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Best 14ers Near Vail Colorado

The Best 14ers Near Vail, Colorado: Ultimate Guide to 16 Stunning Summits

Situated west of the Front Range and just north of the Sawatch peaks, Vail is a great choice for a fourteener base camp. There are more than two dozen 14,000-foot peaks within a two-hour drive of Vail, providing numerous options to choose from based on your level of experience and priorities. Whether you want a peak with few crowds, something for beginners, or an overnight backpacking trip, there are great 14ers to choose from near Vail, Colorado.

This article will provide you with all the information you need to tackle these stunning summits, from trailheads and Leave No Trace tips to elevation gain, distance, and difficulty levels.





Table of Contents

Vail, Colorado: An Ideal Colorado 14er Base Camp

Vail, Colorado, is located in the central part of the state, nestled in the Rocky Mountains. It sits west of the Front Range and north of the Sawatch Range, which are two of the major mountain ranges in Colorado known for their 14,000-foot peaks, or “14ers.”

Major Transportation Routes and Highways

Getting between Vail and the nearby 14ers is easy thanks to the two major routes that pass through town:

  • Interstate 70 (I-70): This is the primary east-west highway that runs through Vail, providing easy access to Denver to the east and Grand Junction to the west. I-70 is a critical route for reaching many of the 14ers in the region.
  • U.S. Route 24: This highway intersects with I-70 near Vail and heads south, providing access to the Sawatch Range and its many 14ers.





Nearby Cities

  • Denver: Located approximately 100 miles east of Vail, Denver is the largest city in Colorado and serves as a major transportation hub.
  • Aspen: About 100 miles southwest of Vail, Aspen is another popular mountain town known for its skiing and outdoor activities.
  • Leadville: Situated about 35 miles south of Vail, Leadville is a historic mining town that serves as a gateway to many 14ers in the Sawatch Range.

Vail’s central location and accessibility make it an excellent base camp for those looking to explore the nearby 14ers, offering both convenience and a variety of amenities.

Vail Colorado nearby 14ers

Best 14ers Near Vail: 11 Favorite Routes

There are more than two dozen 14ers you can reach within a two-hour drive of Vail. However, these sixteen 14ers are my favorite, spread out across eleven different routes. Here they are ranked based on their proximity to Vail, starting with the closest peaks and trails.





1. Mount of the Holy Cross

Approx. 50 minute drive from Vail, Colorado
  • Standard Route: North Ridge
  • Trailhead: Half Moon
  • Elevation Gain: 5,600 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 12 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 2 Scramble
  • Range: Sawatch Range

New Clue Emerges 14er Missing Hiker

Mount of the Holy Cross stands out not just for its impressive height but also for the iconic cross-shaped snowfield visible on its eastern face. This peak is a favorite among hikers for its stunning alpine scenery and relatively lesser crowds compared to other 14ers.

The North Ridge route offers a mix of forested trails and rugged terrain, making it an engaging climb for those seeking both beauty and challenge, with campsites along Holy Cross Creek ideal for overnight backpacking trips.

Starting at the Half Moon trailhead, hikers will traverse through lush meadows and ascend over Half Moon Pass. Then, descend and cross Holy Cross Creek before ascending again to reach the summit, which offers panoramic views of the Sawatch Range and beyond.

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2. Quandary Peak

Approx. 52 minute drive from Vail, Colorado
  • Standard Route: East Ridge
  • Trailhead: Quandary Peak
  • Elevation Gain: 3,450 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 6.75 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 1 Hike
  • Range: Ten-mile Range

Quandary Peak is one of the most popular 14ers near Vail due to its accessibility and relatively straightforward hike. The East Ridge route is well-trafficked and marked, making it an excellent choice for beginners and families looking for a rewarding summit experience.

Starting at the Quandary Peak trailhead, hikers will ascend through a mix of forested areas before passing the tree line. The trail offers stunning views of the surrounding Ten-mile Range and nearby peaks. The steady elevation gain is manageable for most hikers.

Reaching the summit of Quandary Peak, hikers are treated to panoramic views that extend across the Rocky Mountains. Due to the immense popularity of this peak, parking reservations are required during the summer. You can also reserve a shuttle spot that runs from Breckenridge.

