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Climbing Longs Peak

Climbing Longs Peak | 14er Route Info, Map & Advice

Longs Peak is the undisputed queen of the Front Range, rising high above the northern Colorado rocky mountains. This fourteener isn’t a mountain to be trifled with; More people have died climbing Longs Peak than any other mountain in Colorado.

Longs Peak is not the most difficult peak, but it tends to attract climbers unprepared for its exposed cliff faces, fierce weather conditions, and the length and difficulty of the overall route. If you aren’t starting around 2-3am, you likely are not giving yourself enough time to reach the summit and get down again before lightning becomes a hazard.

Knowledge is Power! Get started with your research started with my Keyhole Route Guide below.

NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY 14ER BEGINNER’S GUIDE HERE!

Climbing Longs Peak: Fast Facts

TAKE CARE & STAY SAFE!

You are responsible for your own safety in the backcountry.

These peaks can be unpredictable and dangerous. Help is often hours or days away: your safety is primarily your responsibility. Prepare for your trek, understand your limits, be aware of the risks, and equip yourself with the necessary skills and gear. 

Climbing Longs Peak - Keyhole Route

First time planning a 14er hike or climb? Start by reading the route description and reviewing the route map. You should use the weather forecasts to plan, along with my gear recommendations. Check the Trailhead info to ensure you know how to get there and have an appropriate vehicle. Stay nearby at one of the camping or lodging options below to acclimatize before your climb and reduce your risk of altitude sickness. Lastly, refresh your Leave No Trace and mountain safety knowledge to protect the peaks and yourself.

There is additional information about the peak, local regulations, plus additional resources and a frequently asked question section. Have a question? Leave a comment at the bottom of the route guide and we’ll reply ASAP with an answer. Cheers!

Route Description

Longs Peak Keyhole Route

I recommend reading through this description and saving a screenshot on your phone to review when needed on the trail.

The Trail

The adventure to Longs Peak begins at the Longs Peak Trailhead, located at an elevation of 9,405 feet. The trail starts in a dense forest of pine and spruce, providing a moderate and well-maintained path. After approximately 2.5 miles, you’ll reach the junction with the Chasm Lake Trail. Stay on the Longs Peak Trail, which gradually ascends through Goblins Forest. As you climb higher, the forest thins out, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks and valleys.

The Boulderfield

After about 5.5 miles, you’ll arrive at the Boulderfield, situated at an elevation of approximately 12,760 feet. This area is a sprawling expanse of large, jagged boulders. The trail becomes less defined here, requiring careful route-finding and balance. Look for cairns (small piles of rocks) that mark the way. Camping is permitted in designated spots within the Boulderfield, making it a popular place to rest before attempting the summit.

The Keyhole

At the western edge of the Boulderfield lies the Keyhole, a distinctive rock formation that marks the transition from hiking to scrambling. The Keyhole is at an elevation of 13,150 feet. From here, the route becomes more technical. As you pass through the Keyhole, you’ll see the dramatic shift in terrain. The view opens up to the north face of Longs Peak, with steep cliffs and rugged landscapes.

The Ledges

Beyond the Keyhole, the route traverses the Ledges. This section involves navigating narrow ledges with significant exposure. Red and yellow bull’s-eyes painted on the rocks guide you along the path. Move cautiously and maintain three points of contact at all times. The Ledges can be icy or wet, so ensure you have proper footwear and traction devices if necessary.

The Trough

The Ledges lead to the base of the Trough, a steep and narrow gully that rises about 600 feet to the ridgeline. This section is physically demanding, requiring a mix of scrambling and climbing over loose rocks and scree. Helmets are recommended to protect against potential rockfall. Take your time and follow the bull’s-eyes carefully, ensuring each hand and foothold is secure.

The Narrows

At the top of the Trough, you’ll reach a notch that leads to the Narrows. This section is aptly named, as it consists of a narrow path along a steep cliff face. The Narrows offer breathtaking views but demand utmost caution. The route is well-marked, but the exposure can be intimidating. Focus on your footing and handholds, moving steadily and confidently across this section.

The Homestretch

After navigating the Narrows, you’ll arrive at the Homestretch, the final push to the summit. This steep, smooth slab of rock rises about 300 feet. The angle can reach up to 45 degrees in some places, requiring you to use both hands and feet to ascend. The rock is often polished and can be slippery, especially when wet or icy. Follow the cracks and natural features for the best hand and footholds.

