Longs Peak is the queen of the front range, rising high above the northern Colorado rocky mountains. She isn’t a mountain to be trifled with; More people have died climbing Longs Peak than any other mountain in the state. Most who perish or get injured do so because they’re unprepared and don’t realize the significance of this route. It involves long distances, climbing on steep rock, and requires and early 2am start to be back below tree line before afternoon storms hit. Be prepared before you attempt climbing Longs Peak. Get your research started with my Keyhole Route Guide below.
Climbing Longs Peak: Fast Facts
CAUTION: This Route is Hazardous!
You are responsible for your personal 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!
Note: Climbing Longs Peak is extremely difficult and risky – more than 70 people have died trying to reach the summit. Do not climb Longs Peak until you have climbed several Class 1 and 2 fourteeners. Give Longs Peak the respect and seriousness it deserves.
The Longs Peak route is a long ascent for a single day. If that’s your plan, aim to hit the trail by 2 am to ensure you are back safe below the treeline before afternoon lightning storms strike. The section of the trail below the treeline is well-built and maintained. You’ll go up a few switchbacks and cross a stream before you approach the tree line. Once you pop out from under the forest you’ll have a great view of Mount Lady Washington in front of you with Longs Peak beyond it (if you can see in the dark).
At the junction to Chasm Junction, there’s a National Park-maintained bathroom you can use. Otherwise, take a hard right here to walk along the slopes of Mt Lady Washington. Your next goal is Granite Pass, where you’ll take a left.
After Granite Pass, climb a series of switchbacks up Mt Lady Washington’s northwest slopes. You’ll probably begin to see dawn during this section. In the boulder field, you will pass your last chance to use a bathroom along with the tents of those who reserved a spot up here for the night. Continue southwest and aim for the Keyhole rock feature. The scrambling will become more difficult and the boulders will get larger as you approach it.
The Keyhole is often a significant bottleneck while climbing Longs Peak, as the scrambling beyond it considerably slows most individuals. Be warned: From this point, you are only about halfway there time-wise. Stop to check the weather here. If storms are near, it’s best to head back and try another day. If things look clear, pass through the Keyhole and head to your left.
You now enter a section called “The Ledges.” It’s a relatively easy section of scrambling with a dramatic drop-off to Glacier Gorge below. While the scrambling isn’t technically difficult, it may be a lot to handle for those who prefer avoiding heights. Follow the red and yellow bullseye marks painted onto rocks by the Park Service. These will lead you to the summit.
Towards the end of the Ledges, you’ll enter a large boulder-filled gully called the Trough. This is where you’ll gain most of your elevation to the summit climbing Longs Peak. Follow the bullseye up the trough, passing back and forth from the left to the right side to take the path of least resistance. Wear a helmet during this section and beyond. Falling rocks are commonly knocked loose by those above you. If you knock a rock loose, shout rock to those below. If you hear rock – don’t look up, Look straight forward – your helmet will protect you.
At the top of the trough lies the chockstone: a series of large rocks leaning up against one another. There are several ways to scramble up this rock. Take time, watch how others go up, and make it up and over this point into the Narrows section.
The Narrows takes you along the south face of the Longs Peak route as you traverse to the Homestretch. Here the scrambling is again not difficult, but a fall would be fatal. Take your time moving carefully, especially over one awkwardly placed rock early in the route.
Finally, the flat Homestretch takes you the last several hundred feet up to the summit. This is the crux of your trip climbing Longs Peak. The surface has many cracks which are perfect to follow up to the summit. Things are more difficult if the rock is wet or covered in ice.
Finally, you’ll inch your way onto the strangely flat summit of Longs Peak! Enjoy a spectacular view of the entire Front Range, including Longmont, Boulder, and Denver below on the plains. Make sure you head back with time to make it back below treeline before noon.
This isn’t an easy objective, so take your time gaining experience before you attempt to reach this summit. Best of luck climbing Longs Peak, and safe travels on the trail!
