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hiking Blanca Peak

Hiking Blanca Peak | 14er Route Description, Map & Advice

Blanca Peak stands tall as the queen of the southern Rockies, 4th highest in the state overall. It is the center of the Blanca Mastiff, a large grouping of peaks that rise above the San Luis Valley and Great Sand Dunes. 

Hiking Blanca Peak isn’t easy. You must first get to Lake Como, an exhausting hike, before scrambling up to the summit. You can start planning your trip with my Blanca Peak Route Guide below. It has topographic route maps, photos, nearby camping and lodging, and peak information. 

Let’s dig in with some fast facts about this peak and route.

Hiking Blanca 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. 

Hiking Blanca Peak - Northwest Ridge 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

You can start hiking Blanca Peak by taking the Lake Como Road as far as your car is able. Park and head up the road. It’s 17 miles round-trip from the bottom of the road. If you have a 4WD and good clearance it’s possible to shave off a bit more. Park whenever you feel uncomfortable – be sure you are not blocking the road for others. Set out on the road and head up to Lake Como.

Along the road, near the lake, you’ll pass through several areas with large rocks and boulders known as the “Jaws”. These make driving all the way to the lake impossible for nearly most cars, including unmodified jeeps. Finally, at Lake Como, the road ends. This is a wonderful place to camp if you want to do this overnight. Skirt around the left of the lake and pick up the trail to start hiking Blanca Peak.

Begin picking your way up and over a series of moraines beyond Lake Como. The trail weaves around rock outcrops and along ledges, Look for cairns to find the right path forward if you get confused. The summit is hidden from view here to the right.

Reach a basin where a small waterfall runs down the wall ahead of you. Head to its left where a series of switchbacks brings you up and over the next moraine.

Come upon another alpine lake and walk along its shoreline as you pass into the highest part of the basin. Here the hiking will turn more into scrambling.

To ascend the headwall here, traverse to your right and follow the route through a series of rock ledges that takes the path of least resistance up to the saddle. The route will switch back as you go – look for cairns.

To reach the top you have a steep scramble up the Northwest Ridge of Blanca left to reach the summit. Take a right at the saddle and follow the cairns up. Take your time, and check the weather before you proceed and as you go.

Follow the final few hundred feet, the crux of the climb, and make a few Class 2+ moves that verge on true climbing and may seem exposed to some. The summit views are worth your effort!

Enjoy your time at the top, and leave yourself time to get to the treeline before afternoon thunderstorms. If you have extra time, consider traversing over to Ellingwood Point to bag two peaks in one day.

Route Maps

Route Map

Always research and carry a topographic map of the route when hiking Blanca Peak and other Colorado 14ers. You can save the map below on your phone and print out a spare backup copy to bring too.

Elevation Profile

This image shows the elevation profile of the northwest ridge route up Blanca Peak, including info on tree cover, vegetation, and other route details along the journey.

Blanca Peak Elevation Profile

Route Photos

These photos show multiple vantage points from along the route. They are a helpful resource to review before you go and save on your phone to refresh your memory in the field. I especially recommend downloading photos of major waypoints, intersections, and spots with tricky route-finding.

Current Conditions

Conditions at Blanca Peak vary dramatically throughout the year. Use the sources below to check for recent condition updates or post a request for an update from other climbers.

Where to Find Condition Reports

There are many good resources online where you can research the recent conditions along the route and on the summit. Remember to take all condition reports with a grain of salt and be prepared for them to be wrong.

Where to Ask About Recent Conditions (Beta)

If none of the sources above have good conditions data, you can also visit the following social media groups and communities to ask for information in a public post. Be warned, some groups’ members are friendlier than others.

Weather Forecast

Plan for the weather by researching the weather forecast for Blanca Peak. Good sources for weather and avalanche forecast data include:


You can read the full NWS forecast for Blanca Peak below.

Be sure you take note of the high and low temperature, % of precipitation, sunrise and sunset time, and whether there are any storms before or after your planned ascent date.

When weather conditions deteriorate, be smart and reschedule.

Lake Como Road Trailhead

Blanca Peak’s northwest ridge is access via Lake Como Road. The formal trailhead is located just after you turn onto the road. There are no bathrooms or amenities at this trailhead.

However, there is significant dispersed camping available for several miles, and most people climbing the peak drive as far as they can before parking along the side of the road and continuing on foot.

Most 2WD vehicles can get past the trailhead, and 4WD vehicles can make it to the beginning of the switchbacks.

Only specially modified 4WD vehicles with extra high clearance can make it over the three rugged sections known as “the Jaws” to reach the Lake itself.

Do not plan on reaching it unless you have significant 4WD experience; rollovers along the road have killed and injured many people over the past several decades.

