Hiking the Decalibron Loop

Hiking the Decalibron Loop | Best Advice, Route Info, & Maps

The Decalibron Loop consists of four 14ers: Mt Democrat, Mt Cameron, Mt Lincoln and Mt Bross. It’s the one spot in Colorado you can climb four 14ers in a single day, if conditions and luck allows. The mountains all share a single ridge line, making it a simple loop trail to reach them all.

Please remember that the summit of Mt. Bross is on private property and is closed at this time. You’ll likely see others climbing it, however this is endangering the open status of Mt. Lincoln & Democrat, as the owners are considering closing them as well to prevent trespassing on Mt. Bross. At this time, please use the Decalibron loop bypass trail just below the summit, which has granted access. 

New to 14ers? Check out my Beginner Guide for a safe ascent!

HELP KEEP THE DECALIBRON LOOP OPEN: SUPPORT THE FIX CRUS COALITION!

A flaw in Colorado’s recreational use statue (CRUS) leaves landowners open to substantial liability risks. This is threatening to shut down access to the Decalibron Loop forever unless we can update the CRUS this spring. You can help protect access by taking three simple actions:

1. Click here to sign the petition urging lawmakers to support access.

2. Click here to join the Grassroots support group to stay updated about future developments.

3. Click here to donate $14 to help us defend 14er public access across Colorado.

Mount Bross remains closed. Please respect this closure as the Fix CRUS Coalition of partners works to re-secure public access to the peak. Thank you for understanding.

Decalibron Loop 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.

Hiking the Decalibron Loop - Kite Lake 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!

Start your trip along the Decalibron Loop at the Kite Lake trailhead – it’s a rocky road but most 2WD vehicles can make it (I once managed it in a prius!). Head north along the lake, towards the Democrat-Cameron saddle. You’ll climb a series of moraines up to the saddle, passing several historic mining structures on the way. These are dangerous ruins, so enjoy them from the trail to stay safe.

Park at the Kite Lake Trailhead and head north along the lake’s shoreline to begin the Decalibron Loop. While you can’t tell from looking at now, the lake gets its name from its kite-like shape. After a little bit of hiking, and after passing a through old mining remains, you’ll take a hard left before you head into a more rugged section of switchbacks. Your aim is the saddle between Mount Democrat to your left, and Mount Cameron to the right. Pass by a small prospector’s hole just before reaching the saddle.

Once you make it to the saddle, you’ll be treated to amazing views of the basin beyond. Pause to catch your breath if you need to, before turning left to ascend Democrat’s north slope. The trail here is rugged, switchbacking up the mountain through boulders and rocks. Take your time and mind your step. Be wary of a false summit here, as you still have a short bit to go beyond what looks like the summit. 

Make it past this false point, pass another old mining ruin, and climb the final 150 feet or so to reach your first 14er summit of the day. Mount Democrat can be climbed as a single peak, in which case you can take the same route back to the trailhead. If you want to keep climbing, read on!

Once you’ve tagged Mount Democrat you can turn your attention to Mount Cameron and Mount Lincoln. Head down to the saddle the same way you ascended, and  then head up the ridge towards Mt Cameron. There may be snow and a cornice if you are hiking early in the year. Cameron has a very broad, flat summit, and can get extremely windy. The views are great, and the route on to Mount Lincoln is fairly obvious.

The short connecting traverse hike from Mount Cameron to Lincoln is very short – it will take you 10-15 minutes at most. There are more mining ruins to check out, and some steep drop-off’s and rocky sections that make this my favorite part of the hike, even though it never exceeds a class 1 difficulty level.

Mount Lincoln is a more rugged peak, with a little scrambling required to reach the summit. From the top, look north for a gorgeous view of Quandary Peak. Head back towards Mount Cameron before turning left to bypass its summit. Head towards the Cameron-Bross Saddle to its left.

Mount Bross is your last remaining peak, but it lies on private property. At this time, the landowners have not granted access out of concern regarding liability issues. Repeated trespassing is threatening access to Kite Lake and the entire Decalibron Loop. Please stick to the bypass trail below the summit Mount Bross and return once access is granted. (It’s being worked on by a coalition of concerned organizations including the Colorado Mountain Club and Colorado Fourteeners Initiative).

The path down Mount Bross is notorious for its steep profile and slippery, loose scree (pebbles and small rocks). When hiking down, they come loose repeatedly and act like marbles. Some people advocate climbing this section first, and descending from Democrat, to mitigate the issue. You can make the choice – just follow this route guide in reverse.

