Easiest 14ers in Colorado: Six Easy 14ers
So you’ve decided you want to climb a 14er in Colorado – what next? You probably want to know which peaks are the easiest 14ers in Colorado so you pick something reasonable. That’s a good idea. The Colorado 14ers range in difficulty from relatively easy hikes to dangerous class four climbs. Starting with one of the easy 14ers that have a trail to the summit is a good way to ensure you have a safe and successful first climb. In this article, I walk through the factors we use to judge 14er difficulty, introduce the easiest 14ers in colorado by range, and share several tips for mountain safety, leave no trace, clothing, and gear for your first 14er hike.
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Table of Contents
How We Picked the Easiest 14ers in Colorado
Many people disagree about which of the 14ers is the easiest based on subjective memories of their hike. However, memories can be deceiving, as the quality of a climb often depends on your level of fitness, the conditions during the trip, and your attitude at the time. These objective factors are a better way of judging the difficulty of each 14er. This is how we identified the six easiest 14ers in Colorado, which we introduce further below.
Climbing Class Rating
All 14ers are rated according to the technical difficulty in terms of climbing. They range from easy class one hikes to difficult class five technical climbs. Here is a quick intro to each of the four class levels:
- Class 1: Hiking on a trail. No exposure.
- Class 2: Easy scrambling over horizontal terrain. Little exposure.
- Class 3: Moderate scrambling on moderately steep terrain. Moderate exposure.
- Class 4: Difficult scrambling on very steep terrain. Significant exposure.
- Class 5: Technical climbing with a rope and harnass on vertical terrain. Extreme exposure.
All of the routes on our list of easy 14ers are either class one or class two – they involve hiking and easy scrambling with little to no exposure.
The distance of each 14er route varies a lot. The shortest route, Handies Peak, is only 5.5 miles, while the longest, Pikes Peak, is more than 24 miles long. Routes longer than 15 miles are often does as overnight backpacking trips, while shorter routes are climbed in one day. All of the routes on our list of easy 14ers are less than 10 miles round-trip – several are shorter than 7 miles.
Route Elevation Gain
Climbing a mountain means gaining significant elevation during your hike – an exhausting task when you’re 2-3 miles above sea level. Easy 14ers, like the ones on our list, involve gaining 2,700 to 4,700 feet of elevation, while other 14ers may require you to climb 5,500+ feet to reach the summit and get back. Pick something on the lower end of the spectrum if this is your first 14er.
The Easiest 14ers in Colorado by Range
Based on the three objective criteria above, we identified each of the easiest 14ers in Colorado within each of the state’s sub-ranges. They range from short class one hikes to longer class two scrambles. Each is a good introduction to their respective ranges.
Handies Peak may be one of the easiest 14ers in Colorado, but there’s still a lot going for this San Juan Range peak. Far from Colorado’s population centers, you’ll find solitude and a good trail on this Class 1 route. You’ll won’t find a shorter route, or one with less elevation gain, than this one! Of all the Colorado 14ers ranked by difficulty, it is the easiest.
If you don’t have four wheel drive and good clearance, you’ll need to add 2 miles roundtrip to your hike. If that’s not possible, consider Quandary Peak lower on the list for your first ascent. However, if solitude on the trail is your top priority, there is no better option than Handies Peak. Just be ready for the epic drive to reach the trailhead!
This is the southernmost of the easiest 14ers in Colorado. It’s ideal for those spending time in Telluride, Durango, Silverton, or Lake City. The San Juans are a gorgeous area to explore and well worth your time.
Grays Peak is among the most popular 14ers in the state. This make sense as it’s the second easiest peak in the state, and it’s also only an hour drive from the Denver Metro area. You can also add the more difficult Torreys Peak, a Class 2 fourteener, to make this a double ascent day. It only adds about 1.5 miles to bag both of the peaks in a single day. However, it is a very popular mountain, so you will need to get there early to get a parking spot.
Keep in mind that to reach the upper trailhead, you will need four wheel drive and good clearance. Otherwise add 3 miles to your trip, unless you can hitch a ride there or back. The lot here fills very fast, so plan for an early start. Don’t park along the road – you may come back to a ticket on your windshield.
Grays Peak was once the site of a scheme to build a railroad all the way from Denver to the summit of the mountain. While the line was built to Mount Edwards above 13,000 feet across the valley, it never made it all the way to the top.
Quandary’s East Ridge is a classic 14er, and the easiest ridge Route you can take. With rewarding views along the entire route above tree-line, it’s a great first climb. For that reason, it’s also a very busy route. Don’t expect much solitude here. In fact, the county just imposed a new permit requirement for parking along with a free shuttle service from Breckenridge to deal with exploding use of the area. Plan ahead and don’t be taken surprise by these trailhead regulations. Click here to learn more.
One of the great things about Quandary is that it provides a harder, Class 3 climb on its opposite West Ridge. If you have friends looking for a bigger challenge, they can start from the West, while you take the easier eastern route. You’ll both be able to meet at the summit and descend via the East Ridge. There are even steep snow climbs on gullies to the North and South. Quandary has something for everyone!
