Collegiate Peaks 14ers

Colorado Collegiate Peaks 14ers: Guide to 9 Spectacular Summits

The Collegiate Peaks 14ers are not your average hiking destination – they’re towering 14,000-foot giants that have captivated the hearts of adventurers worldwide. What can you expect from this guide? We’ll venture into the heart of the Rockies and unlock the secret wonders of these fascinating peaks, each named after an Ivy League university.

You’re about to embark on a journey that will not only challenge your physical endurance but will also reward you with unforgettable experiences and a wealth of knowledge about this pristine wilderness. By reading this guide, you’ll gain insight into the unique history, geological features, and diverse ecosystems of the Collegiate Peaks. Furthermore, you’ll discover the charming mountain towns nestled near these giants, offering comfort and warmth after your exhilarating exploits. Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

About Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks

The Collegiate Peaks is a part of the Sawatch Range, which is located in the central part of the Colorado Rockies. This section of the range is notable because many of the peaks are named after famous colleges and universities. Mount Harvard was named first after a group from the Harvard School of Mines climbed it on an expedition in 1869 with Josiah Whitney – the namesake of Mount Whitney in California.

The same group named Mount Yale, their next ascent, after Yale University – Whitney’s alma mater. Future expeditions named nearby peaks after Princeton University, Oxford University, and Columbia University, inspired by the example of the first group. The area was known as the Collegiates as early as the 1870s, within a decade of the naming.

For many years, alumni from Mount Yale (14,200 ft) and Mount Princeton (14,197 ft) were encouraged to hike to their summits and carry a rock to add to the summit cairn – gradually growing it in size to overcome their rivals. Similarly, Harvard alumni in the 1960s carried a large 14-foot pole to the summit of their namesake to claim it was the tallest point in the state. The pole stood for several years before it was eventually removed.

Collegiate Peaks 14ers map

The 9 Collegiate Peaks 14ers

There are nine Collegiate Peaks 14ers, including all those peaks named after universities and others in the Collegiate Peak Wilderness Area. They range in difficulty but can all be climbed by most hikers without any technical scrambling or climbing.

1. Mount Princeton - 14,200 ft

  • Standard Route: East Slopes
  • Distance: 6.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 3,200 feet
  • Class: 2
  • Trailhead: Mount Princeton Road

Mount Princeton, the fifth highest peak in the Collegiate Peaks, offers a challenging trek with an incredible panoramic view of the Arkansas River Valley. Notably, in 1877, William Libbey of Princeton University climbed the peak and left a time capsule with his alma mater’s flag. It is the only one of the Collegiate Peaks that does not fall within the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area. Plan a visit with my Mount Princeton route guide.

2. Mount Yale - 14,200 ft

  • Standard Route: Southwest Slopes
  • Distance: 9.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 4,300 feet
  • Class: 2
  • Trailhead: Denny Creek

Mount Yale is among the easiest of the 14ers, making it a popular choice for beginners. Its prominence and isolation offer hikers stunning 360-degree views from the summit, including a fantastic vantage point of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. Learn more by reading my complete Mount Yale route guide.

3. Mount Harvard - 14,424 ft

  • Standard Route: South Slopes
  • Distance: 14 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 4,600 feet
  • Class: 2
  • Trailhead: North Cottonwood Creek

As the highest of the collegiate peak 14ers, Mount Harvard offers a challenging but rewarding climb. This peak is best hiked in summer or early fall, as snow and ice can make the trail more difficult in other seasons. Get ready for your ascent with my Mount Harvard route guide.

4. Mount Columbia - 14,075 ft

  • Standard Route: West Slopes
  • Distance: 11.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 4,200 feet
  • Class: 2
  • Trailhead: North Cottonwood Creek

Mount Columbia, paired with its neighbor Mount Harvard, offers a challenging but stunning route. The trail can be rough and somewhat tedious, but the summit views of the Elk Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo Range are unparalleled. Prepare and plan ahead to reach the summit with my Mount Columbia route guide.

5. Mount Oxford - 14,158 ft

  • Standard Route: Via Mount Belford
  • Distance: 11 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 5,800 feet
  • Class: 2
  • Trailhead: Missouri Gulch

The standard route for Mount Oxford begins with a climb up Mount Belford. The connecting ridge offers an exhilarating traverse and stunning views, making the extra effort worthwhile. My Mount Oxford route guide contains everything you need to know to prepare.

6. Mount Belford - 14,202 ft

  • Standard Route: Northwest Ridge
  • Distance: 8 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet
  • Class: 2
  • Trailhead: Missouri Gulch

Mount Belford, often paired with Mount Oxford, offers an intense, steep trek. Its beautiful trail provides a wealth of colorful wildflowers during the summer months, enhancing the stunning views from the summit. Read my Mount Belford route guide for more details and info.