The Summit

Finally, after conquering the Homestretch, you’ll reach the summit of Longs Peak at 14,259 feet. The summit is a broad, flat area with stunning panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains. Take time to savor your achievement and enjoy the majestic scenery. Be mindful of the time and weather, as afternoon storms are common. When ready, carefully retrace your steps back down, maintaining vigilance and caution on the descent.

Route Maps

Route Map

This CalTopo map shows the Keyhole Route from the trailhead to the summit. It is a good idea to save a link to the map on your phone in case you need to review it while climbing. Click “Open in CalTopo” to view the map full-screen and add more layers and options.

Elevation Profile

This chart shows the elevation gain and loss along the Keyhole Route. There is also information about the elevation, slope, aspect, and tree cover along the route to assist with your planning.

Longs Peak Keyhole Route Elevation Gain

Route Photos

These are photos of the Keyhole Route on Longs Peak. I strongly recommend saving a copy of them on your phone to review while climbing and navigating on the mountain.

Current Conditions

Longs Peak is famous for its variable weather conditions, including hurricane-force winds and snow all year-round. Below are some places to find condition reports on the peak and route to plan your climb.

Where to Find Condition Reports (Beta)

Each of these websites allows users to post condition or trip reports with photos and descriptions of what they experienced while climbing Longs Peak. 

Where to Ask About Recent Conditions (Beta)

If you cannot find any recent condition or trip reports for Longs Peak, you can try posting on one of the social media groups or forums below to ask if anyone has been near the peak recently and can share some beta.

Weather Forecast

The best place to find weather forecast information for Longs Peak is the National Weather Service. The full forecast is below. You can also visit Mountain Forecast for a second source of information.

Longs Peak Trailhead

The Longs Peak Trailhead is located within the southern section of Rocky Mountain National Park, just off CO-7. 

Accessibility:

The Longs Peak Trailhead is open all-year round (weather permitting). There is an entrance station where you must pay a park entrance fee to reach the trailhead. However, the station rarely opens before 7am when most climbers park at the trailhead.

This is an extremely busy trailhead during summer weekends. To secure a spot, come during the week before 4am or the lot may be full. 

Directions:

From Denver, the easiest way to reach the trailhead is to take HWY 36 to Lyons, then take CO-7 west to Allenspark, and north until you reach the turn off on the left to reach the Longs Peak Trailhead and Campground.

Trailhead Amenities

The Longs Peak Campground is just across the road from the Trailhead. It is open from late May through early October and is first-come, first-serve.

At the trailhead, there is the Longs Peak Ranger Station (open during the summer months). The trailhead also has bathrooms, picnic tables, trash bins and drinking water available.

14er Gear List

Climbing a class 4 14er like Longs Peak requires the right gear to safely reach the summit and get back down in one piece. Here’s what I bring with me while climbing 14ers.

Essentials:
Optional Gear:
Winter Gear:
Clothing:
Footwear:
Communication:

Where To Stay Nearby

The area around Longs Peak has tons of great places to stay. Whether you like camping or prefer a hotel, you’ll find plenty of options to choose from near the trailhead. 

Where to Camp Near Longs Peak:

There are a lot of campgrounds nearby, but most of them require reservations and get booked far in advance. Plan ahead to camp near the peak or you may end up out of luck or farther away than you prefer.

These are some of the campgrounds closest to the Longs Peak Trailhead. 

 

There are additional dispersed campsites along forest service roads, with designated signs for parking and setting up a camp, but these are very hard to secure and are first-come, first-serve.

Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.

Hotels and Lodging Near Longs Peak

Estes Park is a charming gateway community just east of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s only a 10-15 minute drive to reach the Longs Peak Trailhead, and there are more than a dozen good lodging options to choose from.

Here are several specific hotels I recommend.


There are also excellent Airbnbs and VRBOs in Estes Park if you prefer short term rentals while travelling.

Leave No Trace

Longs Peak is a popular 14er, with more than 50,000 climbers visiting each year. It is important to use Leave No Trace practices to avoid damaging the fragile alpine ecosystem. Here are some tips and best practices to use during your climb.

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Understand the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Check the weather forecast, and be aware of the terrain challenges you might face on Longs Peak.
  • Preparation reduces the likelihood of resource damage and contributes to your safety.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Stay on established trails and avoid cutting switchbacks, which can lead to erosion.
  • In the alpine tundra, plants take years to grow and mere seconds to be destroyed by trampling.
  • If camping is part of your trip, use designated campsites at lower elevations to minimize impact.

