Hiking Mt Blue Sky

Hiking Mount Blue Sky | 14er Route Description, Map & Advice

Mt. Blue Sky is one of two 14ers with roads to their summit. However, that also means it’s relatively easy to climb by foot. It’s named after the man who ordered the Sand Creek Massacre that killed hundreds of Native American men, women, and children. Despite the dark history, climbing the peak is a refreshing treat, with many options for advanced routes due to the accessibility of the high country. Taking the road almost to the top and stopping at Summit Lake leaves you in the right place to climb the West Ridge. 

Here’s what you need to know to safely and successfully reach the summit.

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Mount Evans Renamed to Mount Blue Sky
Hiking Mount Blue Sky: 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 Mount Blue Sky - West 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!

Mt Blue Sky Route Description

The Mt Blue Sky route begins only 2,000 feet below the summit. Leave your car at the Summit Lake trailhead, and head north along the shore until you meet a sign marking a trail up Mt. Spalding. To begin hiking Mount Blue Sky, follow a loose trail up through the rocks to the ridge – don’t take the lower trail along the lake to your left.

Head up to the top of the ridge proper to get to a better trail. Climb until you reach the summit of Mt. Spalding (a good launch spot). The large basin you’re leaving was carved thousands of years ago by glaciers formed at the cliff walls above you.

From Mt. Spalding, you must head south to the saddle below the west ridge and Mt. Spalding. Follow a trail marked with cairns, but don’t worry if you leave the trail at times. Aim for the base of the ridge, just beyond this side (which has cliffs).

Work your way along the Western Ridge, following the cairns to find the path of least resistance. This can be a long, slow section of hiking Mount Blue Sky, with a bit of elevation gain and loss as you scramble up and down. Take your time and move carefully here. A fall is unlikely but wouldn’t be good for you.

With a bit of grit, you will soon come across the parking lot full of confused tourists wondering why you bothered hiking up a mountain with a road. Join the short trail from the summit parking lot to reach the summit before heading back for your descent. 

For an easier day out, come with two vehicles and leave one parked at the top for an easy drive back down. Enjoy your time, and make sure you head back to the tree line before the afternoon to avoid summer thunderstorms.

Mt Blue Sky Topographic Maps

Mt Blue Sky Interactive Route Map

This interactive map shows the route and elevation using topographic contour lines. It’s great for researching the route to prepare for your climb.

Mt Blue Sky Static Topo Map

This static map of the route is easy to download and save on your phone. I also recommend investing in a waterproof route map just to be safe.

Mt Blue Sky Regional Topo Map

This map shows the extended region around Mt Blue Sky, which is helpful for camping nearby or linking up with other peaks and routes.

Mt Blue Sky Route Photos

These photos show the west slope route for hiking Mount Blue Sky. Click an image to view it full screen. I recommend saving them on your phone so you have them with you in the field.

Mt Blue Sky Current Conditions

Conditions at Mt Blue Sky 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.

In the world of climbing, current condition information is called “Beta.”

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 hiking Mt Blue Sky. Check them all before you start making posts asking about conditions or you may get scolded on accident.

Where to Ask About Recent Conditions (Beta)

If you cannot find any recent condition or trip reports for Mt Blue Sky using any of the website above, 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.

Mt Blue Sky Weather Forecast

The National Weather Service forecast below for Mt Blue Sky provides everything you need to know to plan ahead for your climb. Additional weather forecast resources include Open Summit and Mountain Forecast.

Summit Lake Trailhead

The Summit Lake Park trailhead is located above the treeline, just below the summit of Mt Blue Sky. It is reached via the Mt Blue Sky Scenic Byway. The highway closes each year from late September through late May. Check the current pass status on the USFS website.

There is a large parking lot and pit toilets at the trailhead. However, parking routinely fills completely during busy summer weekends. Arrive by 5 a.m. if you want to be sure you will secure a spot in July and August.

