Let’s face it: the Colorado fourteeners are getting crowded, and fast. Tens of thousands now climb the most popular peaks in the Front Range near Denver, with more than 800 people on Mount Bierstadt on the busiest day last July. If you’re looking for a hiking or scrambling opportunity without crowded trails and summits, look no further than Colorado’s 650+ thirteeners. These 13,000 foot peaks offer a nearly identical experience as the state’s 14ers, but with far more solitude, peace and quiet. Here are 7 of the best 13ers in Colorado, all within a two-hour drive of Denver.
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Why Hike a 13er Instead of a 14er?
Before I share the best 13ers in Colorado, why climb a 13er? First, as alluded to above, the see a tiny fraction of the number of visitors experienced by 14ers. On a most days, you’ll have the peak to yourself for at least some amount of time, along with most of the trail. They also offer a greater variety of choice, with more than 600 peaks ranging from class 1 hikes to class 5 technical climbs. There’s something for everyone when it comes to Colorado’s 13ers. Here are 7 of the best 13ers in Colorado.
1) Mount Audubon - Front Range
Mount Audubon is probably the most well known 13er on this list. It earns its place on the list of the best 13ers in Colorado thanks to its accessibility in the Brainard Lake Recreational Area and amazing views in the surrounding Indian Peaks Wilderness. The North Slopes route has 2,800 feet or so of gain, slightly less than most 14ers, and features a trail and hiking all the way to the summit. For all these reasons, it is often the busiest peak on this list too. Keep reading if you’re looking for one of the quietest peaks on this list.
2) Squaretop Mountain - Front Range
Few people heading up the crowded Mount Bierstadt trail realize the rarely visited Squaretop Mountain trail lies just across the road. This 13er includes a lovely hike past an alpine lake before heading up a ridge to the summit. There, you are treated to views of the twin 14ers Grays and Torreys Peak to the north, and the twin peaks Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt. As a secret gem hiding in plain side near one of the busiest peaks in the state, it deserves a spot on this list of best 13ers in Colorado.
3) Mount Sniktau - Front Range
If you’re new to hiking and climbing at altitude, or the idea of summiting a mountain makes you nervous, you may want to start with Mount Sniktau. This gentle climb involves just 1,800 feet of gain and is less than 4 miles round-trip. You get a significant boost by starting at Loveland Pass high above tree-line. Make sure you study this route as a wrong turn can take you deep into the mountains on accident. Of the best 13ers in Colorado, this is likely the best for beginners.
4) Fletcher Mountain - Ten Mile Range
Fletcher Peak is the first 13er on this list that offers a bit of a challenge. The trail ends on this route a good ways from the peak, requiring bushwhacking and scrambling skill along with solid route-finding. However it’s a rather short climb, making it a fun day-trip for experienced hikers and climbers. Bring traction and an ice axe, as snow and ice are common in the gullies on this route late into the year.
5) Atlantic Peak - Ten Mile Range
Atlantic Peak is one of the state’s centennial 13ers, the tallest 100 mountains in the state. Named for the continental divide just to the north, it’s a quiet peak you can see just a short distance away from the crowded summit of Quandary Peak. The route is not for novices, with significant bushwhacking and route-finding involved. While it never exceeds class 2 difficulty, it’s a long day that’s best saved for more experienced climbers. It’s a great intermediate peak on this list of the best 13ers in Colorado.
6) Broken Hand Peak - Sangre de Christo Range
If you want to climb Crestone Peak or Crestone Needle, you will likely have to pass through Broken Hand Pass. If you’ve thought about climbing the namesake peak that towers over the pass, you’ve had a great idea. The class 3 route to the summit is the most difficult on this list by far, with a long approach hike to south colony lake and a difficult scramble up to the pass and summit. The views from the summit of the Crestones and Kit Carson are worth all the struggle, and gives Broken Hand Peak a strong place on the ist of best 13ers in Colorado.
7) Horseshoe Mountain - Mosquito Range
Horseshoe Mountains takes the final place on the list of best 13ers in Colorado for its accessibility and distinctive shape. An old mining road near the Mount Sherman trailhead provides easy hiking access up to the summit, making it a class 1 trip despite the massive cirque and cliffs on the peak. Once again, despite being very close to a fourteener, it sees very little traffic most days. Enjoy the summit and trail to yourself!
Best 13ers in Colorado | 7 Great Hikes
As you can seee, there are great options for climbing Colorado’s 13ers. You’ll find amazing peace and solitude compared to the 14ers, and have many more options to choose from ranging from class 1 hikes to class 5 climbs. These 7 options are just a sampling of the best 13ers in Colorado: there are more than 650 to choose from scattered throughout the state. Now that you’ve got a few ideas, get out there and climb one of the best 13ers in Colorado. Click here to view all my 13er route guides in one place. I also recommend this website for even more 13er route guides.