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack out all your trash, leftover food, and litter.
  • It’s essential to carry a bag for collecting waste.
  • For human waste, dig a cat hole 6-8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, trails, and camp. Cover and disguise it when finished.
  • Pack out all toilet paper and hygiene products.

Leave What You Find

  • Preserve the past; examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species by cleaning gear and boots before and after your hike.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts in the alpine environment.
  • Use a lightweight stove for cooking and a lantern for light.
  • If fires are permitted, use established fire rings, keep fires small, and burn all wood to ash.
  • Put out fires completely and scatter cool ashes.

Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance and never feed them. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Control pets on a leash at all times, or leave them at home.

Be Courteous to Others Outdoors

  • Respect other trail users and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Use headphones, not bluetooth speakers, and keep your noise down.
  • Give uphill hikers the right of way.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • If stopping, move off the trail to allow others to pass.

Incorporating these LNT principles into your Longs Peak adventure is a commitment to conserving the mountain for future generations to experience and enjoy. By acting as stewards of the land, we can all contribute to the sustainability of the natural beauty that draws us to these heights.

Learn more by reviewing our complete Leave No Trace Guide for 14ers.

Safety Tips

Longs Peak is an extremely dangerous and deadly mountain. More people have died on this peak than on any other mountain in Colorado. It is important to take the route seriously and give it the respect it deserves. Follow these safety best practices to ensure you make it back to the trailhead in one piece.

  • Acclimate to Altitude: Spend a day or two at a lower elevation near Longs Peak to get your body used to the altitude. Altitude sickness can be a serious concern and can strike regardless of fitness level.

  • Check the Weather: Mountain weather is notoriously unpredictable. Before you set out, check the local weather forecast and be prepared for sudden changes. Start early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms common in the Rockies.

  • Stay Hydrated: At high altitudes, your body dehydrates faster. Carry plenty of water — a minimum of 2 to 3 liters per person — and drink regularly throughout your hike.

  • Research Your Route: Take time to review trip reports, route descriptions, maps, and photos to help you navigate in the field and know if you are on the right track.

  • Dress Appropriately: Layer your clothing to adapt to the variable conditions. Include a moisture-wicking base layer, an insulating layer, and a waterproof and windproof outer layer. Don’t forget a hat and gloves, even in summer. Top it off with a climbing helmet to wear in the class 3 sections.

  • Stay on the Trail: For your safety and the environment’s protection, stick to designated trails. Shortcuts can lead to erosion and habitat destruction and can also put you at risk of getting lost or injured.

  • Know Your Limits: Longs Peak’s terrain can be challenging, with loose rocks and steep sections. If you’re not an experienced hiker or if you’re feeling unsure, consider hiring a guide or joining a group.

  • Emergency Plan: Have a plan in case of an emergency. Inform someone of your route and expected return time. Carry a whistle, a mirror, and a small first aid kit. A satellite messenger or personal locator beacon (PLB) is advised for remote areas where cell service is not reliable.

  • Bring a Buddy: Never hike alone. Use the buddy system to ensure safety. If one person gets injured or sick, the other can go for help.

  • Share Your Itinerary: Tell someone dependable back home that you are climbing Longs Peak and share as much of your plans and itinerary as possible. Tell them you when you will check-in with them, and who to call if you fail to do so.

Respecting these safety guidelines will help ensure that your climb up Longs Peak is memorable for all the right reasons. Stay alert, stay safe, and enjoy the grandeur of the Rockies. 

Learn more by reviewing our complete mountain safety guide.

Permits, Regulations & Guidelines

Longs Peak is located within Rocky Mountain National Park. A park entrance fee is required to reach the trailhead. However, a timed-entry reservation is not necessary at this time.

Please follow Leave No Trace practices and recreate responsibly to preserve open access to this Colorado fourteener.