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3. Grays Peak & Torreys Peak

Approx. 63 minute drive from Vail, Colorado
  • Standard Route: North Slopes
  • Trailhead: Grays Peak
  • Elevation Gain: 3,650 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 8.6 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 2 Scramble
  • Range: Front Range

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Grays Peak and Torreys Peak are two of the most accessible 14es near Vail, often climbed together due to their close proximity. The North Slopes route is popular for its straightforward path and stunning scenery, making it suitable for both novice and experienced climbers.

Starting at the Grays Peak trailhead, the hike ascends through alpine meadows and rugged terrain, offering panoramic views of the surrounding Front Range. The trail is well-marked, and the steady elevation gain provides a good challenge without being overly technical.

Reaching the summit of Grays Peak first, hikers can then traverse the saddle to Torreys Peak, enjoying the dual summit experience. The combined effort is rewarded with breathtaking vistas and a sense of accomplishment from conquering two 14ers in one trip.

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4. Mount Elbert

Approx. 67 minute drive from Vail, Colorado
  • Standard Route: Northeast Ridge
  • Trailhead: Mt Elbert (North)
  • Elevation Gain: 4,700 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 9.5 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 1 Hike
  • Range: Sawatch Range

Mount Elbert is the highest peak not only in Colorado but the entire Rocky Mountains. It offers a challenging yet straightforward ascent. The Northeast Ridge route is well-marked and popular among hikers of all levels, making it a rewarding experience for both novice and seasoned hikers.

Starting at the North Mount Elbert trailhead, hikers will ascend through lush forests along the Colorado trail before starting to climb the broad northeast ridge. After leaving the forests, cross through alpine meadows before reaching the expansive summit.

The panoramic views from the top are unmatched, offering a breathtaking vista of the Sawatch Range and beyond. For a moment, as you stand on the summit, you’ll be the highest person standing anywhere in the US and Canadian Rocky Mountains.

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5. Mount Massive

Approx. 80 minute drive from Vail, Colorado
  • Standard Route: East Slopes
  • Trailhead: Mt Massive
  • Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 14.5 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 2 Scramble
  • Range: Sawatch Range

Mount Massive is the second highest peak in Colorado and offers a challenging yet rewarding climb. The East Slopes route is known for its long distance and significant elevation gain, a favorite among experienced hikers seeking a full-day adventure or one-night backpacking trip.

Starting at the Mount Massive trailhead, hikers will traverse through dense forests, cross several streams (with great dispersed campsites, for those doing the climb over two days), before finally reaching alpine meadows above treeline.

From there, climbers must tackle the rugged, rocky slopes leading to the huge summit ridge. The panoramic views from the top are truly breathtaking, with a sweeping vista of the surrounding Sawatch Range, Arkansas River Valley, Leadville, and beyond.

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6. La Plata Peak

Approx. 78 minute drive from Vail, Colorado
  • Standard Route: Northwest Ridge
  • Trailhead: La Plata Peak
  • Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 9.25 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 2 Scramble
  • Range: Sawatch Range

La Plata Peak offers a challenging yet rewarding climb with its Northwest Ridge route. The standard route is a class 2 trail that anyone can climb, while the alternative Ellingwood route is one of the best class three scrambles in the Sawatch Range – and best for experienced peakbaggers.

Both routes begin at the La Plata Peak trailhead along Independence Pass and split off after a short distance. The main route navigates through dense forests and crosses several streams before it reaches the tree line. A series of steep switchbacks completes the route to the summit.

Upon reaching the top, hikers are greeted with panoramic views of the Sawatch Range, with a great view of Independence Pass to the northwest. The combination of multiple route options, steep terrain and stunning scenery makes La Plata Peak a memorable climb for those seeking a true alpine experience.

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7. The Decalibron (Mt Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln & Bross)

Approx. 79 minute drive from Vail, Colorado
  • Standard Route: Kite Lake Route
  • Trailhead: Kite Lake
  • Elevation Gain: 3,700 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 7.25 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 2 Scramble
  • Range: Mosquito Range

Kite Lake and Decalibron 14ers Improvement

The Decalibron loop is named after the four 14ers along its path: Mount Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross. It is the only route in the state that provides an opportunity to summit four 14ers in a single day. However, this makes it a a very popular and busy route during the summer.

The loop begins at the Kite Lake Trailhead, and can be done in either direction (most do it clockwise, starting with Democrat and ending with Bross). Once you climb above the saddle below Democrat, you remain above 11,000 feet for most of the route, which requires ideal weather conditions and clear skies.

