Most people hang up their hiking boots in the fall and wait to climb 14ers until the following spring or summer. However, this is a spectacular time of year to hike and explore the mountains if you know what you are doing. Not all peaks are good options for fall. Some trailheads close due to snow and add miles to the route, while others have significant avalanche risk overhead. Yet there are fourteeners to climb in the fall that are safe, accessible, and much less crowded than during the summer. Here are the seven best options when considering fourteeners to climb in the fall.
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1. Quandary Peak - East Ridge
Pro’s: Most accessible and most likely to have a boot track up to the summit
Con’s: Busiest peak on the list, and you’ve likely already done it
Quandry Peak is the most accessible and safe fourteener to climb in the fall. The parking reservation system ends after September 30th, making it more affordable and easier to plan a last-minute trip. You will need to park at the lower trailhead, but it only adds about five minutes of walking, and the route is likely to have a track cleared even if there is already snow. You’re also unlikely to be alone, so this is a good option if you don’t plan to bring a buddy.
2. Mount Yale
Pro’s: Very accessible trailhead, it never closes in winter
Con’s: You may need to forge a trail in snow – Greater route-finding difficulty
Mount Yale is similar to Quandary in that the avalanche risk is limited until there is heavy snowfall, and the trailhead is extremely accessible throughout the fall months. Mount Yale is one of my favorite peaks in the fall, and is a good training choice if you are planning more difficult hikes or climbs in the winter or the coming spring. It is a solid choice among the fourteeners to climb in the fall.
3. Mount Belford & Mount Oxford
Pro’s: Great fall colors, quiet trail
Con’s: Trailhead closes after first major snowfall – adds 3 miles
While the road to the Missouri Gulch trailhead does eventually close each winter following the first significant snowfall, it is also overflowing with aspen tress that make it spectacular during the peak autumn season. This is a good option for early fall when the leaves are changing, but I would avoid it later in the fall unless you want to add three miles roundtrip to your climb. The area is full of dispersed camping options too if you want to make a weekend of it before it gets much colder.
4. La Plata Peak
Pro’s: spectacular fall colors, accessible trailhead never closes.
Con’s: trail includes avalanche danger, avoid it after the first major snowfall.
La Plata Peak’s trailhead is open all year, so this is a good option for both autumn and winter. However, the standard route proper has significant avalanche risk along the lower section of the trail, which requires a bit of a re-route once significant snow has fallen. This makes the route harder to navigate and increases the class difficulty to 2+. I would only attempt La Plata in winter conditions if you already have a good deal of backcountry experience.
5. Mount Elbert
Pro’s: large aspen stands along the 4WD road, low avalanche danger.
Con’s: upper trailhead closes after the first major snowfall.
Mount Elbert, Colorado’s tallest fourteener, is also one of the best fourteeners to climb in the Fall. The 4WD road leading to the trailhead is overflowing with aspen trees that explode in color each autumn. The route up the East Ridge is free from significant avalanche risk, so you can continue to climb it even after the snow has fallen in earnest. Just remember that you may need to hike in along the road later in the season once the trailhead is snowed in.
6. Mount Bierstadt
Pro’s: Low avalanche danger and popularity makes it good in winter conditions.
Con’s: Upper trailhead closes after the first major snowfall.
Mount Bierstadt is the closest of the fourteeners to climb in the Fall near Denver. You can get up to the trailhead in 90 minutes or less, depending on weather and traffic. While the upper trailhead does close late each fall, it only adds about a mile to the route, which is short to begin with. The lack of avalanche danger along its slopes makes it an excellent option for beginners or those new to fall fourteeners, or for those who want to climb Mount Bierstadt without 500 of their neighbors.
7.The Maroon Bells
Pro’s: Easier to access than in the summer, most photogenic area on the list
Con’s: Challenging peaks – consider hiking around their base instead.
The Maroon Bells are the hardest fourteeners to climb in the fall, by far, on this list. In general, I don’t actually recommend climbing to these fourteener summits unless you are very experienced. However, the area around their base and lake is filled with golden aspen during the autumn, and it is much easier to secure a parking permit to visit the busy area. I recommend taking a trip to get familiar with the site, enjoy the changing colors, and scout it out for a future climb when you are ready for it.
Fourteeners to Climb in the Fall: Now You Know!
Fourteeners have a bad reputation for being crowded and overrun with tourists and hikers working their way up the slopes. However, the crowds largely fade away in mid-to-late September as the temperature drops and summer turns to fall. These seven peaks area all good fourteeners to climb in the fall, with good access and limited avalanche risk along their routes. If you have another suggestion on fourteeners to climb in the fall, leave a comment below and we might just add it in our next article update. Safe travels on the trail!