7. Missouri Mountain - 14,071 ft

  • Standard Route: Northwest Ridge
  • Distance: 10.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet
  • Class: 2
  • Trailhead: Missouri Gulch

Missouri Mountain is often overlooked due to its proximity to its more popular neighbors, Mount Belford and Mount Oxford. However, the views from the top are breathtaking, offering a rewarding adventure. Access my comprehensive Missouri Mountain route guide to get ready for your climb.

8. Huron Peak - 14,066 ft

  • Standard Route: Northwest Slopes
  • Distance: 6.75 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 3,500 feet
  • Class: 2
  • Trailhead: North Clear Creek

Though it is the lowest of the collegiate peak 14ers, Huron Peak is celebrated for having some of the best views in the state. The final summit push is steep but manageable, leading to a compact summit with expansive, 360-degree views. You can learn more and view the route description in my Huron Peak route guide.

9. La Plata Peak - 14,344 ft

  • Standard Route: Northwest Ridge
  • Distance: 9.25 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet
  • Class: 2
  • Trailhead: La Plata Gulch

La Plata Peak, the fifth highest peak in Colorado, is known for its challenging terrain and beautiful views. The trail is steep and rough in places, but the stunning scenery of the surrounding Sawatch Range is worth the effort. Prepare to climb the peak with my La Plata Peak route guide.

About The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness

The area around these nine peaks is part of the 168,000-acre Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area. With so many 14ers and other high summits in its boundaries, it has the highest average elevation of any Wilderness area in the United States. Hundreds of miles of trails criss cross the backcountry, making it an ideal backpacking destination.

Remember to follow these Wilderness regulations on your visit to the Collegiate Peaks and their 14ers:

  1. Group size is limited to 15 people and 25 stock animals in any one party.
  2. Camping is not allowed within 100 feet of any water source, within 100 feet of any trail, or within 1/4 mile (1320 feet) of treeline at the following lakes: Kroenke Lake, North Cottonwood Creek (including Bear Lake and the Missouri Lakes), Ptarmigan Lake, and Texas Creek.
  3. Campfires are not allowed above treeline or within 1/4 mile of treeline at the aforementioned lakes. When fires are permitted, they should be built using only dead and downed wood.
  4. Motorized vehicles and equipment, including drones, are not allowed in any wilderness areas. This also includes bicycles and mechanized equipment like chainsaws.
  5. Pets should be under control at all times, and in some areas are required to be on a leash.
  6. Stock animals are allowed but must be fed weed-free feed for 48 hours in advance of and during a visit to prevent the spread of non-native plants.
  7. Leave No Trace principles should be followed to minimize human impact on the natural environment.

These regulations are subject to change and can vary based on specific areas within the wilderness, so it’s a good idea to check the U.S. Forest Service website or contact a local ranger station for the most current information.

Tips for Summiting the Collegiate Peaks 14ers

If you are new to climbing Colorado 14ers and exploring alpine terrain, keep these tips in mind while planning and going on a visit to the Collegiate Peaks.

  1. Always check the weather forecast before heading out. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in the Colorado high country, and it’s important to descend before they arrive.
  2. Start early and leave the summit by 11am to avoid the most dangerous part of the day for lightning strikes (noon to 6 p.m.). Aim to be below the tree line by 12-1pm.
  3. Be prepared for altitude sickness and know the symptoms. Watch for nausea, headache, fatigue, confusion, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
  4. Pack enough food and water, and bring the ten essentials to be prepared for various weather conditions.
  5. Don’t forget your topographic map of the route and a compass – and the skills and knowledge required to use them to navigate.
  6. Try taking fewer, longer breaks to conserve energy, like a 10-minute break once per hour. It’s more efficient than taking frequent, short breaks.
  7. Be wary of bringing your dog. Dogs cannot alert you when they have altitude sickness, can be blinded by intense UV radiation, and can have their paws torn on rough rock.

Learn everything you need to know to have a safe visit to Colorado’s Collegiate Peak 14ers with our comprehensive mountain safety guide.