While three of the peaks are open, the summit of Mount Bross is privately owned and closed to access for safety reasons (the summit is underlaid with mining tunnels that could collapse at any time, a significant concern). Use the marked bypass trail to help protect public access to the rest of the area.

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8. Missouri Mountain

Approx. 80 minute drive from Vail, Colorado
  • Standard Route: Northwest Ridge
  • Trailhead: Missouri Gulch
  • Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 10.5 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 2+ Scramble
  • Range: Sawatch Range

Missouri Mountain and other 14ers near Vail

Missouri Mountain offers a challenging yet rewarding climb with its Northwest Ridge route. Known for its rugged terrain and picturesque views, this peak is a favorite among mid-level experienced hikers looking for a step up towards class 3 scrambling

Starting at the Missouri Gulch trailhead, hikers will climb steep switchbacks to reach the Gulch itself, follow a creek to the base of the mountain, and finally ascend a steep boulder and talus-field before following the exposed ridge to the broad peak.

Upon reaching the summit, hikers are greeted with panoramic views of the surrounding area, including nearby 14ers Mt Belford and Mt Oxford, Mt Harvard, and Mt Elbert. For those looking for an extreme challenge, combine the climb with Mt Belford and Oxford to climb three 14ers in one day (only recommended for very experienced climbers).

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9. Mount Belford & Mount Oxford

Approx. 80 minute drive from Vail, Colorado
  • Standard Route: Northwest Ridge
  • Trailhead: Missouri Gulch
  • Elevation Gain: 5,800 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 11 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 2 Scramble
  • Range: Sawatch Range

IMG_2916

Mount Belford and Mount Oxford are often climbed together due to their close proximity, offering a unique Sawatch Range adventure. The Northwest Ridge route is steep but straightforward and provides stunning views of Missouri Gulch below and Missouri Mountain across the valley.

Starting at the Missouri Gulch trailhead, the hike follows the same trail as Missouri Mountain, passing the remains of a mining cabin from the 1800s just below the tree line. A mile further up, the trail splits to the left and follows the ridge up to the strangely-rugged summit of Mt. Belford.

Reaching the summit of Mount Belford first, hikers can then traverse the ridge to Mount Oxford, enjoying the dual summit experience. The combined effort is rewarded with breathtaking vistas and a sense of accomplishment from climbing two 14ers in one trip.

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10. Mount Bierstadt

Approx. 88 minute drive from Vail, Colorado
  • Standard Route: West Slopes
  • Trailhead: Guanella Pass
  • Elevation Gain: 2,850 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 7.0 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 2 Scramble
  • Range: Front Range

Mount Bierstadt is one of the most accessible 14ers in Colorado and a popular choice for hikers of all levels. The West Slopes route offers a straightforward climb with stunning scenery, making it an excellent option for beginners and families.

Starting at the Guanella Pass trailhead, the hike ascends through beautiful alpine meadows and wetlands, providing ample opportunities to spot wildlife. The trail is well-marked and gradually gains elevation, making it a manageable climb for most hikers.

Upon reaching the summit, hikers are rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding Front Range and nearby Mount Evans. The relatively short distance and moderate difficulty make Mount Bierstadt a perfect introduction to 14ers.

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11. Huron Peak

Approx. 95 minute drive from Vail, Colorado
  • Standard Route: Northwest Slope
  • Trailhead: Winfield/Clear Creek
  • Elevation Gain: 3,500 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 6.5 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 2 Scramble
  • Range: Sawatch Range

It is often said that Huron Peak has the best views along its standard route compared to any of the other 14ers. The trail hugs the side of a great glacial valley, with the iconic “three apostle” mountains rising dramatically across the valley from you.

The trailhead is located near the ghost town of Winfield, and the route ascends through dense forests before breaking into alpine meadows. The final ascent involves a steep climb up rocky terrain, but the effort is rewarded with stunning vistas.

Reaching the summit, hikers can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and valleys, making Huron Peak a favorite for those seeking both beauty and challenge. It’s a perfect climb for those looking for an achievable yet rewarding adventure.

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What is the Best Time of Year to Climb 14ers?

The best time to climb 14ers near Vail is typically from late June to early September. During these months, the trails are usually clear of snow, and the weather conditions are more favorable for hiking. However, always check specific trail conditions and weather forecasts before planning your climb.

