Hiking Handies Peak | An Easy Class 1 Hike
Of all the Colorado 14ers, hiking Handies Peak is the easiest adventure of them all. However, this comes with a few asterisks. First, you need a 4WD car capable of creek crossings (high clearance) to make it to the upper trailhead. Otherwise add 2 miles 300 feet of elevation gain. The American Basin is famous for its summer wildflower blooms – that alone makes it worth the long drive to the San Juans for this classic climb. Here’s a good place to start your research below in my Handies Peak Route Guide.
Hiking Handies Peak: Fast Facts
Hiking Handies Peak - Southwest Slopes Route
If you don’t have a 4WD car or don’t feel comfortable driving through the creek crossing 1 mile from the trailhead, park in one nearby area. You can start hiking Handies Peak here up the 1-mile road to the trailhead. Take the well-maintained trail up and around a large ridge that lies in front of you.
Once around the ridge, you’ll see the far end of the Basin. Cross a small creek and then hike around an outcrop. During the summer months, you’ll find some great wildflower views in this part of the trail.
You’ll find yourself at the bottom of a slope with a series of switchbacks heading up. Follow the path and take care not to cut switchbacks. At the top, take a sharp left.
Head across a steep talus slope at the end of the basin. You’ll find a solid trail here to use – no scrambling required. Take a right once back on grassy slopes to meet the ridge leading to the Handies summit.
From the ridge, follow the trail towards the summit. Here are several switchbacks to weave around rocks – stay on the trail.
The summit lies just a few hundred feet ahead! Follow the sandy trail to the top and enjoy your accomplishment. Ensure you begin to descend early enough to ensure you’re back to the trailhead before afternoon thunderstorms become a problem.
It’s important to bring a good topographical map and compass with you while hiking Handies Peak. I recommend downloading this map on your phone or other electronic device, and also printing out a copy to bring with you as a backup in case anything happens to your phone along the hike.
Take the time to research weather conditions before you attempt hiking Haandies Peak. Below is a good source to get weather information for Handies Peak and other fourteeners.
The right gear will make your hike up Handies Peak much easier! This route includes steep grades, loose gravel, and a lot of opportunities to stub your toe. Leave your flip-flops at home and get a solid pair of hiking boots for hiking Handies Peak. Be sure you break them in at home before your trip, or you’ll have plenty of blisters before you know it. Here are my hiking boot recommendations.
You should always bring the ten essentials with you on your trip (see the infographic below). To carry them all, bring a backpack with 20-30 liters capacity. These are several good backpack options that won’t break the bank.
While trekking poles are not a necessity, I use them myself as they offer many benefits and make hiking easier. If you want a pair, I share my personal favorites here.
Don’t forget to bring 2 liters of water, and a good bit of snacks and food for the trail. Learn more about packing for a 14er here.
Camping near Handies Peak:
There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads near the trailhead ideal for those hiking Handies Peak. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.
Lodging near Handies Peak:
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Lake City, Ouray, and the surrounding area, ideal for those hiking Handies Peak
Handies Peak is a pristine mountain in the San Juan mountains, but the number of visitors is gradually increasing. Please help protect his area while hiking Handies Peak by observing the following Leave No Trace practices:
- Plan ahead, review the route and pick a weekday or day in September to hike.
- Stay on the trail, and keep dogs leashed on and off-trail to reduce trampling of alpine grass.
- Leave your Bluetooth speaker at home and let nature’s sound reign.
- Urinate off trail, and pack out your waste – a cathole won’t work at high altitude.
- Give wildlife a wide berth – 100 meters if possible. If they approach, back up to keep space.
- Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.
Safe travels, and good luck hiking the Decalibron Loop! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.
The origin behind the name ‘Handies Peak’ is shrouded in history. One prominent theory is that it is named after a prominent local miner in the Lake City, Colorado region who was influential during the initial Silver rush era.
The peak is one of Colorado’s most isolated fourteeners – you cannot see a road or town anywhere in the view from the summit! The American Basin is a great place for wildflower and wildlife viewing as well while you work your way up to the peak.
The road to reach the trailhead is very tough, including multiple stream crossings along the way. I recommend a good 4WD vehicle with high clearance to reach this isolated trailhead in the San Juans. Safe tavels hiking Handies Peak!
Hiking Handies Peak is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.
Hiking Handies Peak is an inherently high-risk, dangerous activity. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits at your own risk.