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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!

Decalibron Loop Trail Details

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 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!

Decalibron Loop Route Description

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!

Decalibron Loop Maps

Route Map

This map shows the route and elevation using topographic contour lines. I recommend saving it on your phone and bringing a backup paper copy.

Elevation Profile

This elevation profile shows how much elevation you will gain and lose while hiking up and down the four peaks of the Decalibron Loop. There is also information about the slope angle, tree cover, and other details along the route.

Decalibron Elevation Profile

Current Conditions

Conditions along the Decalibron 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 climbing world, current condition information is called “Beta.”

Where to Find Condition Reports

Each of these websites allows users to post condition or trip reports with photos and descriptions of what they experienced while hiking Mt Democrat, Mt Lincoln, Mt Cameron, and Mt Bross. 

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

Where to Ask About Recent Conditions

If you cannot find any recent condition or trip reports for Mt Democrat, Mt Cameron, Mt Lincoln, and Mt Bross, 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.

Weather Forecast

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

Kite Lake Trailhead

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!

14er 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 the Decalibron Loop:

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

Where To Stay Near Kite Lake

The area near the Decalibron has great options for camping, motels, and airbnbs. Here are some of my recommended places to stay near Kite Lake.

Where to Camp near Kite Lake:

Here are three excellent campgrounds for overnight stays before or after hiking the Decalibron Loop Trail.


There are also dispersed camping opportunities along the forest road leading to the trailhead perfect for those climbing the Decalibron Loop. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.

Hotels and Lodging near Kite Lake

Here are four good motels and hotels near the Decalibron Loop:


There are many cabins available via Booking.com and other services in Leadville. They’re ideal for those hiking Mount Elbert. 

Leave No Trace

When setting out to hike the Decalibron Loop Trail, 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 Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross.
  • 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 Decalibron Loop 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

The four peaks of the Decalibron Loop Trail, standing tall at over 14,000 feet, offer a majestic experience but pose unique challenges. They are one of the more difficult class 2 routes in the state, and people have been seriously injured 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 Democrat 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: The Decalibron Loop Trail’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 the Decalibron Loop 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 Democrat, Mt Cameron, Mt Lincoln, and Mt Bross 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

There are no permits or reservations required to hike the Decalibron Loop Trail, however, parking can become difficult to find during busy summer weekends. Arrive early or the night before to secure a spot.

The route is located within the San Isabel National Forest.

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.

About the Decalibron Loop

The Four Decalibron Loop peaks consist of Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Bross. These peaks are part of a popular hiking loop in Colorado that allows adventurers to summit four 14,000-foot mountains in a single outing. This loop is especially well-known because it offers the opportunity to efficiently bag multiple “14ers” due to the close proximity of these peaks to each other.

  1. Mount Democrat: This peak is often the first summit on the loop. It provides a challenging start with steep sections, leading hikers above the treeline for panoramic views.

  2. Mount Cameron: Although it does not meet the criteria for an official 14er due to its prominence, Mount Cameron is included in the loop. Hikers traverse Cameron en route to Lincoln, experiencing unique landscapes.

  3. Mount Lincoln: Often considered the highlight of the loop, Mount Lincoln offers the highest elevation among the four peaks. The summit offers expansive views of the surrounding wilderness.

  4. Mount Bross: The final peak of the loop, Mount Bross, has a wide, flat summit. Despite being the last climb, the descent from Bross can be steep and requires caution.

The Decalibron peaks have faced closures indefinitely due to these issues. A coalition of organizations is working to restore access, and respecting these closures is crucial for the ongoing efforts to secure public access and ensure safety.

Hiking the Decalibron Loop is an incredible adventure, offering stunning views, physical challenge, and the satisfaction of summiting multiple high peaks in Colorado’s Rockies. However, hikers are urged to prepare adequately, respect trail etiquette, follow Leave No Trace principles, and check for any access restrictions before attempting the loop.

History of the Peaks

The four peaks of the Decalibron Loop—Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Bross—hold a rich history intertwined with Colorado’s mining past and the Civil War era, reflecting a complex interplay of local lore and national sentiment during a formative period in American history.

Mount Lincoln was named during the Civil War by northern miners living on its slopes, symbolizing their support for President Abraham Lincoln and the Union cause. In contrast, southern miners nearby named their peak Mount Democrat, representing an implicit counter to the Union sympathies expressed by the naming of Mount Lincoln. This act of naming reflects the deep divisions of the Civil War era even in the remote mining camps of Colorado.

Mount Bross was named after William Bross, a Lieutenant Governor of Illinois (1865-1869), who owned mining property near the town of Alma and made an early ascent of Mount Lincoln in 1868, reportedly moved by the beauty of the area. The origins of Mount Cameron’s name are less certain, attributed possibly to a Republican Senator or a Union General, further embedding the period’s political tensions into the landscape.

The area was extensively mined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, leading to a complex tapestry of private land ownership that has occasionally restricted access to these peaks. The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) and other organizations have worked diligently to negotiate access agreements and establish sustainable trails to ensure that hikers can enjoy these peaks while respecting the fragile alpine environment and the rights of landowners. 

Efforts include the closing of multiple side trails and shortcuts, the installation of signs to keep hikers on designated routes, and significant trail and restoration projects aimed at mitigating resource damage and protecting rare or endangered plant species from off-trail trampling.

In 2023, conservation of the peaks took a big leap forward when the Conservation Fund purchased mining claims on Mt Democrat and turned them over to the US Forest Service. Shortly after, in 2024, the Fix CRUS Coalition helped pass SB-58 to create new ways for landowners to protect themselves from recreation liability. These actions ensured the peaks would remain open to the public, with the exception of Mt. Bross.

Photos

These are a collection of photos of the four 14ers of the Decalibron Loop: Mt. Democrat, Mt. Cameron, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Bross. You can also find additional pictures in our route description above.

Additional Resources

Looking for more information for planning your visit to the Decalibron Loop? Here are some additional resources and websites with more info to continue your research online:

Decalibron Loop Sites & Guides

  1. Knownothing Nomads – Decalibron Loop Trail Review – THREE 14ers in One Hike: Shares personal experiences from hiking the Decalibron Loop, focusing on Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln, and the bypass route for Mount Bross. It also provides a verdict on the hike, discussing both likes and dislikes. Learn more from Knownothing Nomads.

  2. Virtual Sherpa – Decalibron 14ers: Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln & Bross Hike Guide: This guide offers a firsthand account of the Decalibron hike, including the journey to each summit and practical tips like gear recommendations. It gives a personal touch to the hiking experience. Check it out on Virtual Sherpa.

  3. Hiking and Fishing – Hiking The Decalibron – The Best CO 14er Day Hike Loop: Provides detailed directions for hiking the loop, including information on camping, parking, and current weather conditions. This is particularly useful for logistical planning. Visit Hiking and Fishing for details.

  4. Summitpost – The Decalibron Loop Route Profile: Shares experiences from each summit on the loop and practical advice on gear to bring along. This seasoned information source gives insight into what to expect and how to prepare for this challenging adventure. Read more on SummitPost.

News Articles about the Decalibron Loop

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

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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