My favorite time of year to climb 14ers is mid-September, when the aspen leaves change to brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow. The vibrant colors make the views from the summit all the more spectacular, while the cooler temperatures are more comfortable and smaller crowds more manageable.

The road in autumn.

With the right gear, skill, training, and preparation, some of these peaks can be climbed in winter without technical gear (like a rope, ice axe or crampons). This includes Mt Elbert, Mt Bierstadt, and Quandary Peak. However, bitter cold and deep snow require special considerations to stay safe and reach the summit. Read my guide on climbing winter 14ers to learn more about the challenges.





Protect Public Access: Practice Leave No Trace Ethics

As more and more people head to the mountains and discover the 14ers, our collective impact on public lands is beginning to add up. Land managers have few options except permits, fees, and closures when problems like waste, litter, dogs, and trail-cutting reach critical levels.

By following Leave No Trace ethics to preserve the land as you found it, you can help reduce this impact and maintain free, open access to these places for ourselves and future generations alike.

The 7 LNT Principles include:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare:
    • Research your chosen 14er thoroughly, including trail conditions, weather forecasts, and required permits.
    • Carry a detailed map and compass, and know how to use them.
    • Prepare for sudden weather changes by packing extra layers, rain gear, and emergency supplies.
  2. Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces:
    • Stick to established trails and campsites to minimize soil erosion and vegetation damage.
    • In alpine meadows, avoid creating new trails; walk on rocks or snow when possible.
    • Set up camp at least 200 feet away from lakes and streams to protect water sources.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly:
    • Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Use a sealed bag to carry out your waste.
    • Use established restrooms when available or follow proper procedures for burying human waste.
    • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products to keep the environment clean.
  4. Leave What You Find:
    • Do not pick flowers, collect rocks, or disturb historical artifacts.
    • Leave natural objects and cultural artifacts as you found them for others to enjoy.
    • Avoid carving or writing on trees, rocks, or other natural features.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts:
    • Use a portable stove for cooking instead of building a campfire.
    • If fires are permitted, use existing fire rings and keep fires small.
    • Burn only small sticks and twigs, and ensure the fire is completely extinguished before leaving.
  6. Respect Wildlife:
    • Observe wildlife from a distance and do not attempt to feed or approach them.
    • Store food and trash securely to prevent attracting animals.
    • Avoid making loud noises and respect wildlife habitats.
  7. Be Courteous to Others Outdoors:
    • Yield the trail to uphill hikers and groups moving faster than you.
    • Keep noise levels low and respect the solitude of others.
    • Be friendly and considerate, promoting a positive outdoor experience for everyone.


Read our complete guide to Leave No Trace outdoor ethics for the Colorado 14ers to learn more and deepen your knowledge. It is packed full of actionable tips and useful practices specifically intended for the alpine terrain common on these stunning high peaks.

Leave No Trace




Don’t Become a Statistic: Learn to Stay Safe

There are no easy 14ers. Guidebooks that describe routes as “easy” only mean it relative to tougher class 3 and 4 options. People get lost, seriously injured, and worse every year on peaks and trails such as these.

However, knowledge is power! The right planning, training, and gear can help you safely reach the summit and descend without incident. Follow these best practices to boost your chances of a safe and successful 14er ascent and descent.

  • Research the Route: Study maps, trail descriptions, and trip reports to understand the terrain, difficulty, and any potential hazards. Knowing the route reduces the risk of getting lost.
  • Check the Forecast: Mountain weather can change rapidly. Check the weather forecast the night before and the morning of your hike. Be prepared for sudden changes and have a plan to turn back if conditions deteriorate.
  • Make a Plan and Share It: Outline your hiking plan, including your route, estimated time of departure and return, and emergency contacts. Share this plan with someone who is not hiking with you.
  • Go with a Group: Hiking with others enhances safety. In case of an emergency, your group can provide assistance or seek help. Stick together and look out for one another.
  • Carry the 10 Essentials: These include navigation tools (map, compass), sun protection (sunglasses, sunscreen), insulation (extra clothing), illumination (headlamp/flashlight), first aid supplies, fire (matches, lighter), repair kit and tools, nutrition (extra food), hydration (extra water), and emergency shelter.
  • Start Early, Descend Early: Begin your hike at dawn to avoid afternoon thunderstorms, which are common in the mountains. Aim to reach the summit by midday and start descending promptly.
  • Know Your Limits: Be honest about your fitness and experience levels. Choose a 14er that matches your abilities and be willing to turn back if you feel unwell or encounter difficult conditions.
  • Get a Communication Device: Carry a fully charged cell phone and consider a satellite communicator or personal locator beacon (PLB) for areas with no cell service. These devices can be lifesavers in emergencies.

