Hiking Mount Princeton: A Brilliant Colorado 14er

Mt Princeton rises dramatically above the Arkansas River Valley and the town of Buena Vista in central Colorado, dominating the skyline to the west. With a road ascending high up its slopes dating back to the mining era, it offers an easy approach for those with 4WD and high clearance on their vehicle. Those without have a slightly longer hike from the lower trailhead. Regardless of which you start at, it’s a classic Colorado climb and a good moderate difficulty fourteener. Before hiking Mount Princeton, plan your trip with my route guide below.

New to 14ers? Check Out my 14er Beginners Guide to Get Started!

Hiking Mount Princeton: Fast Facts

Mt Princeton Route Guide - East Slopes

Any trip hiking Mount Princeton starts with the trailheads. If you have a 4WD vehicle, you can make it up the Mt Princeton Road up to around 11,000 feet, where there’s an area to park. Otherwise, park below at the main trailhead and either hike or hitchhike your way up. At 11,800 feet, take a right onto the trail near the end of the road.

Continue along the trail as you near the ridge crest. Beyond, at 12,000 feet, you will be able to see the route ahead: a traverse along the slope ahead of you to the ridge that brings you to the summit.

As you traverse the slope, the trail becomes rocky and less easy to follow. Rock movement obscures the trail; look for cairns (small human-made rock pikes) to mark the way. Cross several small gullies along this section as you near the ridge. Near 12,800 feet, turn left to take a new trail to the ridge and continue hiking Mount Princeton.

From the ridge, turn right and begin climbing towards the summit. The route here becomes more solidly Class 2 but never exceeds that difficulty so long as you stay on route.

The final few hundred-foot crux of the route below the summit. While not technical, scrambling at this altitude takes a lot of energy, and it’s easy to trip. Take your time picking your way to the summit.

Once you make it to the top, enjoy your accomplishment! Get a photo, enjoy a snack, and make sure you head back with plenty of time to reach the tree line before afternoon thunderstorms become a problem. I hope you found my Mt Princeton Route Guide helpful and informative! Good luck hiking Mount Princeton, and safe travels on the trail!

Mt Princeton Route Guide

My Mt Princeton Route Guide includes this helpful topographical map of the area to bring with you. I recommend downloading it on your phone or other digital device and printing out a paper backup to bring with in case anything happens to your electronics while you are hiking Mount Princeton.

Mt Princeton Route Guide

My Mt Princeton Route Guide includes these weather forecast sources for the route. It’s a good practice to check the forecast multiple times, from multiple sources, as your climb date approaches so you can plan appropriately and cancel if necessary. It’s a critically important step if you plan on hiking Mount Princeton.

Mountain Forecast Mt Princeton

NOAA Weather Forecast Mt Princeton

Mt Princeton Route Guide

The lower, main Mount Princeton Trailhead can be reached by most 2WD passenger vehicles. 4WD vehicles with good clearance can make it much further up the mountain.

DIRECTIONS TO THE MOUNT SHAVANO TRAILHEAD:

On CR 322, drive 0.8 miles to a fork in the road. Bear right into the Mt. Princeton trailhead. This trailhead is at 8,900′ and there is a large parking area. If you have a good clearance 4WD, you can continue up the narrow 322 (Mt. Princeton) road. Just after the lower parking area, there is a fork in the road – stay right on the main road. Drive 3 miles to the radio towers at 10,800′. There is parking here for a couple of vehicles or turn left and continue on the 322A road. Between 3.2 and 3.4 miles up the Princeton road, there are some small camping spots near 11,000′ – with some parking. The road gets worse after the camping spots and there is very limited parking above this point.
 
Drive 3.2 miles to a “Y” junction. Stay left on FR 252 and continue to another small junction, near a cattle guard, at ~6.2 miles. Cross the cattle guard and drive a bit farther to reach the Shavano+Tabeguache trailhead.

When I hike 14ers like Mount Princeton, I always wear hiking boots rather than shoes or sneakers. They provide better traction and ankle support for tough scrambles like you’ll find while hiking Mount Princeton. Here are my top 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 on this mountain, 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 Mount Princeton:

There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along the road leading to the trailhead ideal for those hiking Mount Princeton. There are more spots if you continue along the road beyond the trailhead. Note that camping is not allowed at the trailhead. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.

Lodging near Mount Princeton:

There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Buena Vista and the surrounding area, ideal for those hiking Mount Princeton.

Help keep Mount Princeton pristine by following these Leave No Trace practices while hiking Mount Princeton. This includes:

  • 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 Mount Princeton! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.

Coming Soon!

Hiking Mount Princeton is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.

  1. Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
  2. Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
  3. Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
  4. Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
  5. Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
  6. Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.

NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY BEGINNERS GUIDE FOR A SAFE FIRST SUMMIT!

Hiking Mount Princeton 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.

Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit

Alex is an Eagle Scout and mountaineer living in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. You can subscribe to his Next Summit Newsletter here.

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