Hiking the Decalibron Loop | Climb 4 Great 14ers
The Decalibron Loop consists of four 14ers: Mt Democrat, Mt Cameron, Mt Lincoln and Mt Bross. It’s the one spot in Colorado you can climb four 14ers in a single day, if conditions and luck allows. The mountains all share a single ridgeline, making it a simple loop trail to reach them all.
Please remember that the summit of Mt. Bross is on private property and is closed at this time. You’ll likely see others climbing it, however this is endangering the open status of Mt. Lincoln & Democrat, as the owners are considering closing them as well to prevent trespassing on Mt. Bross. At this time, please use the Decalibron loop bypass trail just below the summit, which has granted access.
Decalibron Loop Fast Facts
Hiking the Decalibron Loop - Kite Lake Route
Start your trip along the Decalibron Loop at the Kite Lake trailhead – it’s a rocky road but most 2WD vehicles can make it (I once managed it in a prius!). Head north along the lake, towards the Democrat-Cameron saddle. You’ll climb a series of moraines up to the saddle, passing several historic mining structures on the way. These are dangerous ruins, so enjoy them from the trail to stay safe.
Park at the Kite Lake Trailhead and head north along the lake’s shoreline to begin the Decalibron Loop. While you can’t tell from looking at now, the lake gets its name from its kite-like shape. After a little bit of hiking, and after passing a through old mining remains, you’ll take a hard left before you head into a more rugged section of switchbacks. Your aim is the saddle between Mount Democrat to your left, and Mount Cameron to the right. Pass by a small prospector’s hole just before reaching the saddle.
Once you make it to the saddle, you’ll be treated to amazing views of the basin beyond. Pause to catch your breath if you need to, before turning left to ascend Democrat’s north slope. The trail here is rugged, switchbacking up the mountain through boulders and rocks. Take your time and mind your step. Be wary of a false summit here, as you still have a short bit to go beyond what looks like the summit.
Make it past this false point, pass another old mining ruin, and climb the final 150 feet or so to reach your first 14er summit of the day. Mount Democrat can be climbed as a single peak, in which case you can take the same route back to the trailhead. If you want to keep climbing, read on!
Once you’ve tagged Mount Democrat you can turn your attention to Mount Cameron and Mount Lincoln. Head down to the saddle the same way you ascended, and then head up the ridge towards Mt Cameron. There may be snow and a cornice if you are hiking early in the year. Cameron has a very broad, flat summit, and can get extremely windy. The views are great, and the route on to Mount Lincoln is fairly obvious.
The short connecting traverse hike from Mount Cameron to Lincoln is very short – it will take you 10-15 minutes at most. There are more mining ruins to check out, and some steep drop-off’s and rocky sections that make this my favorite part of the hike, even though it never exceeds a class 1 difficulty level.
Mount Lincoln is a more rugged peak, with a little scrambling required to reach the summit. From the top, look north for a gorgeous view of Quandary Peak. Head back towards Mount Cameron before turning left to bypass its summit. Head towards the Cameron-Bross Saddle to its left.
Mount Bross is your last remaining peak, but it lies on private property. At this time, the landowners have not granted access out of concern regarding liability issues. Repeated trespassing is threatening access to Kite Lake and the entire Decalibron Loop. Please stick to the bypass trail below the summit Mount Bross and return once access is granted. (It’s being worked on by a coalition of concerned organizations including the Colorado Mountain Club and Colorado Fourteeners Initiative).
The path down Mount Bross is notorious for its steep profile and slippery, loose scree (pebbles and small rocks). When hiking down, they come loose repeatedly and act like marbles. Some people advocate climbing this section first, and descending from Democrat, to mitigate the issue. You can make the choice – just follow this route guide in reverse.
Along the route down, you’ll eventually take a sharp left to move across a gully, before continuing straight down its side. Be careful you don’t cross too early and get into more difficult terrain. Once off the scree, enjoy a last hike through meadows and across a stream to reach the Kite Lake trailhead where you first began! I hope you enjoyed hiking the Decalibron Loop!
Feel free to print this topographical map of the Decalibron Loop. I recommend saving a digital copy on your phone, as well as bringing a backup paper copy in case anything goes wrong or your battery dies. You don’t want to be up there without a way to navigate.
The right gear will make your hike along the Decalibron 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 the Decalibron Loop. 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 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 the Decalibron Loop:
There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads near the trailhead ideal for those hiking the Decalibron Loop. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.
Lodging near the Decalibron Loop:
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Fairplay, Breckenridge, or Alma, ideal for those hiking the Decalibron Loop
The Decalibron Loop is getting busier and busier. The owners please ask that you follow Leave No Trace practices during your trip to help keep the Kite Lake area for wildlife and other visitors. These include the following tips:
- 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 Decalibron is the only place in America where you can reach four 14,000 foot peaks through a single-day class 2 hike: Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Bross. The area was heavily mined in the late 19th and early 20th century, with three of the peaks (Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross) privately owned through a series of mining claims. Access to the mountains has closed several times over the past 20 years due to liability concerns and overcrowding.
Mount Lincoln was named during the Civil War by the miners from the north that were working and living on its slopes. A different mining group working nearby from further south named their peak Mount Democrat as an implicit rebuke to the other miners. Mount Bross was named for William Bross (1813-1889), Lieutenant Governor of Illinois from 1865 to 1869, who owned mining property near the town of Alma. He made an early ascent of Mount Lincoln in 1868 and was overcome by the beauty of the place. Mount Cameron’s name origin is less certain, either related to a Republican Senator or a Union General.
Many mining structures remain along the Decalibron Loop. Please stay away from them, stay on trail, and respect closed private property. This helps ensure the area remains open and accessible to those who come after you.
Hiking the Decalibron Loop 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 the Decalibron and other mountains, scrambling, and climbing up Colorado’s high peaks are inherently high-risk, dangerous activities. 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.