s increasing, at least at the southern areas. By the time you get to Oregon, the bubbles have thinned and it’s even more so in Washington later on. Seeing the same thing on the CDT, it’s now marked the whole way. When I did it in 1980 SOBO there was no trail. I can see how the Three Sisters area has started to consider limited entry, it’s a gorgeous place, and humanity is good at destroying what it loves inadvertently. And the USFS has cut to the bone on employees, we were some of them. I don’t mind traffic, (too much) I just hate the trashers and lack of respect. I too pack out others trash pretty regularly here in AZ. Oh and the AZT is seeing a major uptick in people starting this year. Early despite the cold and snow. (lots of water now)Feb 20, 2019 at 2:59 pm #3579508
Tipi WalterBPL Member
D M—you can’t go wrong with Alfred E. Neuman—and I concur with your post.
The two worst things to ever hit our Southeastern wilderness areas are Motorcycle Tourism on the “scenic motor roads” adjacent to wilderness and the GODAWFUL overhead jet traffic noise coming from airports out of Atlanta, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Asheville and Charlotte.
The motorcyclists on harleys use custom pipes which can be heard in a 10 mile radius and the ninja bikes scream loudly too. There’s no escape unless I go deaf. The overhead jets are so bad that I wonder why I even go out backpacking anymore.
The Skyway vid shows how motorcyclists have ruined the outdoor experience in the mountains surrounding this so-called Skyway tourist road—which is adjacent to Citico Creek wilderness and Slickrock/Joyce Kilmer wilderness. I made the vid while hiking out from a trip—and doesn’t show how really bad it gets when the thundering Harleys come out to play—Oh and btw, the road is supposed to have a 40mph speed limit but many of the bikers think it’s a racetrack and go 60 or 70mph.
The saddest part of the whole story is the Forest Service actually gave all the land up so idiots could build this road.Feb 20, 2019 at 3:13 pm #3579514
Tipi WalterBPL Member
And this one will really make it clear that there is absolutely no real wilderness left in the Eastern United States—Feb 20, 2019 at 4:10 pm #3579520
@hknewmanLocale: Western US
Noticing quite a few mostly younger backpackers on the west coast type trails, but also on the more popular interior west recreational areas as well. Where the forks of the Gila meet up to Jordan Hot Spring is seeing more visitors. Think there’s plenty being drawn to that choice experience vs exploring on their own.
Numbers-wise the “millennial” generation overtook the Boomers, but also agree a number of them will bow out of backpacking to form young families. To borrow from real estate, “peak millennial” is here as many reach age 30, and most buy that first house (i.e. their outdoor experience will soon be mowing lawns, picking weeds). Still hope most vote for continued wilderness protections so they can enjoy when their own kids leave the house (going to leave it at that).Feb 20, 2019 at 7:09 pm #3579543
Tom KBPL Member
Over the years, despite the enormous increase in the US population, this time tested formula is still valid: Number of backpackers encountered is proportional to 1/distance from the nearest trail squared. I have spent many, many days, sometimes weeks, in the Sierra without having seen another human being. There are just so many priceless little gems out there where one can enjoy complete solitude.Feb 20, 2019 at 8:31 pm #3579562
That’s a relief to hear, Tom, that it’s not all mobs in the Sierra. I’ve watched a few of the AT vloggers and to me the group camps just look awful. I guess that makes me an old curmudgeon. I probably would have enjoyed a few nights like that when I was much younger – a big raucous party – but now I really just want a nice quiet, peaceful night when I’m hiking. I want to hear animals, wind, rain, and a minimum of people at 2am. I don’t mind a little noise around the campfire or mealtime, but if it never settles down all night…I don’t hate people, but I appreciate quiet people more!Feb 20, 2019 at 8:58 pm #3579566
Lester MooreBPL Member
@satoriLocale: Olympic Peninsula, WA
I don’t hate people, but I appreciate quiet people more!
Yes. I’d much rather encounter 100 courteous and responsible hikers during a day of backpacking than just one loud or irresponsible hiker. As with many areas of life, it seems like a small minority cause 90% of the problems we see in the wilderness. I view problems caused by increased trail popularity (noise, resource damage, poor campsite selection, E coli contamination) as being more of an education and stewardship issue (LNT) than a numbers problem. Not sure how to best solve the education problem as anybody can use the wilderness, whether they have the right mindset or not.