Along the route down, you’ll eventually take a sharp left to move across a gully, before continuing straight down its side. Be careful you don’t cross too early and get into more difficult terrain. Once off the scree, enjoy a last hike through meadows and across a stream to reach the Kite Lake trailhead where you first began! I hope you enjoyed hiking the Decalibron Loop!

 

Hiking the Decalibron Loop

I recommend downloading a copy of this map on your phone, and printing out a backup paper copy to keep with you. Phones break and batteries die; Never rely 100% on a phone or GPS unit. Keep a paper copy with you.

Don’t forget to check the weather forecast before hiking the Decalibron Loop! These two resources are a good places to start your research:

Mountain Forecast for the Decalibron Loop

NOAA Weather Forecast for the Decalibron Loop

Open Summit Weather Forecast: Mount Democrat

Below is a copy of the entire NWS forecast for Mount Democrat and the rest of the Decalibron Loop. Scroll through to read the entire forecast in detail.

Conditions on the Decalibron 14ers change dramatically during the year. It is important to check the current conditions before you go so you can plan ahead and pack accordingly. Keep in mind, we don’t vet these individual reports, so take them each with a grain of salt.

Getting There: Directions from Denver From Denver, take I-70 west to CO-9 South. Continue on CO-9 South to the town of Alma. In Alma, take a right turn onto Kite Lake Road (County Road 8), which will be unpaved. Continue for about 6 miles until you reach the Kite Lake Trailhead. The last mile can be quite bumpy and may require a high-clearance vehicle.

Parking Permits, Fees, and Reservations As of the last update, a day-use parking fee is required at the Kite Lake Trailhead. The fee is typically around $5 to $10. Note that this fee is cash-only and requires exact change.

While the parking lot does fill up quickly during peak hiking season, it doesn’t operate on a reservation system. Parking is available on a first-come, first-serve basis, so try to arrive early in the morning to secure a spot.

Trailhead Amenities The Kite Lake Trailhead has a few amenities, including a restroom and camping spots. Note that the campsites are primitive, so you’ll need to bring all necessary camping equipment and supplies with you. Please adhere to Leave No Trace principles when camping to preserve the natural environment for future visitors.

Advice for Your Visit For the best chance at a parking spot, plan to arrive early, particularly on weekends and during peak summer months. Remember to bring exact change for the parking fee.

Check the weather forecast before you leave, as afternoon thunderstorms are common in the summer and can be quite dangerous at high altitudes. It’s always a good idea to start your hike early in the morning to avoid being above treeline during a storm.

Ensure your vehicle can handle the last mile of the drive to the trailhead, as the road can be rough and requires good clearance. If you have doubts about your vehicle, there’s a lower parking lot where you can park and walk the rest of the way to the trailhead. This will add about 2 miles to your overall hiking distance.

Lastly, remember to pack out what you pack in and respect the natural environment by staying on designated trails and camping in designated areas. Enjoy your adventure at the DeCaLiBron!

Bringing the right gear you will make your hike safer and more it more likely you reach the summit successfully. Here is what. I recommend bringing with you while hiking the Decalibron Loop.

Hiking Boots: Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX Boots

Power through uphills and descents in any weather with Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX men’s hiking boots. They give you the stability and grip you need, plus a higher cut for extra ankle support.

Buy at REI 

Backpack: Osprey Talon 22 Pack

The Osprey Talon 22 is the perfect size for those hiking the Decalibron Loop. With trek pole clasps to secure them to your pack, a pocket for your hydration bladder, and great comfort, you cannot beat this backpack.

Buy at REI →

Trek Poles: REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles

Trek poles provide stability while hiking and help you use your upper body strength while moving to give your legs a break. These award-winning poles from REI are lightweight, strong, and adjustable for rugged terrain.

Buy at REI →

Always Pack the Ten Essentials

The ten essentials are the most important pieces of gear you need to survive in an emergency in the backcountry. They empower you to actively respond to a crisis instead of passively waiting for search and rescue to respond. You should tweak the specific equipment you bring on each hike according to conditions, but you should always have something for each of these ten categories.

1. Navigation Gear
I recommend bringing a map and compass. If you want to use GPS, get a dedicated unit. Phone batteries die quickly in the cold on a 14er. This 14er map pack works well for hiking the Decalibron Loop.

2. Headlamp and Batteries
Even if you don’t plan to be out until dark, you can’t plan for everything. If you’re running behind, having the ability to see – and be seen – is everything. I recommend this headlamp from Black Diamond.

3. Emergency Shelter
When bad weather strikes without warning or someone falls and is injured, a shelter to get out of the elements can save your life. This emergency bivy works well for an easier peak like the Decalibron.