No guide is complete without a topographical map of the route. If you plan on climbing Longs Peak, you will need it to navigate and stay on route. You can download this to look at on your phone on your trip, but I also recommend you print out a paper copy to bring along as a backup in case anything happens to your electronics. A compass and GPS unit is also a good idea, along with the skills and knowledge required to use it to navigate.
You should always check the weather forecast multiple times before climbing Longs Peak, from multiple sources. Here are several mountain weather sources you can use specifically for this area. Further below, you can read the full National Weather Service forecast for the area.
Here are several sources to find beta (information) on current conditions on Longs Peak and the Keyhole Route. Remember, we do not and cannot verify these reports, so please take them with a grain of salt.
Getting There: Directions from the Nearest Major Highway
Longs Peak Trailhead is located about 9 miles south of Estes Park, a quaint mountain town that’s considered the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. From Denver, take I-25 N, and exit onto US-36 W toward Boulder. Continue on this highway, which turns into CO-66 W, until you reach Lyons. Make a left turn onto US-36 W again and follow this road until you reach Estes Park. Once you’ve reached Estes Park, continue on US-36 W/S St. Vrain Ave. Then turn right onto CO-7 S. After about 9 miles, you’ll spot the turnoff for Longs Peak on your right. It’s well marked, so you shouldn’t miss it.
Trailhead Access and Parking: Navigating the Rules and Tips
Longs Peak Trailhead parking lot is available on a first-come, first-serve basis and has a reputation for filling up quite early during the peak season (July through September). Arriving before sunrise is highly recommended for securing a spot, plus, it offers you an early start on the trail, which can be crucial for your safety given the often unpredictable afternoon weather patterns on the mountain.
Please note, overnight parking is allowed, but you must obtain a wilderness camping permit if you plan to camp along the trail. This restriction is enforced to help protect the natural beauty and integrity of the park, ensuring it remains a pristine environment for all hikers to enjoy.
It’s important to know that no parking is allowed along the access road outside of the designated parking area. Be sure to follow all posted signs and regulations to avoid fines and vehicle towing.
Year-Round Accessibility: Embracing the Seasons
Longs Peak Trailhead is accessible year-round, but the climbing conditions vary significantly with the seasons. The keyhole route is usually snow-free and most popular from July to early September. Outside of these months, the trail can be covered in snow and ice, requiring mountaineering skills and equipment. It’s always crucial to check weather conditions and consider your experience and preparation before setting out.
Longs Peak is a serious 14er with plenty of hiking and scrambling required to reach the summit. A good pair of hiking boots are essential if you want your best chance for a successful ascent. Here are my hiking boot recommendations.
You should always bring the ten essentials with you on your trip (see the infographic below). This is especially true on a dangerous peak like Longs Peak. To carry them all, bring a backpack with 20-30 liters capacity. These are several good backpack options that won’t break the bank.
While trekking poles are not a necessity on this mountain, 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 Longs Peak:
- Longs Peak Campground
- Meeker Park Overflow Campground
- Estes Park Campground at Mary’s Lake
- Olive Ridge Campground
There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads near the trailhead ideal for those climbing Longs Peak. Note that camping is not allowed at the trailhead or in most areas of the national park. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.
Lodging near Longs Peak:
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Estes Park, Nederland, and the surrounding area, ideal for those climbing Longs Peak.
Longs Peak is located in the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park, a wild area with amazing wildlife. The area is busy – more than 40,000 try to climb the mountain each year. Please follow these Leave No Trace practices to help protect the vulnerable tundra and sub-alpine forest:
- 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 climbing Longs Peak! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.
Stay safe while climbing Longs Peak by following these essential mountain safety best practices for the Colorado 14ers.
- Research your route: Choose an appropriate route based on your skill level, fitness, and the current conditions. Obtain trail maps and read up on trail descriptions, elevation gains, and potential hazards.
- Check the weather: Weather conditions in the mountains can change rapidly, so check the forecast before heading out and be prepared for sudden changes.
- Start early: Aim to begin your hike at or before sunrise to avoid being caught out in the afternoon thunderstorms, which are common in the mountains.