BTW, if you’re unfamiliar with a hiking area, this neat website lets you see a heatmap of how heavily used a trail is:Feb 20, 2019 at 10:35 pm #3579590
Monte MastersonBPL Member
@septimiusLocale: Changes Often
Millennials and Gen-Xer’s are more into mountain biking, rock climbing and trail running than they are backpacking. Sure, you’ll still notice a lot of young people on the JMT and other fashionable trails.
When I do Summer hikes around Flagstaff I see at least 10 mountain bikers for every hiker or backpacker. One morning a pack of 70 or more mountain bikers passed me by on a forest road, peddling hell bent for leather in one of those distance races they have around Flag. Pretty cool looking really.
Seems like over half of the young people working in outdoor stores are climbers
Feb 25, 2019 at 3:08 am #3580439
- This reply was modified 3 months ago by Monte Masterson.
Diane “Piper” SoiniBPL Member
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara
Last April, I hiked a segment of the PCT between Whitewater and Agua Dulce. I saw a lot of people but I still managed to camp by myself many nights and was pretty lonely.
This year I’m planning a hike in the Los Padres. My experience hiking in the Los Padres has always been that once I’m about 10 miles in, I’m following bear prints, not human footprints.
Mar 4, 2019 at 4:16 am #3581687
- This reply was modified 2 months, 4 weeks ago by Diane "Piper" Soini.
D MBPL Member
@farwalkerLocale: What, ME worry?
I live at the southern terminus of the AZT. Because of the recent deep snowfall, we have started to get many more hikers attempting a thru-hike than ever before. The snow will allow more surface water than we have had in 40 years. It is also, unfortunately, attracting thru-hiking celebs who will cause even more traffic on the trail. We have already had to rescue several who got in over their heads. This trail is not like the PCT and is very rugged. Scenic but rugged.Mar 15, 2019 at 1:49 am #3583605
Steven ThompsonBPL Member
Popularity is a challenge, especially when it comes to permits. But let me encourage you to not give up on the JMT. If you can give yourself +1 to +2 days of flexibility a walk up permit is a viable option since they hold a % of permits for walk ups. Call and the rangers will be able to advise how best to go about this.
When I hiked the JMT I nearly gave up because I couldn’t secure a permit reservation. The rangers encouraged me to come without a permit and that something would get figured out in real time if I had a day or so of flexibility. As it turned out showed up at the valley ranger station at 4:45PM and was able to score a same day permit with a first night camp at Little Yosemite Valley. I declined that and lined up a 4am the next and got a next day permit with no restrictions. (had that failed I would have waited until after 11am when no show permits get reallocated and would have taken an LYV for that evening).
I’ve hiked maybe 40 summers in the Sierra, 3 times I had reserved permits. The remainder I did walk up permits and have always gotten the route I wanted. So if you can’t get the reservation, just show up.Mar 15, 2019 at 3:53 am #3583627
@ryanLocale: Central Rockies
I obviously follow this quite a bit – more backpackers = a better business when you’re selling goods and services to backpackers.
The rate of US population growth has slowed since the 1990s. Today, it’s something like half of what it was 25 years ago, and it’s under 1% now.
So let’s just assume that a population growth rate of 1% resulted in a 1% increase each year in people going backpacking. That’s a marginal amount that few of us would notice, especially if we were trying to sell goods and services to this market.
But that’s not what’s happening – at least out here in most of the west. Trails have become noticeably more crowded. Even what used to be remote, secret spots.
My first traverse of the Wind River Range – on trails (Highline and Fremont) was in 1989. I did a 130-mile hike of what is now the CDT – in late August nonetheless – and encountered only a handful of parties, every couple of days.
My last summer trip to the Winds, on what is now considered a “high route” – just a few years ago – I met a few dozen people a day, encountered trash, fire rings, tree carvings, and TRAILS (unofficial – they were there just because of traffic). I was heartbroken, not because more people were enjoying the trail, but because a formerly pristine off-trail region of a wilderness area had turned into the type of “wilderness” that we now see in so much of the Colorado Rockies and California Sierra. The Roper route has better trails in parts of it than some of the maintained trails here in WY.
Are more people backpacking now? Is the % of our population who backpacks regularly higher than it was 25 years ago?