Remember to Leave No Trace

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has developed a set of principles designed to help outdoor enthusiasts minimize their impact on the environment. Here are the key principles, tailored specifically for your visit to the Collegiate Peaks:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Before embarking on your journey, research the specific requirements and regulations of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. Remember, group size is limited to 15 people. If camping, choose sites that are at least 100 feet from water and trails.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: In a high-alpine environment, vegetation takes a very long time to recover from disturbances. Stick to established trails and campsites. Camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams to protect riparian areas.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly: “Pack it in, pack it out.” This old adage applies to just about everything you bring with you. All trash and litter, even biodegradable items like fruit peels or seeds, should be packed out. As for human waste, use provided facilities where available or carry a portable waste disposal system.
  4. Leave What You Find: The only souvenirs a hiker should come home with are photographs and the satisfaction of a peak well climbed. Don’t disturb wildlife or plants, and don’t move rocks or build rock cairns.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impact: High alpine environments are sensitive to fire impact. Use a lightweight camp stove for cooking rather than making a fire. If you must have a fire, use established fire rings and keep fires small.
  6. Respect Wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance and never feed animals. Remember, you are a visitor in their home. Keep pets under control or leave them at home, as they can disturb wildlife and other campers.
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Keep noise levels down and let the sounds of nature prevail. Yield to other users on the trail and maintain small group sizes.

Each of us can play a part in preserving the natural beauty of the Collegiate Peaks. By following these Leave No Trace principles, you can ensure that these magnificent mountains remain a source of joy and inspiration for future generations. Safe travels and happy hiking!

Mountain Towns Near the Collegiate Peaks

Looking for a place to rest your head, grab a bite, or drink a beer after you finish your hike? You’re in luck! There are several great mountain towns close to the Collegiate Peak 14ers, including Leadville in the North, Salida in the South, and Buena Vista directly in between. Here’s a brief overview of them each.

Leadville, Colorado

Situated at an elevation of 10,152 feet, Leadville proudly holds the title of the highest incorporated city in the United States. This historic mining town, rich in Wild West history, offers visitors a unique blend of past and present. Be sure to visit the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum and take a scenic ride on the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad. For food and drinks, check out the Silver Dollar Saloon, a long-standing establishment with a rustic vibe, or Periodic Brewing, which is the highest brewery in the U.S.

Buena Vista, Colorado

Buena Vista, literally meaning “good view,” truly lives up to its name. Nestled between the Arkansas River and the Collegiate Peaks, it offers stunning panoramic vistas that will take your breath away. Outdoor activities abound, including whitewater rafting, fishing, and hot springs for relaxation. After your adventures, head to Eddyline Brewery for a local craft beer and enjoy some comfort food at the House Rock Kitchen. Don’t miss the chance to stroll around the historic downtown area, filled with charming shops and cafes.

Salida, Colorado

Salida is a vibrant community known for its art scene, historic downtown, and year-round outdoor activities. Recognized as a Certified Creative District, it hosts numerous galleries, studios, and unique art events. The Arkansas River runs through downtown, providing exciting opportunities for whitewater rafting and fishing. For foodies, Currents Restaurant offers delicious locally sourced dishes. End your day with a craft beer at Soulcraft Brewing or a glass of wine at Vino Salida Wine Cellars. Additionally, Salida boasts the largest indoor hot springs pool in the country, which is perfect for unwinding after your hike.

The Collegiate Peaks 14ers: Now You Know

Climbing all of the Collegiate Peaks 14ers is an accomplishment to be proud of, as well as an opportunity to experience some of Colorado’s most breathtaking landscapes. Remember to plan ahead for your visit, practice Leave No Trace outdoor ethics, and leave some extra time in your schedule after your climbs to visit the nearby mountain towns for some well-deserved food and drinks. Happy hiking and safe travels on the trails!

Additional Resources


A: There are nine 14ers in the Collegiate Peaks: Mount Princeton, Mount Yale, Mount Harvard, Mount Columbia, Mount Oxford, Mount Belford, Missouri Mountain, Huron Peak, and La Plata Peak.

A: Mount Yale is considered one of the easier 14ers in the Collegiate Peaks, making it a popular choice for beginners. The trailhead is easy to reach year-round, and the trail is less than 10 miles in length with limited class 2 scrambling.

A: The Collegiate Peaks are a section of the central Sawatch Range in Colorado near Buena Vista. The most notable features of the Collegiate Peaks are the nine 14ers, five of which are named after prestigious colleges.

A: Mount Harvard is the highest of the collegiate peak 14ers, with an elevation of 14,420 feet. It was the first of the Collegiate Peak 14ers named after a university.

A: The time it takes to hike the 150-mile Collegiate Loop can vary significantly depending on the hiker’s pace and experience, weather conditions, and the time of year. On average, hikers take around 10 to 14 days to complete the loop.

A: One common starting point for the Collegiate Loop is Twin Lakes, but the loop can be started from any point along the route, depending on the hiker’s preference.

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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Hi, I'm Alex!

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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