If you are interested in an easy winter fourteener, Quandary Peak is your best bet. Thanks to easy access from the highway, limited avalanche risk, and a short distance, it’s the single best option for your first winter ascent. Just be sure you plan ahead and bring the right gear and clothing.
Mount Elbert is the tallest peak in the state of Colorado, but it is one of the easiest 14ers in Colorado to climb. The class one hiking trail along the northeast ridge leads you from the trailhead all the way up to the summit. Standing there, you’ll be taller than anyone else in the state of Colorado (and most of the United States). There are several easy ways to hike up Mount Elbert, but the Northeast Ridge route is considered the standard route.
Mount Elbert’s high elevation means you spend a significant amount of time above 14,000 feet, making altitude sickness more likely than lower peaks. I recommend coming the night before and spending a night camping near the trailhead at one of several campgrounds in the area. There are also good dispersed campsites nearby you can snag if you arrive early. This provides time for acclimation to reduce your risk of altitude sickness – plus you can get an earlier start in the morning.
This is a popular peak and route, so get there early, or consider climbing in the fall when the crowds are smaller if you are looking for peace and solitude in addition to an easier 14er.
Culebra Peak is one of two class two options on my list of the easiest 14ers in Colorado. The Sangre de Christo mountains are a rough and rugged range where class one peaks simply do not exist. Culebra Peak, the easiest peak in terms of elevation gain and mileage, is also the only 100% privately owned 14er in the state. While the ranch owners allow climbers, they charge an access fee around $120 and ask that you sign a liability waver.
As a result of these restrictions, Culebra Peak is the only easy 14er in Colorado that lacks a trail to the summit. So few people climb it that no trail or route has formed on the alpine terrain, requiring navigation and a backcountry experience usually found only on class three and four climbs. This makes it an interesting climb and one of the most unique of the easiest 14ers in Colorado.
The route and scrambling are very easy – the only difficult part of the climb comes with navigating and ensuring you stay on the correct route. Make sure you bring a good map and compass and know how to use them!
The Elk Range is home to the most dangerous and difficult of the Colorado 14ers. The range is composed of loose, rotten rock that breaks away easily and without warning. The peaks are carved by this erosion in to rugged, extreme mountains with significant exposure that most people find overwhelming. The easiest 14er in the range, Castle Peak, is still a difficult class two peak that most people consider a moderate-level climb. Without a doubt, it is the most difficult of the easiest 14ers in each range.
Castle Peak is much easier if you have a 4WD vehicle with high clearance that can get you to the upper trailhead. Otherwise you need to hike along the road and add several miles to your total distance. The route has a lot of scrambling, and navigation is not always intuitive. Take lots of time to research the route, review the map and photos, and bring one with you in the field. A dedicated GPS unit is also a good idea – do not rely on AllTrails.
Lastly, this route holds snow into mid-summer, which makes things more difficult and dangerous. Save this 14er for late-summer climbs and avoid it completely in heavy snow years, in which case the route may never melt out completely.
The Easiest 14ers in Colorado Overall
Given the factors above, here are the top 10 easiest 14ers in Colorado across all the sub-ranges. Note that the rugged Elk Mountains ranges aren’t represented at all. Click a peak to see more information and my guide for the standard route.
Any of these 14er options would be an excellent choice for someone new to hiking and camping in the mountains.
Leave No Trace While Visiting These Easy 14ers
Many of the easiest 14ers in Colorado are also extremely busy. Tens of thousands of visitors hike and climb then each year. As more people head to these areas, their impact increases and the number of search and rescue missions rises. Tundra takes 100 years or more to recover once trampled, so take care in the mountains. Help protect these fragile alpine environments for the next generation of hikers, campers, and climbers. Here are a few specific tips to keep in mind around the Colorado 14ers
- Plan ahead and research your route. Don’t be surprised by what you find in the field. Check local conditions and regulations so you can be prepared.
- Stay on the established trail and avoid creating new campsites. When off-trail travel is necessary, spread out to avoid creating social trails. Camp 100+ ft from bodies of water.
- Keep dogs leashed and clean up after them, allow uphill hikers to pass, and be kind to others to practice good trail etiquette
- Carry out your trash, and urinate 100+ feet away from sources of water. Bury #2 properly below treeline. Pack out toilet paper.
- Respect wildlife by giving them distance (100 feet) and not feeding them intentionally or accidentally by storing food properly.
- Leave what you find, including natural objects (rocks, wildflowers, antlers) and historical items (mining remains, old nails and bricks, etc.); take only photos and memories.
- Minimize campfire impacts by keeping fires small and in pre-established rings, or by skipping the fire entirely.
To learn more about Leave No Trace outdoor ethics, visit the Center’s official website for free resources, tips, and tools from their amazing team. It is a good way to prepare for the easiest 14ers in Colorado.
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Packing for an Easy Colorado 14er
The right gear will go a long way in helping you reach the summit safely and successfully. Here’s an overview of what to bring with you and wear for a class one or two 14er in Colorado.
