Hiking Mount 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. 

New to 14ers? Click here to get started with our Beginner Guide.

Hiking Mount Blue Sky: 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.

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!

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.

I hope my route guide was helpful. Looking for more info on this route? Visit 14ers.com or summitpost.com. Safe travels on the trail, and good luck hiking Mount Blue Sky!


Mt Evans Standard Route Guide

This topographical map of the Mt Blue Sky route is a good thing to keep with you on your hike. I recommend downloading it on your phone to bring with you, along with a backup printed out paper copy in case anything happens to your electronics. A map is critically important to keep with you.

Checking the weather multiple times and from multiple sources should be a regular part of your 14er preparations. Here are several forecast sources you can use before hiking Mount Blue Sky.

Mountain Forecast for Mt Blue Sky

Here are several sources to find beta (information) on current conditions on Grays Peak and the North Slopes route. Remember, we do not and cannot verify these reports, so please take them with a grain of salt.

14ers.com Mount Blue Sky Peak Condition Reports

AllTrails: Mount Blue Sky Trail Reviews and Conditions

SummitPost: Mount Blue Sky (Long-term reports)

The West Ridge route begins at the Summit Lake Trailhead. This road is accessible by 2WD vehicles but closes for the fall through spring. It usually opens around or just after Memorial Day weeekend.


Take Exit 240 at Idaho Springs on Interstate 70. Drive south on Colorado 103 for 13.5 miles to Echo Lake. Pay the entrance fee and drive 9 miles up Mount Blue Sky road (Colorado 5) to the Summit Lake parking area. This area gets extremely busy during summer weekends, so I recommend getting a very early start if you want a parking spot. 
Reservations are required for entry. Go to recreation.gov to create an account and purchase your ticket. https://www.recreation.gov/timed-entry/10087438
Summit Lake Park, owned by the City of Denver, has a separate $5 pass. There is no fee for driving the road if visitors don’t plan to stop at one of the three fee areas.

The scramble up Mount Blue Sky is class 2, and can involve quite a few rocky sections. I suggest wearing a good pair of hiking boots to provide more protection for your ankles in case you trip and fall while hiking Mount Blue Sky. Here are my top hiking boot recommendations.

You should always bring the ten essentials with you on your trip (see the infographic below). While the chance of an emergency while hiking Mount Blue Sky is small, it is better to be safe than sorry. To carry all your gear, 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 Mount Blue Sky:

There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads near the trailhead ideal for those climbing Mount Blue Sky. Note that camping is not allowed at the trailhead. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.

Lodging near Mount Blue Sky:

There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Idaho Springs, Georgetown, and the surrounding area, ideal for those climbing Mount Blue Sky.

Mount Blue Sky is an extremely busy peak due to the road up its summit and its proximity to Denver. It is critically important that you follow Leave No Trace practices while hiking Mount Blue Sky to limit your impact and help protect access to the area. These practices include:

  • 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 hiking Mount Blue Sky! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.

Embarking on a hike up Mount Blue Sky is an exciting adventure, but it’s essential to prioritize safety during your journey. Adhering to mountain safety best practices will ensure a more enjoyable and secure experience for both novice and experienced hikers alike.

  1. Plan and Prepare
    Thoroughly research the trail conditions, weather forecasts, and any potential hazards or challenges specific to Mount Blue Sky. Ensure you have appropriate gear, clothing, and sufficient food and water for the duration of your hike. Notify someone of your planned route and estimated return time.

  2. Start Early
    Begin your hike early in the morning to avoid afternoon thunderstorms, which are common in the Colorado mountains. Aim to be off the summit and below the tree line before noon to minimize the risk of lightning exposure.

  3. Understand Altitude Sickness
    Know the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). If you or anyone in your party exhibits symptoms (coughing, shortness of breath, severe headache, confusion), do not hesitate to descend to a lower elevation.

  4. Stay on Established Trails
    Preserve the environment and minimize your impact by staying on marked trails. Not only does this protect fragile vegetation, but it also reduces the risk of getting lost or encountering unexpected hazards.

  5. Hike with a Buddy
    Hiking with a partner or group provides additional safety and support. In case of injury or an emergency, having someone with you can make a significant difference in the outcome.

  6. Monitor the Weather
    Mountain weather can change rapidly, so keep an eye on the sky and be prepared to adjust your plans if necessary. If thunderstorms or other dangerous weather conditions develop, prioritize safety and consider turning back.

  7. Know Your Limits
    Be honest about your physical fitness, experience, and skill level. If you’re unsure about your ability to complete the hike or reach the summit, it’s better to turn back and try again another day.

  8. Be Prepared for Emergencies
    Carry a fully charged cell phone or a personal locator beacon (PLB) in case of emergencies. Familiarize yourself with basic first aid and wilderness survival skills, and know the emergency contact numbers for the area.

Following these mountain safety best practices and advice will help ensure a successful and enjoyable hike on Mount Blue Sky, while also promoting responsible stewardship of our treasured natural landscapes.

Click here to read our comprehensive mountain safety guide.

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.

You need a reservation to drive to Summit Lake on Mount Blue Sky. There is also a $5 fee for parking charged by Denver Parks, which owns Summit Lake. Click here to visit recreation.gov and buy a timed-entry reservation. 

Mount Evans Wilderness Regulations

Wilderness regulations apply in the Mount Evans Wilderness:

  • Dogs must be on a hand held leash.
  • No motorized or mechanized equipment.
  • Camps, campfires and stock, where allowed, at least 100 feet from water and trails.
  • Group size limited to 15 people and/or 10 pack/stock animals per party.
  • Certified weed-free hay is required for stock.

Campfire Regulations

Unless seasonal restrictions are in effect, campfires must be attended at all times and cold to the touch with the bare hand before being abandoned. Collection of dead and down wood is allowed; do not break branches from standing trees for firewood.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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.

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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. 

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, Creator of The Next Summit

Alex 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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