The Elk Mountains are the most dangerous Colorado mountain range. Their loose, rotten rock makes rockslides and accidents more common than any other peaks in the state. The six fourteeners here aren’t to be taken lightly. Hiking Castle Peak is one of the easiest 14ers in the Elk Mountains, great for those looking to get their feet wet in this area without the risk of the Maroon Bells or Capitol Peak. It’s still a long, touch climb that deserves to be taken seriously. Before you go hiking Castle Peak, take some time to plan ahead with my route guide below.
Hiking Castle Peak: Fast Facts
14ers Are Dangerous: Safety is Your Responsibility
These awe-inspiring peaks can be unpredictable and dangerous. Help is often hours or days away: your safety is primarily your responsibility. Carefully prepare for your trek, understand your limits, be aware of the risks, and equip yourself with the necessary skills and gear.
We’ve compiled a comprehensive Mountain Safety Guide – but remember, it’s only as effective as its real-world application. Always prioritize your safety over summiting; the mountain isn’t going anywhere. Climb smart, be prepared, and respect the grandeur of nature.
Castle Peak Photos
Hiking Castle Peak - Northeast Ridge Route
Planning to climb Castle Peak? Start by checking out my route description and map below so you know where you’re going. There is also weather info and links for researching current conditions, gear recommendations, nearby camping options, and other info to help you plan ahead and stay safe during your trip.
If you have a 4WD high clearance vehicle, you can drive beyond the 2WD trailhead to shorten your hike. There are numerous dispersed campsites and pull-offs along the road where you can park and start hiking.
From the 2WD trailhead, start moving up the road and past nine designated campsites. Just past the ninth, reach a creek crossing. An avalanche wiped out the footbridge, but several logs are in place for hikers to cross. If you are driving, take a moment to check the conditions from the logs so you know what you are getting into (water levels are highest in the afternoon).
After the bridge, follow the road for several miles as it passes through meadows and forests, and a large waterfall, before it begins to switchback up a steep hillside. Come to the turn for the Pearl Pass Road and take a right to enter the Montezuma Basin at 11,150′. Most people park at or below this point as the road gets worse from here on out.
Follow the road as it climbs up into the basin gradually for several miles. There are great views of waterfalls, mine ruins, and crags around you. Watch out for vehicles driving up to the end of the road. Pass the ruins of the Montezuma mine around 12,500′ before you finally reach a flat area at end of the road around 12,800′.
Your next objective is to scale the large headwall that lies before you. It remains snow-covered for most of the year but gets dry in August or September. When snow-covered, you will need an ice axe, crampons, and helmet to safely ascend the slope. You can take a more gradual route by traversing the slope on the left or take a more direct route straight up the route side.
If it is dry, follow cairns and trail segments along the left side of the headwall, just to the right of a gully that often holds snow late into the year. This is a difficult section – take your time. Enter the upper basin around 13,300′. Castle Peak is above you to the right.
From the headwall, turn left and look for a trail with switchbacks going up the slope leading up Castle Peak. Follow the trail until it reaches the ridgeline around 13,700′. From here you have plenty of scrambling left to reach the trailhead.
Follow the ridge up and work your way through several initial rocky sections with trail segments and cairns. It does not exceed class 2+ in difficulty if you follow the easiest route.
Continue scrambling upward and move around another rock obstacle around 13,900′. Stay close to the ridge and do not drop down too far as it gets steep and loose quickly.
Reach a point around 14,000′ with a clear view of the remainder of the route. Drop down a bit before starting your climb up the crux.
Follow the ridge up and look for cairns and trail segments around each of the rock walls and spires along it. Near the top, move slightly left before you come over the crest and reach the summit of Castle Peak.
From the top, enjoy spectacular views of the Elk Mountains, Sawatch Range, and San Juans around you. Be sure you descend with enough time to reach the tree line no later than 1 pm. Safe travels on the trails and good luck hiking Castle Peak.
Always check the weather forecast before climbing Castle Peak to ensure you are properly prepared for the challenge. Here are some dependable sources for weather information. I recommend checking all three to get an idea of the forecast variability.
The Castle Peak 2WD trailhead is at the end of Castle Creek Road where it transitions from a paved road to a rough, dirt road. Stop here in the dirt parking area if you do not have high clearance and 4WD. There are no facilities at the trailhead, however, there are 9 dispersed designated campsites further up the road which you may be able to reach.
DIRECTIONS TO THE LAKE COMO ROAD:
From Aspen, take the roundabout from Highway 82 to Castle Creek Road. Drive approximately 13 miles until you see a dirt parking area on the right side of the road. This is the 2WD trailhead.
Those with 4WD and high clearance can continue another 3-6 miles, depending on their experience and vehicle. Pull-offs are found along the road all the way to the top of the road near 13,000 feet.
The right gear is important for hiking Castle Peak if you want to stay safe and give yourself the best chance for success. This starts with dependable hiking boots that have good traction for handling the rocky slopes found here. These are my top recommendations for footwear.
You always should bring the ten essentials with you while hiking Castle Peak and other fourteeners. A backpack will help you store them all during your trip as well. Here are several dependable bags, depending on your needs.
I always use trekking poles for fourteeners. They provide balance on the rocks and during stream crossings and help me use my upper body strength to support my legs and core. These are the best trekking poles for hiking Castle Peak and similar peaks.
Lastly, if you plan to spend a lot of time in the mountains you should consider a personal locator beacon or satellite messenger device. They can help you call for help if something goes wrong even if you do not have a cell signal. These are some of the best models for those hiking and climbing fourteeners.
Looking for more gear advice? Visit my full Gear Review Page to see all my recommendations for the fourteeners and beyond.
Camping near Castle Peak:
There are nine designated dispersed campsites along the lower road, with more dispersed campsites along the upper road beyond the creek crossing. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.
Lodging near Ellingwood Point:
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Aspen and the surrounding area, ideal for those hiking Castle Peak.
Castle Peak gets a lot of traffic from nearby Aspen. This increases the impact on the alpine tundra at this peak. Help preserve this mountain and area while hiking Castle Peak by following these Leave No Trace practices:
- 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! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.
Castle Peak is the tallest peak in the Elk Mountain range of Colorado and the 10th tallest in the state. It got its name from its spires, crags, and ledges, which give the appearance of a castle fortress with towers and crenellations. The area was the site of major mining activity in the late 19th century which led to the development of the nearby ghost town of Ashcroft. The Montezuma Mine found silver ore but the deposits quickly played out.
In the early 1900s, the mine was re-opened and a large aerial tram system was constructed to carry ore from the mine at nearly 13,000′ down to a new mill being constructed in the valley at 10,800′. However, the tram was destroyed by avalanches within a few seasons, and the mining company never raised enough capital to re-build. You can still see remains from the tram system, along with the mining works themselves along the road above the treeline.
Castle Peak is one of the most difficult class two peaks in Colorado to climb due to the permanent snowfields found along the standard route. Unlike most of the other 14ers, an ice axe and crampons are both required to safely climb it. Nearby Conundrum Peak is not officially a 14er because it rises less than 200 feet from the saddle below, but most people choose to climb it anyway. It only adds 1 additional mile to your climb.
Climbing Castle Peak is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.