Maybe it’s Instagram (social media). Maybe it’s bloggers and youtubers wanting to make their mark on the world by stamping their name on their favorite spots (I’m guilty of this too). Maybe it’s the proliferation of guidebooks that have been published since Falcon Press became so successful. Maybe it’s Backpacker, or Backpacking Light, using our increased reach to promote the sport.
Today’s technology has allowed us to distribute more stories, more photos, more videos, that promote this wonderful activity. We have made an impact, certainly.
But some of that impact has been quite negative, and very disrespectful to the wilderness/place itself.
But we (the industry) seems more keen to justify our actions (more awareness = more conservation!) but unfortunately, that’s not always happening – and the collateral damage can’t be ignored: more awareness/promotion = more people = more impact.
It’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes.
I want to be an idealist and think I’m in this for the greater good of land preservation and conservation, but some days I wonder what tech has really done for all of this.Mar 15, 2019 at 12:35 pm #3583651
James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
Since 1980 there has been a around a 31% increase in USA population (from 226.5M to 327.2M.)
In 1980 my average pack weight for a weekend was around 45 pounds. In 2018 my average pack weight for a week was around 21pounds (up a bit from previous years.)
In 1980 we had 2 daughters we took car camping mostly with a trip or two into the woods. By 1985, we were in the woods again for most trips. In most cases, we didn’t see a lot of people. Trails were often overgrown, difficult to follow, and scrubbed in…a lot like a deer path. By 1995, the kids were grown up enough we could leave them alone and started doing more, longer, trips.
It was readily apparent that there were more people on the trails between 1980 and 1995. Trails had been opened up, we got paranoid about drinking the water, we saw a lot more people in the woods, and, I saw several “dead” lakes (high acid, no breeding population of trout.) And, we saw LOTS of trash.For the next 10 years things stayed about the same despite major efforts by the state to clean things up, clear trails, allocate more dollars to fish hatcheries, EPA laws protecting against acid rain, etc.
By 2015, acid rain had been abated by over 70%, new populations of trout had been introduced, stocking of eagle, turkey and other species was suspended, moose began moving back into the area, loons were thriving …things were looking up… More people were heading into the woods to see critters than ever before.
Also in 2010, backcountry rescues were up, a few baby boomers were bringing their adult children (and often grand children) on the same trip. Back in the ’80s we were unusual in the sense we went out with young children.
Today, it is not uncommon to see family groups with 4-7 year olds 7-10 miles in. Trash is MUCH reduced, especially on trails, despite the much higher number of people. Fewer trees are being taken down, in fact I go out with a spring crew to clear a few working with DEC permission, of course. I often stop to cut away 2-3″ scrub on or around a trail, anytime. I carry a saw for this purpose. We have several groups working to repair old lean-too’s in the ADK’s. People are good for something in the woods. Animals use the trails, too. In most of the wilderness, the wander for a half mile or so along a trail then off into the woods they go.
Mostly, there is little electronics in the ADK’s. Too many hills and valleys. While you can get a signal on top of a hill, it is not reliable while hiking. Even GPS units don’t work well with tracks wandering a mile or more off-track depending on terrain. Heavy forests, often mean weak or iffy signals. Again, they are unreliable. I tend not to use them, though I went through a couple units.
Trails change all the time. What used to take you down and around a hill now takes you over the hill. Mass blowdowns often cause a half mile or more of bushwhack to get around. but this has more to do with climate/timber growth than people, I would be willing to bet.
Personally, I far prefer that the majority of hikers stay away from the “good” spots and congregate in the EHP area. Easier to keep track of that way. Since this is less than 10% of the ADK’s, this is fine with me. They can have the glamour of being “46ers.”
I agree that technology has changed the average hiker. From being better prepared to better equipped to more electronic gadgetry. Today’s people often show up 30mi in with 30 pounds on their backs. In 1980, this was a FEAT. Today it is common. Most trails are truly a walk in the woods. And, ya’know, I only got one question in the past 5 years about where the bathroom was. No, I didn’t even laugh, at least out loud.Mar 15, 2019 at 12:48 pm #3583653
Monte MastersonBPL Member
@septimiusLocale: Changes Often
Even though US population growth has slowed overall, there has been huge growth in many of the Western states. And the Winds have received a lot of buzz over the past 10 years, making it one of the trendy places to backpack, However I’m still not sure that per capita backpacking has increased. The outdoor gear industry’s reported declines are probably a pretty good indicator of slightly less interest in backpacking.
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