4. Extra Water
Bring 2 liters of water per person on your hike – if not more. You also want to bring a purification system to get more if you get stuck outside. That could be purification pills like these, or a lifestraw like this.

5. Extra Food
I recommend packing 1,000-2,000 extra calories while hiking the Decalibron Loop. If you do get stuck out there longer than expected, some extra power gel or energy bars will make a big difference.

6. Knife or Multi-tool
The benefits of having this around in an emergency are self-evident: You can prepare firewood, create a shelter, fix gear, and solve other problems. I recommend a leatherman multitool, which is so much more helpful than just a knife.

7. Sunglasses and Sunscreen
The solar radiation is powerful when you are above the tree line. Bringing strong sunscren (60+ SPF) is recommended to avoid sunburn. Bring a pair of polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes too.

8. Fire-Starting Kit
If you get stuck outdoors in the mountains, the cold is one of the biggest immediate threats to your life. Being able to start a fire can keep you alive through a cold night. Bring a small kit that includes matches and tinder for starting an emergency fire.

9. First Aid Kit
For hiking the Decalibron Loop you don’t need to go overboard. Some bandages, moleskin, and pain relief medication is more than enough to deal with falls and scrapes, blisters, and altitude sickness. 

10. Extra Layers
Bring one layer beyond what you expect to wear. In summer, that usually means bringing an extra coat or jacket you keep packed away in your bag. If you end up stuck outside overnight with a broken ankle, you will very happy you brought it with. These nanopuff jackets from Patagonia are lightweight but provide a ton of warmth.

Satellite Messenger: InReach Mini 2

When something goes wrong out on the trail, it is immensely helpful to be able to contact search and rescue teams quickly. Most areas of the Decalibron loop do not have dependable cell service. A satellite messenger or personal locator beacon allows you to call for help in an emergency in almost any location. They are expensive and require a subscription, but they have saved many lives on peaks like the Decalibron.

I recommend the Garmin InReach Mini 2, with also offers premium GPS mapping in addition to text and SOS features.

Buy at REI →

Camping near the Decalibron Loop:


There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads near the trailhead ideal for those hiking the Decalibron Loop. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.

Lodging near the Decalibron Loop:


There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Fairplay, Breckenridge, or Alma, ideal for those hiking the Decalibron Loop.

The Decalibron Loop is getting busier and busier. The owners please ask that you follow Leave No Trace practices during your trip to help keep the Kite Lake area for wildlife and other visitors. These include the following tips:

  • 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 the Decalibron Loop! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.

Tackling the Decalibron Loop is a rewarding experience, offering stunning panoramic views of Colorado’s high country. As with any mountain trek, though, the altitude, weather, and terrain present unique challenges. Keep these mountain safety tips and best practices in mind to ensure your hike is safe and enjoyable.

  1. Start Early: To avoid the typical afternoon thunderstorms common in the Rockies, aim to start your hike early in the morning. This will also provide enough daylight to complete the hike without feeling rushed.

  2. Understand Altitude Sickness: High-altitude treks like the Decalibron Loop can cause altitude sickness. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath. To mitigate this, acclimatize beforehand by spending a few days at high altitude, ascend slowly, and stay hydrated.

  3. Pack Essentials: Your pack should include navigation tools, extra food and water, layers of clothing for varying weather, a headlamp, first-aid kit, and emergency shelter. Even if you plan on returning the same day, be prepared for all possibilities.

  4. Know the Signs of Hypothermia and Frostbite: Cold, wet, and windy conditions can lead to these conditions, even in summer. Know the symptoms and treatment methods.

  5. Check the Weather: Mountain weather can change rapidly. Check forecasts the night before and morning of your hike. If the weather seems unstable, consider postponing your trip.

  6. Stay on the Trail: The established trail is there for a reason – it’s the safest route. Straying off can cause injury, lost time, or harm to the alpine environment.

  7. Leave No Trace: Respect the natural beauty of the mountain by packing out all trash and minimizing your impact on the environment.

  8. Inform Others: Always let someone know your route and expected return time, even if hiking in a group.

By following these mountain safety tips and best practices, you’ll ensure that your Decalibron Loop adventure is not just memorable, but also safe. Happy hiking! Read our Comprehensive Mountain Safety Guide to learn more.

The Decalibron is the only place in America where you can reach four 14,000 foot peaks through a single-day class 2 hike: Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Bross. The area was heavily mined in the late 19th and early 20th century, with three of the peaks (Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross) privately owned through a series of mining claims. Access to the mountains has closed several times over the past 20 years due to liability concerns and overcrowding. 