Learn More About Lake Como Road

Travel Safety Information

Please note that most routes to the San Luis Valley pass over high mountain passes. These are roads that can be narrow and winding in places. Road conditions vary significantly depending on the weather, and roads are typically closed in winter due to snow.

Always check current road conditions before your trip, especially in the shoulder season or winter. Also, be prepared for potential high-altitude weather conditions and carry appropriate supplies and clothing.

14er Gear List

Packing the right gear will make your climb more enjoyable and increase your odds of a successful summit. Start with the ten essentials and go from there depending on the season, route, and objective.

Here’s what I recommend bringing with you while hiking Blanca Peak.

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

Where To Stay Nearby

There are lots of great camping and lodging options near Blanca Peak. While I prefer camping, there are good hotels and motels nearby in Alamosa, Colorado.

Camping near Blanca Peak:

These are some of the campgrounds closest to Blanca Peak.


There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along Lake Como road near the trailhead ideal for those hiking Blanca Peak. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.

Lodging Near Blanca Peak

Blanca Peak is only 30 minutes from Alamosa, Colorado, the largest town in the San Luis Valley. It has a number of hotels and lodging options for those climbing the peak.


There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Alamosa, perfect for those hiking Blanca Peak.

Leave No Trace

Blanca Peak is situated in a pristine mountain environment, but it gets busier with each passing season. Help preserve this beautiful place for future generations by practicing Leave No Trace ethics during your climb. Here are some of the most important tips to keep in mind to limit your impact.

Leave No Trace Tips

  • Stay on the Trail: It’s important to always keep to the designated trails in order to protect wildlife habitats and preserve the natural environment.
  • Pick Up Litter: Always ensure you pick up any litter you may see on the trail. This helps keep the area clean for other visitors.
  • Pack Out Waste: Any waste you generate should be packed out and properly disposed of.
  • Leave What You Find: Preserve the natural environment by leaving everything you find just as it is. Do not disturb any plants, rocks, or artifacts.
  • Give Wildlife Space: Respect wildlife by keeping a safe distance, avoiding feeding them, and not disturbing their natural behaviors.
  • Store Food Properly: Ensure you store your food properly to avoid attracting wildlife.
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts: If you make a campfire, use established fire rings, keep fires small, and put them out completely when you’re done.
  • Keep Noise Down: Keep your noise levels down to not disturb wildlife and other visitors.
  • Break into Small Groups: Traveling in smaller groups can minimize the impact on the environment and wildlife.
  • Be Courteous to Others: Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience by being considerate and polite.

Incorporating these LNT principles into your Blanca 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.

Safety Tips

14ers are dangerous, including Blanca Peak. Hazards are varied and include altitude sickness, cliffs and exposed terrain, year-round ice and snow, variable weather conditions, dangerous wildlife, and difficult route-finding and navigation. People get lost, injured, and die on the 14ers each year.

Do not become a statistic! Arm yourself with knowledge and the right skills to stay safe while hiking Blanca Peak. Here are some essential safety best practices to use on your ascent.

  • Conduct research and plan ahead: It’s essential to know the trail, understand the risks, and prepare for the journey you’re about to undertake.
  • Prepare for the weather: Check the weather forecast and anticipate changes. The weather in mountainous areas can be unpredictable.
  • Wear clothing layers: Dressing in layers helps you adjust to changing temperatures and weather conditions.
  • Bring rain protection: Even if the forecast is clear, it’s always a good idea to carry rain gear just in case.
  • Start early, end early: Beginning your hike early gives you plenty of time to enjoy the journey and return before dark.
  • Take time to acclimatize: If you’re hiking at high altitudes, it’s important to give your body time to adjust to the change in pressure and oxygen levels.
  • Go with friends: There is safety in numbers. Plus, sharing the experience with friends can make it more enjoyable.
  • Make a plan and share it: Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return. This is a basic safety precaution.
  • Watch out for cognitive bias: Don’t let optimism make you underestimate the risks. Be realistic about the challenges you might face.
  • Know your limits: Don’t push yourself too hard. It’s better to turn back than risk injury or exhaustion.

Respecting these safety guidelines will help ensure that your climb up Mt Bierstadt 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

No permits, passes, or reservations are required to climb Blanca Peak at this time.

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

National Forest Regulations

The route and trail pass through San Isabel National Forest and land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Follow these US Forest Service rules and regulations while hiking Blanca Peak or camping in the area:

  • Be aware & follow posted regulations on national forest lands.
  • Keep noise levels down to avoid stressing wildlife and livestock, as well as other visitors.
  • Respect private property.
  • Do not carve, chop, cut or damage any live trees.
  • Camping is limited to 14 days within any continuous 30-day period.
  • 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.
  • Keep dogs and pets under voice control at all times.
  • Using or possessing fireworks on national forest 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 US Forest Service safety page for other general guidelines.