National Park Regulations

Follow these National Park rules and regulations while climbing Longs Peak or camping in the area:

  • Be aware & follow posted regulations on national park service lands.
  • Keep noise levels down to avoid stressing wildlife and livestock, as well as other visitors.
  • Respect private property.
  • Unmanned aircraft like drones are prohibited from launching, landing or being operated from inside the Park.
  • Approaching within 25 yards of any wild animal, including nesting birds, or within any distance that disturbs or interferes with their free movement or natural behavior is prohibited.
  • Do not carve, chop, cut or damage any live trees.
  • Camping is only permitted in established campgrounds. No dispersed camping is allowed within RMNP.
  • Developed campgrounds may not be used when posted closed.
  • No camping is allowed within 100 feet of all lakes, streams and developed trails except for designated campsites
  • Be sure your fire is completely extinguished before leaving. You are responsible for keeping fires under control.
  • Pets are prohibited on ALL Rocky Mountain National Park trails, tundra, and meadows.
  • Using or possessing fireworks on national park land is prohibited.
  • Travel only on designated off-highway vehicle routes. Travel slowly through water or mud. Do not make new tracks outside of the roadbed. Obey road closures and locked gates.
  • Vehicles must obey posted parking regulations. Unless otherwise posted, one may pull off a road to park.
  • Wilderness areas have specific rules and regulations that must be followed in order to protect these areas from our collective impacts.

Check the National Park page for more information.

About Longs Peak

Longs Peak, standing at 14,259 feet, is the highest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park and one of Colorado’s most iconic fourteeners. Named after Major Stephen H. Long, an early explorer of the Rocky Mountains, this peak has captivated climbers, hikers, and nature enthusiasts for centuries.

Historical Significance

Longs Peak holds a rich historical significance, deeply rooted in the exploration and settlement of the American West. Major Stephen H. Long, an engineer and explorer, first documented the peak during an 1820 expedition. However, it wasn’t until 1868 that the summit was first successfully reached by John Wesley Powell and his team. Powell, famous for his explorations of the Colorado River, described the ascent as one of the most arduous and exhilarating climbs of his career.

Geology and Ecology

Longs Peak is a prominent example of the unique geology of the Rocky Mountains. Composed primarily of granite, the peak was sculpted over millennia by glacial activity, resulting in its distinctive sheer cliffs and rugged terrain. The mountain’s north face, known as the Diamond, is a renowned challenge for technical climbers, offering nearly 1,000 feet of vertical rock climbing.

Ecologically, Longs Peak is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna. The lower slopes are covered with dense forests of pine, spruce, and fir, while the alpine tundra above treeline supports hardy grasses, wildflowers, and lichens. Wildlife such as marmots, pikas, and mountain goats can often be spotted by observant climbers. The peak also plays a vital role in the local watershed, feeding numerous streams and rivers that support the surrounding ecosystems.

Cultural Impact

Longs Peak has long been a symbol of adventure and natural beauty. It has inspired countless artists, writers, and outdoor enthusiasts. The mountain is prominently featured in the works of renowned photographer Ansel Adams and has been the subject of numerous paintings and literary descriptions.

The peak also holds cultural significance for the Native American tribes of the region, including the Ute and Arapaho. These tribes revered the mountain as a sacred place, and many of their legends and stories are intertwined with its imposing presence.

Climbing Legacy

Over the years, Longs Peak has become a bucket-list climb for mountaineers from around the world. The Keyhole Route, the most popular path to the summit, attracts thousands of climbers each year. The route’s combination of technical challenges and breathtaking scenery makes it a classic alpine ascent.

Longs Peak is also a proving ground for mountaineering skills, with many climbers using it as preparation for more ambitious climbs in the Himalayas and other high mountain ranges. The peak’s demanding conditions, including rapidly changing weather and exposure to the elements, provide a rigorous test of endurance and resilience.

Preservation and Safety

Due to its popularity and ecological sensitivity, Longs Peak is closely monitored and protected by the National Park Service. Efforts to preserve its natural beauty and mitigate the impact of human activity are ongoing. Climbers are encouraged to follow Leave No Trace principles, respect wildlife, and stay on designated trails to minimize their environmental footprint.

Safety is paramount when attempting to climb Longs Peak. The mountain’s altitude and technical sections require careful preparation and respect for the natural elements. Many climbers opt to begin their ascent in the early hours before dawn to avoid afternoon thunderstorms and ensure a safe return.

Fun Facts

  • Height: 14,259 feet (4,346 meters)
  • First Ascent: 1868 by John Wesley Powell
  • Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
  • Prominent Features: The Diamond, The Keyhole, The Ledges, The Trough, The Narrows, The Homestretch
  • Wildlife: Marmots, pikas, mountain goats, and numerous bird species
  • Flora: Alpine wildflowers, grasses, lichens, pine, spruce, and fir trees

 

Longs Peak remains a testament to the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains and a beacon for those seeking the thrill of high-altitude adventure. Whether you are an experienced climber or a curious hiker, the journey to Longs Peak’s summit offers an unforgettable experience filled with history, natural beauty, and the timeless spirit of exploration.