There is a $5 fee, separate from the timed-entry reservation, for accessing Summit Lake, payable to the City of Denver. You must display your ticket when you park or you may come back and find a ticket on your windowshield. Read more here

Directions to Summit Lake from I-70:

To reach Summit Lake, which serves as a base for many hiking adventures on Mount Blue Sky, follow these directions from Interstate 70:

  1. Start on I-70, whether coming from the east (Denver) or west.
  2. Take Exit 240 for CO-103/Chicago Creek Rd toward Mt Evans.
  3. Turn onto CO-103 S/Chicago Creek Rd and continue to follow CO-103 South.
  4. Stay on CO-103 S for approximately 13.5 miles.
  5. Look for signs for the Mount Evans area; turn right onto Mount Evans Road (CO-5).
  6. Continue on Mount Evans Road for approximately 9 miles.
  7. Summit Lake will be on your left.

Travel Safety Information

Note that Mount Blue Sky Road (CO-5) beyond Summit Lake to the peak usually requires a timed entry reservation during the summer season, which can be obtained through the Recreation.gov website. The road itself is generally open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, weather permitting. Always check current road conditions and regulations before your trip.

Mt Blue Sky Gear List

Climbing any of Colorado’s 14ers requires careful preparation and the right gear to ensure safety and enjoyment. Here’s a comprehensive gear list for hiking Mount Blue Sky:

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

Where To Stay Near Mt Blue Sky

The area near Mt Blue Sky has great options for camping, motels, and airbnbs. Here are some of my recommended places to stay near Summit Lake trailhead.

Where to Camp Near Mt Blue Sky:

Finding an available site at a developed campground near Mt Blue Sky is challenging due to its proximity to Denver. This is especially true on busy summer weekends. I recommend reserving a site in advance to avoid stress and uncertainty.

These are some of the campgrounds closest to Mt Blue Sky: 


Dispersed campsites are difficult to find in this area due to all the traffic coming from Denver, however if you visit some of the forest roads in the area you might get luck.

Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.

Lodging Near Mt Blue Sky

Mt Blue Sky is very close to Idaho Springs and Georgetown, which are home to many great lodging options for your stay. From small motels and hostels to grand lodges, there is something for every type of traveler.

Here are several specific options I recommend.


Use the map widget below to find a place to stay near Mt Blue Sky using the Booking.com platform.
 
If you book a room, you’ll support The Next Summit at no additional cost to you and a win-win for the mountains.
 

Leave No Trace at Mt Blue Sky

When setting out to hike Mount Blue Sky, integrating Leave No Trace (LNT) principles is crucial for preserving the delicate alpine environment of this Colorado 14er.

The following section offers guidance on how to minimize your impact while enjoying the great outdoors:

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 Mt Blue Sky.
  • 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 Mt Blue Sky 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 for Hiking Mt Blue Sky

Mt Blue Sky, standing tall at over 14,000 feet, offers a majestic experience but also poses unique challenges. It is one of the most difficult class 2 peaks in the state, and people have been seriously injured or killed there in recent years. Prioritize your safety with these essential tips:

  • Acclimate to Altitude: Spend a day or two at a lower elevation near Mt Blue Sky 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.

  • 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: Mt Blue Sky’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 Mt Blue Sky 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 Mt Blue Sky 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

Those climbing Mt Blue Sky from Summit Lake must get a timed-entry reservation on recreation.gov. There is also a fee for visiting Summit Lake, which is owned separately by Denver Mountain Parks.

Please follow Leave No Trace practices and recreate responsibly to prevent further limits on access to this 14er.