About Mount Bierstadt

Blanca Peak is a prominent mountain located in the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. With an elevation of 14,345 feet (4,372 meters), it is the fourth highest peak in the state and one of the 58 fourteeners (peaks with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet) in Colorado. Blanca Peak is situated in the southern part of the state, approximately 20 miles east-northeast of the city of Alamosa.

Blanca Peak is a visually striking mountain, known for its rugged terrain and dramatic cliffs. The mountain is composed primarily of granite and metamorphic rock, which gives it a distinct appearance. The area surrounding Blanca Peak features beautiful alpine landscapes, glacial lakes, and an abundance of wildlife, including elk, bighorn sheep, and black bears.

In Navajo (Diné) tradition, Blanca Peak is considered one of the four sacred mountains that mark the boundaries of their ancestral homeland. Known as Sisnaajiní, it represents the eastern direction and is associated with the color white.

Climbing Blanca Peak is a challenging endeavor, typically taking one to two days to complete. The most common approach is via Lake Como Road and the Northwest Ridge route. The hike involves a significant elevation gain and requires proper preparation, experience, and physical fitness. Due to the challenging nature of the hike and potential hazards such as rockfall and afternoon thunderstorms, safety should always be the top priority when attempting to summit Blanca Peak.

Photos

These are a collection of photos of Blanca Peak and the northwest ridge route from my previous trips to the area. You can also find additional pictures in our route description above.

Additional Resources

Blanca Peak FAQ

Below are commonly asked questions about Blanca Peak. If you have a question we haven’t addressed yet, leave a comment, and we will get back to you with more information and an answer as soon as possible.

A: The four sacred mountains of the Navajo, also known as the Dine, are located in the southwestern United States. These mountains represent the four cardinal directions and play a significant role in Navajo spirituality, tradition, and mythology. The sacred mountains are:

East – Blanca Peak (Sisnaajiní): Located in the Sangre de Cristo Range in Colorado, Blanca Peak represents the eastern boundary of the Navajo Nation and is associated with the color white.

South – Mount Taylor (Tsoodził): Found in the San Mateo Mountains in New Mexico, Mount Taylor represents the southern boundary and is associated with the color blue.

West – San Francisco Peaks (Dook’o’oosłííd): Located in the Coconino National Forest in Arizona, the San Francisco Peaks represent the western boundary of the Navajo Nation and are associated with the color yellow.

North – Hesperus Mountain (Dibé Nitsaa): Situated in the La Plata Mountains in Colorado, Hesperus Mountain marks the northern boundary of the Navajo territory and is associated with the color black.

A: Blanca Peak, located in the Sangre de Cristo Range in Colorado, has an elevation of approximately 14,351 feet (4,374 meters). It is one of Colorado’s 14ers and ranks as the fourth-highest peak in the state.

A: No, you cannot drive up Blanca Peak. The mountain does not have a road that leads to the summit. To reach the peak, you must hike or climb one of the various routes available. The most common approach is via the Lake Como Road, which is a rough and challenging 4×4 road that starts at the base of the mountain. Most hikers and climbers park their vehicles at a suitable location along Lake Como Road and then hike or backpack up to Lake Como, where they set up camp before attempting the summit. Keep in mind that Blanca Peak is a challenging hike and requires proper preparation, experience, and physical fitness.

A: Climbing Blanca Peak in a single continuous hike is quite challenging due to the length, elevation gain, and difficult terrain. Most hikers hike to Lake Como where they camp for the night and climb to the summit the next day. However, for highly experienced and physically fit hikers, it is possible to complete the hike in one day.

A rough estimate for a one-day, continuous hike would be approximately 12 to 16 hours, depending on their level of fitness, weather conditions, acclimation, and other factors. Most hikers would need 16-20 hours and should consider doing it in two days.

A: Blanca Peak is a moderately difficult Colorado 14er. It is one of the more strenuous class 2 peaks, which means it has hiking and scrambling but limited exposure and no rock climbing. It is difficult because of its length (17 miles) and elevation gain (6,500 feet), among the longest 14er routes. It is not recommended for beginners. 

A: Blanca Peak is located in the Sangre de Cristo Range in southern Colorado. It’s the highest peak in the range and the fourth highest peak in Colorado. Blanca Peak is part of the Sierra Blanca Massif, which also includes three other fourteeners: Ellingwood Point, Mount Lindsey, and Little Bear Peak. The peak is prominently visible from the San Luis Valley and is near the town of Alamosa, situated to the west of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

A: The trail to the summit of Blanca Peak is approximately 17 miles long (round-trip). The length differs depending on where you start and end along Lake Como Road, which does not have a defined trailhead. Many people take two days to ascend, spending the night camping near Lake Como.

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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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