Mount Lincoln was named during the Civil War by the miners from the north that were working and living on its slopes. A different mining group working nearby from further south named their peak Mount Democrat as an implicit rebuke to the other miners. Mount Bross was named for William Bross (1813-1889), Lieutenant Governor of Illinois from 1865 to 1869, who owned mining property near the town of Alma. He made an early ascent of Mount Lincoln in 1868 and was overcome by the beauty of the place. Mount Cameron’s name origin is less certain, either related to a Republican Senator or a Union General.

Many mining structures remain along the Decalibron Loop. Please stay away from them, stay on trail, and respect closed private property. This helps ensure the area remains open and accessible to those who come after you.

The Decalibronn Loop is located on a mix of private and public land. At this time, the route is closed by the private landowners due to liability concerns and other impacts. Please respect the closure and hike elsewhere to help us restore access. Learn more at www.fixCRUS.org.

Pike-San Isabel National Forest Rules

Much of the route falls on USFS land in Pike-San Isabel National Forest. Follow their land management guidelines to limit your negative impact on the land and protect public access for the future.

Audio Devices: Keep the volume of audio devices low to not disturb others. Permits are required for public address systems.

Business Activities: All commercial activities require permits.

Campfires: Follow fire restrictions. Use established fire rings or stoves. Fires must be completely extinguished before leaving.

Camping: Camping is allowed with a 14-day limit. Vehicles must be parked in established sites. Remove all personal property and trash upon leaving.

Fee Areas: Fees are required for certain developed sites and must be paid in advance.

Fireworks and Firearms: Fireworks are prohibited. Firearms can’t be used near residences, roads, bodies of water, or where they may cause injury or damage.

General: Removing or disturbing natural resources requires a permit.

Geocaching: Permitted in general forest areas without causing resource damage or vandalism. Must not interfere with other permitted activities or historical sites.

Operation of Vehicles: Obey traffic laws and signs. Avoid damaging the land or vegetation. Parking only in marked areas.

Pets and Animals: Pets must be leashed in developed sites and are not allowed in swimming areas.

Property: Do not damage live trees or any historic or archeological resources. Respect private properties.

Public Behavior: Quiet hours are 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Keep noise at a reasonable level.

Sanitation: Dispose of garbage in provided containers or pack it out. Keep lakes, streams, and other water bodies clean.

Wilderness: Motor vehicles and motorized equipment are not allowed. Preserve the wilderness – “Leave only footprints, take only pictures.”

Learn more about these USFS guidelines and rules for visitors.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Have a question that we haven’t addressed below? Email us at info@thenextsummit.org and we can provide an answer and more details.

No, as of August 25, 2023, the Decalibron Loop is open to hikers who complete a liability waiver. The summit of Mount Bross remains closed to public access, but the loop can still be completed by following a bypass trails that skirts the summit. At this time, the Colorado Mountain Club considers reaching the high point along the bypass as a valid summit of Mount Bross.

A: The DeCaLiBron loop trail is approximately 7.25 miles (11.67 kilometers) long. This length can vary slightly depending on the specific path you take or if there are temporary detours in place. Remember, even though this might not seem particularly long for a hike, the high altitude and significant elevation gain make this a challenging but rewarding adventure!

A: The DeCaLiBron loop is located in Colorado, USA, specifically in the Mosquito Range of the Rocky Mountains. The trailhead is located near the town of Alma, which is about 6 miles away. Denver is roughly 2 hours’ drive, making it a popular destination for day-trippers and mountain enthusiasts based in the city.

A: The DeCaLiBron refers to a route that encompasses four peaks, each with their own heights:

  1. Mount Democrat: 14,148 feet (4,312 meters)
  2. Mount Cameron: 14,238 feet (4,337 meters). Please note that Mt. Cameron is not officially recognized as a 14er due to its low topographic prominence.
  3. Mount Lincoln: 14,286 feet (4,354 meters), the highest of the four.
  4. Mount Bross: 14,172 feet (4,319 meters)

Please note that all altitudes are approximate and may vary slightly depending on the source.

These peaks are among the 58 mountain peaks in Colorado that rise above 14,000 feet, commonly referred to as the “14ers.” It’s recommended to be properly acclimated to the altitude before attempting to hike these peaks due to the risk of altitude sickness.

A: The DeCaLiBron loop is considered a moderate to difficult hike due to the length of the trail, the overall elevation gain, and the high altitude at which the hike takes place. The entire loop is approximately 7.25 miles long with an elevation gain of about 3,700 feet.

One of the primary challenges of this hike is the altitude. All four peaks are over 14,000 feet, so altitude sickness can be a concern. It’s important to ensure that you’re properly acclimated before attempting the hike, and to take it slow and steady, especially if you’re not used to high-altitude hiking.

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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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