The Colorado Sawatch Range 14ers: A Guide
The Sawatch Range is home to 15 fourteeners – more than any other range in Colorado. The mountains in this chain are tall but broad, with gentle slopes that make them easy to climb. All of the Sawatch Range 14ers are class one or two – great for beginners or experienced climbers alike.
Colorado Sawatch Range 14ers Map
Get to Know the 15 Sawatch Range 14ers:
The Sawatch Range, part of the Rocky Mountains and spanning through central Colorado, is renowned for its stunning display of alpine grandeur and is home to an impressive 15 fourteeners — peaks exceeding 14,000 feet in elevation.
This includes the state’s highest point, Mount Elbert, along with Mount Massive, La Plata Peak, Huron Peak, Missouri Mountain, Mount Belford, Mount Oxford, Mount Harvard, Mount Columbia, Mount Yale, Mount Princeton, Mount Antero, Mount Shavano, Tabeguache Peak, and the famously named Mount of the Holy Cross.
Each of these towering peaks offers a challenging and rewarding ascent for mountaineers, with diverse terrain and breathtaking views. Together, they make the Sawatch Range a significant destination for hiking, climbing, and outdoor adventure. Learn more about each peak and check out route guides for them below.
Mount of the Holy Cross
amed for the distinctive cross-shaped snowfield on its northeast face, Mount of the Holy Cross is an iconic 14,005-foot peak known for its unique beauty and spiritual significance. The climb to its summit offers a challenging route through rugged wilderness, with panoramic views over the surrounding Rocky Mountains.
Living up to its name, Mount Massive stands as the second highest peak in Colorado at 14,421 feet, with a broader area above 14,000 feet than any other mountain in the contiguous United States. The route to its summit is a long but non-technical hike, offering varied terrain and spectacular views over the Sawatch Range.
At 14,440 feet, Mount Elbert is the highest peak in Colorado and the second highest in the contiguous United States. Although it’s a non-technical climb, it’s a strenuous ascent that rewards hikers with panoramic views stretching across the state. The mountain is known for its distinctive, broad hump shape.
La Plata Peak
Standing tall at 14,336 feet, La Plata Peak is the fifth highest summit in the Rockies. This Colorado fourteener offers climbers a challenging ascent through beautiful forests and expansive alpine meadows, culminating in a rocky scramble to the peak. Alternatively, you can climb the class three Ellingwood Ridge route.
Known for its stunning 360-degree views, Huron Peak reaches 14,003 feet into the Colorado sky. The trail offers a moderate climb through beautiful alpine terrain, leading to a smaller, more isolated summit than some of the other fourteeners. Despite its slightly lower elevation, Huron Peak is prized for its exceptional views
Missouri Mountain’s is a challenging yet rewarding climb. The scrambling here is considered class 2+ as there are one or two spots with some exposure. This makes it a great training peak for those preparing for their first class three or class four climb. If you like long days, it can be done with Belford & Oxcord too.
Mount Belford is typically climbed with Mount Oxford, which is just 1.4 miles from the summit. It is a steep climb up into Missouri Gulch, followed by a tiring scramble up its northwest ridge. The summit views are worth it!
Mount Oxford can only be climbed by going up and over Mount Belford. The hike along the ridge is above 13,000 feet for the entire way, which makes it a more tiring hike than you would expect when you first see it.
Mount Harvard is one of the Collegiate Peaks, each named after a university whose professors or students first climbed it. It is often climbed with Mount Columbia, a long route that is exhausting to most people.
Standing at 14,073 feet, Mount Columbia offers a challenging hike through rugged terrain, culminating in rewarding views across the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. The standard route involves a steep ascent through alpine forest, followed by a rocky scramble to the summit.
Mount Yale is known for its distinctive shape, described as a giant, sloping pyramid. The trail winds through beautiful forest before reaching the challenging upper section, which involves a boulder field and steep grade. The views from the summit stretch over the Collegiate Peaks
Mount Princeton offers a challenging climb with stunning views over the Arkansas River Valley and the Collegiate Peaks. The mountain’s trail is known for its varied terrain, ranging from peaceful forest to rugged scree fields. Many people say it is quite a slog to reach the summit.
Known for its rich gem deposits, Mount Antero towers at 14,269 feet and offers a unique experience for hikers and gem enthusiasts alike. The trail provides a moderately challenging climb, traversing a variety of terrains from lush meadows to rugged talus slopes.