Wilderness Regulations

This route passes through Mount Evans Wilderness Area, which has special regulations and restrictions to protect the wild landscape. Here are some of the most important policies to keep in mind:

  • Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is prohibited
  • All commercial and non-profit groups are required to obtain a Special Use Permit
  • Group size is limited to 15
  • Camp sites must be at least 100 feet from any water source
  • Pets must be on a hand-held leash at all times.
  • Short-cutting switchbacks on trails is prohibited.
  • Use existing fire rings. Avoid building fires above tree-line.
  • Delicate alpine tundra is very susceptible to damage. Walk on durable routes of rock or talus.
  • Stock must not be hobbled, tethered or picketed within 100’ feet of any lakes, streams or trails.
  • Dispose of wash water at least 100 feet away from any water source.
  • Bury human waste in a hole six to eight inches deep a minimum of 100 feet away from any water source, trail, or campsite.
  • Pack out toilet paper, tampons, and leftover food. Otherwise, animals can dig it up.
  • Obey posted signs prohibiting camping or other activities. Some campsites may be closed to allow the area to recover from overuse.


Learn more about Wilderness regulations on the USFS website.

National Forest Regulations

In addition, follow these USFS guidelines on the entire route, whether you are in wilderness or not:

  • 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 Blue Sky

Mount Blue Sky is the closest fourteener to Denver and the front range metro area, visible rising over the city skyline miles away. The mountain was originally named after John Evans, the controversial former Territorial Governor partially responsible for the Sand Creek Massacre. It was renamed Mount Blue Sky on September 15, 2023, which was a name suggested by the Arapahoe Tribe – it is a translation of their tribal name.

The road to the peak of Mount Blue Sky was built over a period of years from 1915 through 1930. It was originally part of a scheme by the city of Denver to develop Mount Blue Sky as a National Park. While the mountain was never granted this status, a road was still built to the summit, now the highest paved road in North America. The summit includes the remains of an old gift shop and restaurant which burned down in 1979. The foundation today is a viewing platform for visitors and those hiking to the summit.

Mount Blue Sky has been a significant place of research over the past 90 years due to its high altitude and road accessibility. Experiments into cosmic rays were carried out there in the 1930s, and the University of Denver maintains a telescope on the summit today for astrological research. It is also the scene for physics research, including a study that verified time dilation, a theory of Albert Einstein.

Mt Blue Sky Photos

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

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the most common questions we get asked about Mt Blue Sky. 

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: Yes, you can drive to the top of Mt Blue Sky. It is home to the highest paved road in North America, reaching an elevation of 14,130 feet. This road, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, allows visitors to drive all the way to a parking lot just below the summit.

A: Yes, there is a cost to access the Mount Blue Sky Scenic Byway. The fee is $15 per vehicle. Always check the current fees before planning your trip. There is an additional $5 fee for those visiting or parking at Summit Lake Park.

A: The length of your hike on Mt Blue Sky will depend on where you start. From the Summit Lake parking lot, the hike is about 5 miles round-trip. If you start from Echo Lake, the hike is about 14 miles round-trip. It’s important to choose a route that suits your fitness and comfort level.

A: The difficulty of hiking Mount Blue Sky can vary widely depending on the starting point and the individual hiker’s fitness level. The hike from Summit Lake is often considered moderate, while the hike from Echo Lake is generally considered challenging due to its length and the altitude. Regardless of the trail you choose, remember that you’ll be at high elevation where the air is thinner, so take it easy and acclimatize properly to avoid altitude sickness.

A: Mount Blue Sky is 14,265 feet, or 4,348 meters, above sea level. It’s one of the 58 peaks in Colorado that rise above 14,000 feet, often referred to as “Fourteeners.”

A: You do not need a permit to hike Mount Blue Sky, but you do need a reservation to reach the Summit Lake Trailhead.

Additionally, if you’re planning to camp in the Mount Evans Wilderness, a free, self-issuing permit is required for overnight stays. It’s always recommended to check the most current regulations before your hike.

A: Yes, you can drive to the summit before 8am during the summer months, but you must display your reservation on your dashboard. However, exact opening times can vary depending on the time of year and weather conditions. It’s best to check the current status and opening times before you plan your visit.

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. 

One Response

  1. The crowds are smaller following the institution of the timed entry permit, which makes this hike even better than it used to be. Highly recommend it!

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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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