Photos

These are a collection of photos of Mt Bierstadt and the west slopes route from previous trips to the area. You can also find additional pictures in our route description above.

FAQ: Longs Peak

Below are some of the most common questions we get asked about climbing Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.

If you do not see your question addressed below in our FAQs, leave it in a comment at the bottom of the page and we will get an answer to you as soon as possible.

A: Longs Peak is generally not recommended for beginners. The trek involves tackling some of the most strenuous terrains and navigating altitude-related challenges that can be intimidating for novice hikers or climbers. This 14er requires strong physical fitness, acclimatization to high altitudes, and a good understanding of mountain safety. Inexperienced climbers should consider starting with less difficult 14ers and gradually build up their skills and endurance before taking on the challenge of Longs Peak.

A: Unfortunately, there is no driving route available to reach the top of Longs Peak. The peak can only be accessed through established hiking and climbing routes. This is due to the aim of preserving the natural environment and the safety considerations of the mountain terrain. Thus, anyone who wishes to reach the summit must be prepared for a challenging but rewarding hike or climb.

A: Longs Peak is majestically situated within the boundaries of the Rocky Mountain National Park. This iconic mountain is in north-central Colorado, in the United States, and can be accessed from the town of Estes Park. Its location within one of the most famous national parks of the country makes it a popular destination for climbing enthusiasts from around the globe.

A: The hardest route up Longs Peak is arguably the North Face, also known as the ‘Cables Route’. This route is steep, demanding, and requires technical climbing skills. The North Face involves a vertical rock face, and climbers are usually required to use ropes, helmets, and other rock climbing equipment. It’s recommended only for highly experienced climbers with technical climbing skills.

A: Completing a hike to the top of Longs Peak is quite an undertaking. On average, it can take between 10-15 hours round trip, depending on factors such as fitness level, pace, and weather conditions. The trail length is about 15 miles, and there’s a significant elevation gain, which makes it a long and challenging day out on the trail. Rest breaks and slow pacing can also extend this timeframe.

A: Indeed, Longs Peak is considered one of the more challenging 14ers. The reasons include the length of the hiking route, the significant elevation gain, the exposed scrambling sections, and the high altitude, which can potentially cause altitude sickness in unacclimatized individuals. The Keyhole Route, the most popular route, involves navigating narrow ledges and climbing steep rock faces, demanding physical stamina and mental fortitude.

A: Yes, Longs Peak can be climbed in a single day. However, it is important to note that it will be a long and strenuous day due to the mountain’s height and the difficulty of the trail. The entire hike can take anywhere from 10-15 hours. Therefore, starting the hike very early in the morning is crucial to ensure you descend before afternoon thunderstorms typically roll in.

A: It is highly recommended to start hiking Longs Peak no later than 3 am. Starting this early is necessary if you aim to climb the peak and descend in a single day. It provides ample time to reach the summit and start your descent well before afternoon, when the risk of thunderstorms is high in the mountains. Remember, safety should always be your priority.

A: No, the National Park Service does not permit sleeping in cars at the Longs Peak Trailhead. This policy helps protect the park’s natural resources and ensures visitor safety. However, there are nearby campgrounds and lodging options available for overnight stays. Please ensure to plan your trip in advance, taking into consideration these accommodation rules.

A: Certain parts of Longs Peak, specifically the North Face or ‘Cables Route’, are considered technical climbs. These require specific rock climbing skills and equipment. However, the standard route up Longs Peak, known as the Keyhole Route, is considered a Class 3 scramble. This means it doesn’t require the use of ropes or other technical climbing gear, but it does involve using your hands for balance and support during certain sections of the climb.

 

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Notice: The material presented in this route guide may not be comprehensive or precise and should not be solely relied upon when planning your climb. Inadequate experience, physical fitness, supplies, or equipment may result in injury or fatality.

The Next Summit and the author(s) of this hiking guide offer no guarantees, neither explicit nor implied, regarding the accuracy or dependability of the information provided.

By utilizing the information herein, you agree to indemnify and absolve The Next Summit and the hiking guide author(s) from any claims and demands against them, including any legal fees and expenses. 

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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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In 2018, I watched in disbelief as dozens of people hiked into a storm on Longs Peak, unaware of the extreme danger. Soon after, I started The Next Summit to educate and empower the public to safely and responsibly explore America's mountains.

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