Renowned for the Angel of Shavano, a snow formation visible in the spring and early summer, Mount Shavano stands at 14,229 feet. The standard route is a challenging trek, leading hikers through diverse landscapes, from lush forest to exposed ridge lines.
Tabeguache Peak is climbed in conjunction with Mount Shavano, adding to the appeal for peak-baggers. The trail offers a varied hike, with beautiful alpine meadows and stunning views over the southern Sawatch Range. The traverse from Mount Shavano is a highlight.
Essential Mountain Safety Tips for Hiking and Climbing Sawatch Range 14ers
1. Research the mountain and route before attempting to climb it. The Sawatch Range, which contains many 14ers, can have unpredictable weather and terrain.
2. Always carry a detailed map and compass. GPS devices and cell phones may not work properly in the mountains.
3. Bring enough food and water for the entire duration of your hike or climb. Dehydration and hunger can cause serious health concerns.
4. Dress appropriately for the weather and layer your clothing. Weather changes rapidly in the mountains and temperatures can drop significantly at higher altitudes.
5. Wear sturdy hiking boots. Ensure they have good traction to prevent slips and falls on rocky terrain, as well as waterproofing for creek crossings.
6. Invest in good quality gear, including a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and stove. Cheap gear may fail at higher elevations and in unpredictable conditions.
7. Let someone know your planned route and estimated time of return. This information can be crucial in case of an emergency.
8. Stay on designated trails. Never cut switchbacks or take a shortcut to prevent erosion and damage to the environment.
9. If you feel lost or unsure of your surroundings, stop and assess the situation. Don’t panic and make hasty decisions. Take a moment to calm down, look around, and analyze what is going on.
10. Always prioritize safety over summiting. The mountains can be unpredictable and conditions can change rapidly. Remember the phrase “summiting is optional, descending is mandatory.
The History of the Colorado Sawatch Range
The Colorado Sawatch Range has a rich history dating back to the mining era with the discovery of gold and silver in the late 1800s. Many trails and roads were built during this time to reach the mining camps, which are still present today. It is also home to a number of abandoned ghost towns and mining camps including Vicksburg, Winfield, and St. Elmo.
In the post-war era, the Sawatch Range 14ers started to grow in popularity as a recreational hotspot. 1962, in one memorable story, three Harvard men attempted to erect a fourteen-foot metal pole atop Mt. Harvard with a sign that read “Mt. Harvard, 14,434. This sign erected at an altitude of 14,434 making it the second highest point in the contiguous United States.” Though they were unsuccessful on their first attempt, the next year, two Harvard men carried the pole the extra distance and completed the task.
The pole remained on the mountain for almost twenty years, until it disappeared in the 1980s, most probably as part of an effort to clean up Colorado’s fourteeners.
Today, the Arkansas River Valley region, including the Sawatch Range, is experiencing a recreation boom. The area is home to some of the best whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking in the state. With the picturesque scenery of the Sawatch Range in the background and the proximity to Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States, it’s no surprise that Colorado locals and tourists alike flock to this area for outdoor adventures.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Sawatch Range 14ers
A: The best time to hike the Sawatch Range 14ers is typically from mid-June through September. During this time, the trails are usually free from snow and the weather is more predictable. However, always check current weather and trail conditions before setting out.
A: Some 14ers in the Sawatch Range, like Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, are considered relatively beginner-friendly due to their non-technical standard routes. However, beginners should be in good physical condition and prepared for the challenges of high-altitude hiking.
A: Yes, there are numerous camping options around the Sawatch Range. Wilderness camping is also permitted, but regulations should be observed, including Leave No Trace principles.
A: You don’t need a permit to hike any of the 14ers in the Sawatch Range. However, regulations can change, so always check with the relevant land management agency for the most current information.
A: The Sawatch Range is primarily composed of Pre-Cambrian granite and gneiss, formed over a billion years ago. These rocks make up the core of the range and are visible in the high peaks. The mountains have been shaped and carved by extensive glaciation during the last ice ages. Evidence of this glaciation can be seen in the U-shaped valleys, cirques, and moraines found throughout the range.
A: The Sawatch Range is approximately 80 miles long, extending from the northern tip near Minturn, Colorado, to the southern point near Salida, Colorado. It’s part of the larger Rocky Mountain chain, which extends over 3,000 miles from British Columbia in Canada to New Mexico in the United States.