Though the mountains are a hazardous place to explore, these tips and best practices, paired with the appropriate risk management mindset, will help you reach the summit safely and get home in one piece. Check out my complete mountain safety guide for more safety info for 14ers.

The Best 14ers Near Vail: Now You Know!

Whether you’re a seasoned climber or a beginner, the 14ers near Vail offer a diverse range of challenges and breathtaking views. From the rugged terrain of Mount Massive to the more accessible trails of Quandary Peak, there’s something for everyone. Each peak provides a unique experience, from the historical significance of Leadville to the iconic cross-shaped snowfield of Mount of the Holy Cross.

Beginners might start with the well-marked and relatively straightforward hike up Mount Bierstadt or Quandary Peak, while seasoned mountaineers might tackle a class 3 route on La Plata Peak or an overnight adventure of Mount Massive.

No matter which peak you choose to climb, you’ll be rewarded with stunning alpine scenery, panoramic vistas, and a profound sense of accomplishment. Best of luck on your climb and safe travels on the trails!





FAQs

Check out these answers to common questions about the closest 14ers to Vail, Colorado.

Q: What is the closest 14er near Vail, Colorado?

A: The closest 14er near Vail is Mount of the Holy Cross. Located approximately 20 miles southwest of Vail, a 45-50 minute drive, this peak offers a stunning climb with its North Ridge route, providing breathtaking alpine scenery and a relatively less crowded experience.

A: Quandary Peak is considered one the best 14er near Vail for beginners. Its East Ridge route is well-trafficked and marked, making it an excellent choice for those new to 14er climbs. The trail offers a manageable elevation gain and stunning views, providing a rewarding summit experience without being overly technical.

However, Quandary Peak is extremely busy and now requires parking reservations during the summer. If you can’t get a reservation, other good beginner options include Mount Bierstadt, Grays Peak, and Torreys Peak.

A: The best time to climb these 14ers is typically from late June to early September. During these months, trails are usually clear of snow, and weather conditions are more favorable for hiking. Always check specific trail conditions and weather forecasts before planning your climb.

A: Packing the 10 Essentials is crucial for a 14er hike: navigation tools (map, compass), sun protection (sunglasses, sunscreen), insulation (extra clothing), illumination (headlamp/flashlight), first aid supplies, fire (matches, lighter), repair kit and tools, nutrition (extra food), hydration (extra water), and emergency shelter.

Additionally, wear a solid pair of hiking boots with good traction, dress in layers for changing weather, bring a hat, gloves, and trekking poles if needed. Lastly, I always recommend bringing a Garmin or SPOT satellite device for emergency communication.

A: While a growing number of 14ers require parking permits, timed-entry reservation, or other kinds of pre-planning, most 14ers near Vail do not. Among these peaks, Quandary Peak is the only one that currently requires parking permits or shuttle reservations to reach the trailhead. 

A: Yes, safety tips for climbing 14ers include researching your route, checking the weather forecast, making a plan and sharing it, hiking with a group, carrying the 10 Essentials, starting early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms, knowing your limits, and carrying a communication device. These tips help ensure a safe and successful climb.





Additional Resources

Continue your research and learn more about these amazing 14ers near Vail, along with other hikes and peaks nearby, with these additional websites, articles, and resources. You can also comment further below with questions; I’ll get back to you with an answer as soon as possible.

  • 14ers.com: Find route guides, peak conditions, and trip reports for these peaks and more.
  • SummitPost.org: A repository of info on hiking and climbing peaks all around the world.
  • Weather.gov: Forecast for Vail. Click the map to get a forecast for those exact coordinates.
  • Mountain Safety: Critical tips and info from Alpine Rescue Team, all Colorado SAR Experts.
  • 14ers Map: Dynamic map with all 58 peaks and filters for distance, class, elevation, and more.
  • 14ers Facebook Group: A group with 85K members, great for 14er-related information, beta, and advice and finding climbing partners and mentors.





Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located 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. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.





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