Colorado Hiking 14ers: 6 Great Peaks With Trails to the Top
When someone describes a fourteener experience, it often sounds like quite an ordeal. Lots of scrambling up boulders, sometimes with significant exposure and steep cliffs, would leave even an experienced hiker a bit anxious. Thankfully Colorado is home to six fourteeners (peaks taller than 14,000 feet) that can be hiked from the trailhead all the way to the summit along a well-established trail. While it gets steep at times, you will never need to scramble along any of these routes, which make them good options for beginners or those with limited mobility. Here’s my brief introduction to the six Colorado hiking 14ers – all class one peaks.
Before You Go: Preparing for the Colorado Hiking 14ers
If this is your first fourteener make sure you take the proper time to plan ahead and prepare. By reading this guide you are off to a great start! Read through my route guide for the peak and route you want to climb, check the weather forecast and plan accordingly. I do not recommend climbing these peaks during the winter months unless you are experienced. Here are several other key safety tips to help you along the way.
- Tell someone back home about your plans and when they should hear from you.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and keep them with you at all times during your hike.
- Go with a buddy, especially if you are generally new to hiking or the 14ers.
- Take time to acclimate if you can by camping for a night near the trailhead beforehand.
- Stary early enough to be back below tree line by 1pm at the latest to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.
1. Pikes Peak | Barr Trail Route
Fun Fact: The Barr Trail is named after Fred Barr who built it as a Burro Trail to carry people up to the summit. That ended in the 1960s.
This is one the oldest and most historic trail on the list dating back to 1918. It is also the longest route of the Colorado hiking 14ers, with 25 miles round-trip and 7,800 feet of elevation gain. Many people wisely choose to take two days to climb Pikes Peak along the Barr Trail, with an overnight at Barr Camp or one of several other designated camping areas along the route. You can also arrange to have a friend meet you on the summit to drive you home, or take the train down. However you should always be prepared to get down on your own in case the road or train is closed due to poor weather – this happens often.
Click here to read my Pikes Peak route guide.
2. Handies Peak | Southwest Slopes Route
Fun Fact: Early U.S. Forest Service maps designated the mountain as “Tabasco” after the company which financed some nearby mining projects.
This is one of the best overall routes on this list, in my opinion. It’s located down in the San Juans so it’s not nearly as busy as most of the other routes on this list. However it is easier to reach than San Luis Peak, the other San Juan mountain that’s a Colorado hiking 14er. If you want a quieter peak that you can reach without having to drive through a few streams, this is the route for you. If you have a four-wheel drive vehicle and can make it up to the upper trailhead, this route has the least elevation gain of any of the Colorado 14ers.
Click here to read my Handies Peak route guide.
3. Grays Peak | North Slopes Route
Fun Fact: Grays and Torreys are named after two 19th century botanists who were close friends.
Grays Peak is the closest Colorado hiking 14er to Denver, with a trailhead just a little over an hour from downtown. However this also means it is one of the the busiest routes on the list, beat only by Quandary Peak below. Parking is limited, and if it fills up you have to add several miles of hiking to reach the upper trailhead from the lower one near the highway. I recommend tackling Grays Peak in September before snow falls, or during a week day to avoid the busiest periods. If you want to try a class 2 peak, you can easily add Torreys Peak on as well, adding just a mile or so to your total distance.
Click here to read my Grays Peak route guide.
4. Quandary Peak | East Ridge Route
Fun Fact: Quandary has more than 6 different routes up the mountain, and most of them are difficult class 3 and 4 climbs.
The most popular route on this list, and the busiest of all the Colorado fourteeners, is Quandary Peak. Its proximity to Breckenridge and the ease of the route make it a very busy place in the summer months, but it’s popular in the winter months as well among hikers, snowshoers, skiers, and snowshoers. This popularity has led to a parking permit and shuttle service to avoid congestion at the trailhead that blocks emergency vehicles and local residents. Visit my Quandary route guide for more information about riding the shuttle or getting a parking permit between May and October each year. I highly recommend coming in the off season or picking a different peak for your first.
Click here to read my Quandary Peak route guide.
5. Mount Elbert | Northeast Ridge Route
Fun Fact: Mount Elbert is the tallest mountain in the entire Rocky Mountains, including both the U.S. and Canada.
Many people do not realize that the tallest mountain in the state is just a class one hike. You can hike to the summit of Mount Elbert along two different routes, though the standard is the Northeast route. As the tallest point in the state of Colorado, Mount Elbert gets a fair amount of traffic, but not nearly as much as Quandary Peak or Grays Peak. It’s got more mileage and elevation gain than these peaks, and its distance from major cities keeps crowds away. Located on the edge of massive wilderness areas, this region is ripe for a backpacking adventure to bag a few 14ers, including Elbert.
Click here to read my Mount Elbert route guide.
6. San Luis Peak | Northeast Ridge Route
Fun Fact: The trip to reach the trailhead includes two hours of driving along unpaved, bumpy roads. Bring a good vehicle.
San Luis Peak is one of the most isolated of the Colorado hiking 14ers. Located deep in the eastern San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado, it is several hours away from any other 14ers and there are no major towns or attractions nearby. Getting to the trailhead requires several creek crossings which may be impassable during the spring and summer runoff. For the adventurous with good navigation and a serious ride, San Luis Peak is one of the most wilderness-oriented Colorado hiking 14ers. You should be self reliant if you want to visit it, as a rescue team is a long way away if anything goes wrong.
Click here to read my San Luis Peak route guide.
How Difficult are Colorado Hiking 14ers?
These peaks are all classified as class 1 climbs – which means they never exceed hiking along a rustic trail. This means that the trail may be hard to follow at times, especially above tree line and in rocky areas. The trail will also be steep and there may be creek or river crossings. Come prepared to exert yourself, despite the class 1 rating. It can be deceptive.
What Should You Bring With You?
When attempting one of the Colorado hiking 14ers, always start with the ten essentials; the most important pieces of gear you need to survive and stay safe if something goes wrong in the mountains. You’ll also need a good pair of hiking boots – which I prefer over shoes, due to their improved ankle support. I recommend a backpack designed for hiking, and a pair of trekking poles, though some people choose not to use them.
While a personal locator beacon is not strictly necessary for Colorado hiking 14ers, if you plan on climbing all the 14ers, or even a dozen, I highly recommend one. They just might save your life. Lastly, stock up on some maps or hiking guides to help you plan and prepare for your hike.
The Colorado Hiking 14ers: Now You Know!
As you can see there is a great deal of variety among the Colorado hiking 14ers. While all of them are class one hikes, some are short and easy while others preserve a wilderness experience. You can even reach the highest point in the Rocky Mountains without ever having to scramble or climb. Regardless of which peak you choose to climb, remember to stay safe and leave no trace while in the backcountry. Safe travels on the trail!
Colorado Hiking 14ers: More Resources
Looking for more information about these mountains? Here are a few websites and links to explore and get started with. Leave a comment below if you have additional resources about the Colorado hiking 14ers that we should add to the list and share with our community.
- Easiest 14ers in Colorado: A helpful resource that covers these six Colorado hiking 14ers along with a few other easy 14ers that involves some limited scrambling.
- Backpacker: 10 Easiest Fourteeners: Backpacker is a great resource and this article is no different. You get a lot of detailed information and delightful commentary about these six Colorado hiking 14ers peaks, with four extra thrown in for fun.
- 14ers.com Easiest Routes: The 14ers Route Finder set to the easiest route settings with some great class one options in addition to the six standard routes listed here.