- Dress in layers: Wear moisture-wicking clothing and pack extra layers, including a waterproof jacket and pants, to adapt to changing weather conditions.
- Hydrate and eat well: Bring plenty of water and high-energy snacks to stay hydrated and maintain energy levels during your hike.
- Acclimate to altitude: Spend time at higher elevations in the days leading up to your hike to help your body adjust to the thinner air and reduce the risk of altitude sickness.
- Know the signs of altitude sickness: Be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness, which can include headaches, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath. If you experience these symptoms, descend to a lower altitude and rest.
- Pace yourself: Hiking at high altitudes can be challenging, so take your time, listen to your body, and don’t be afraid to take breaks.
- Stay on the trail: Following established trails helps protect the environment and reduces the chance of getting lost.
- Carry the Ten Essentials: Bring navigation tools, sun protection, extra clothing, a headlamp, first aid supplies, a knife or multi-tool, a firestarter, shelter, extra food, and extra water.
- Hike with a buddy: Whenever possible, hike with a partner or a group for added safety and support.
- Know your limits: Be honest about your fitness level and experience, and turn back if you’re feeling unwell or conditions become unsafe.
- Leave No Trace: Practice responsible hiking by packing out all trash, respecting wildlife, and staying on designated trails.
- Share your plans: Inform someone of your intended route and expected return time, and check in with them once you’ve safely completed your hike.
Longs Peak is the only Colorado fourteener located within a national park. This makes it a very busy peak, even though it is a difficult class 3 scramble. The difficulty of the climb often overwhelms people, unprepared for the thin air, severe weather, and exposed scrambling beyond the Keyhole rock formation.
The mountain is named after Stephen Long, an early U.S. explorer who first sighted the mountain in 1820 during an expedition to Colorado. The peak has been climbed for hundreds of years by Native Americans to collect eagle feathers from the summit. It was originally climbed by tourists via the “Cables,” a series of bolted in cables that ascend the sheer northeast face of the mountains. The National Park removed the cables because they were a lightning risk, and to preserve the wilderness experience, during the 1970s. The Keyhole route has been the standard route ever since.
Just below the Keyhole rock formation, the Agnes Vaille Shelter stands as an emergency refuge for hikers and climbers. It was built in 1935 by the family of Agnes, who died attempting the first winter climb of Longs Peak a decade beforehand. It’s a stark reminder of the hazards found on this route, the most deadly 14er in overall numbers.
To help preserve the natural wonder of Longs Peak, the National Park Service has implemented some rules and regulations you should be aware of before embarking on your journey.
First off, if you’re planning an overnight trip in the backcountry, you will need a Wilderness Camping Permit. These permits are designed to limit the impact on the environment and are issued on a quota system, so make sure you obtain one in advance. Day hiking does not require a permit, but remember to always stay on the designated trails to minimize damage to the park’s ecosystem.
Leashed pets are allowed in parking areas and established campgrounds, but not on trails. For the safety of your pet and the local wildlife, it’s best to leave your four-legged friends at home.
As part of the Leave No Trace principles, all trash must be carried out, including food waste. It’s not just a matter of respect for the environment; it’s also the law in the park. So pack a trash bag and plan to take everything out that you bring in.
While campfires are a quintessential part of camping for many, they are not allowed in the Rocky Mountain National Park backcountry, including the Longs Peak area, to prevent forest fires and preserve the natural state of the wilderness. Use camp stoves for cooking and dress warmly to stay comfortable without a fire.
Remember, hiking Longs Peak is not just an adventure; it’s a privilege. Adherence to these guidelines helps ensure that this stunning wilderness area remains intact for future generations of climbers to appreciate. Respect for the mountain and each other goes a long way in fostering a community of responsible and conscientious adventurers. So pack your gear, review these rules once more, and embark on the journey of a lifetime to the summit of Longs Peak. Stay safe and enjoy the climb!
Here are some additional websites and resources to research and plan your trip to climb Longs Peak. If you have any suggestions of more resources to add to this list, post a comment below with your ideas.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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.