Start with the Ten Essentials
The ten essentials are ten different gear systems that you should always include in your pack for adventures and 14er hikes. Different kinds of trips require different types of gear; personalize the list accordingly to reflect the challenges you expect to face. The ten essentials include:
- Navigation gear (maps, route photos, GPS, and compass)
- Headlamp and extra batteries
- Sunscreen and sunglasses
- 2 liters of water per person and a filter or tablet to get more
- Snacks: 1,000 calories per person
- First Aid Kit with bandages and ointment, moleskin, bug spray, and ibuprofen
- Emergency Shelter, like an Emergency Blanket or Bivy
- Knife or Multi-tool
- Fire-starting tools (matches and tinder)
- Extra clothing layers and rain gear
For example, during a summer day trip, you can usually use a lightweight emergency blanket as your emergency shelter. However, during a winter day trip, you may need a full emergency bivy to survive the freezing temperatures. Similarly, you need more extra food for a multi-day trip than for a day trip.
Click here to learn more about the ten essentials
Wear the Right Clothing
Don’t forget to dress right for the easiest 14ers in Colorado. Layer your clothing so you can add and detract layers as the weather changes. The conditions on the easiest 14ers in Colorado chance change quickly, so the flexibility will be very helpful out in the mountains. Here is a sample layering system you can use and customize for your purposes:
- Base Layer: Use merino wool or spandex to wick away sweat from your skin.
- Mid Layer: Warm layers like fleece provide insulation to lock in heat.
- Outer Layer: Synthetic or down puffy jackets are a great way to top off your clothing.
- Exterior Layer: Bring a rain jacket, known as a hard shell, to protect against wind and rain.
- Accessories: Top it all off with a good pair of gloves and a warm knit hat – even in July.
During the spring and fall you may find that you need to add additional layers to stay warm. This is the great thing about layering your clothing: it is easy to personalize your own layer system to meet your own personal needs – like setting a thermostat specifically for you!
Don’t be afraid to stop and add or remove layers during your hike. It is normal to get hotter or colder as you speed up and slow down, the slope angle changes, the altitude changes, and the day warms up or cools down. Better to remove a layer early on than wait until it is drenched in sweat and unusable later.
Bring Proper Hiking Boots and Socks
You can hike a 14er in almost anything – some people even do it barefoot. However, I highly recommend investing in a good pair of hiking boots to wear for 14ers. These shoes provide better traction than tennis shoes to reduce your risk of slipping on loose rocks. They also have more ankle support than hiking or trail running shoes to reduce your odds of twisting or rolling your ankle. I wear the Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX which check off all these boxes and more. I’ve worn many different hiking boots and shoes over the years, but none as comfortable as these.
Store it all in a Solid Backpack
Picking the right backpack matters more than you may think. Pick something cheap and it’ll probably end up hurting your back. Get something the wrong size and your gear either won’t fit or it’ll slosh around and weigh you down. For day trips, get a back with 20-25 liters. That’s enough for the ten essentials and your rain jacket. If you do an overnight trip, something around 50-60 liters will have enough space for additional food and water, your sleeping gear and shelter. Take advantage of clips to store things like your helmet and trek poles on your pack exterior. The Talon 22 from Osprey is one of the best backpacks out there for day trips like these six easy 14ers.
Optional Gear for Easy 14ers
While trek poles are not strictly necessary, I recommend them for those new to 14ers. They provide stability and balance on rocky terrain, take pressure off of your knees on the descent, and allow you to support your legs using your upper body strength. Other than cost, there really are no downsides to using them. REI offers great options like these that are sturdy yet lightweight and stow away easily.
Satellite Messenger and SOS Device
When something goes wrong on a 14er, how do you call for help? If you are lucky enough to have a phone with battery left and a signal, you might be able to call for help, but that’s usually not the situation on most peaks. A satellite messenger and SOD device allows you to call for help in an emergency in most backcountry situations – anywhere you have a clear view of the sky. You can also use them to text family and friends updates, navigate with GPS, get weather forecasts in the field, and track your hikes and climbs. The Garmin InReach Mini 2 is the best option available.
Mountain Safety Tips and Advice
Even the easiest 14ers in Colorado can be a dangerous place without the right experience and equipment. Follow these mountain safety best practices to stay safe while hiking and climbing 14ers.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare for 14ers
Research your route thoroughly before your hike by reading the route description and reviewing the map and photographs, ideally from several different sources. Review the gear you need, check for recent trip reports or peak condition reports online, and make sure the trailhead is open and accessible. Know what you are getting into, especially for more difficult peaks. If you have time, acclimate by camping near the trailhead the night before your climb, and work on getting into basic shape before you attempt a 14er.
2. Leave an Itinerary with Someone Dependable
Write down a detailed plan for your trip, including details like where you are going and when you expect to return, major waypoints along your journey and intended return route. You should also include secondary details like what gear you have with you, alternate route options and backup plans, and your level of experience and familiarity with the area you are visiting. Leave it with someone you know and trust and instruct them to call the sheriff in the area you are visiting if they cannot get ahold of you by a pre-determined time and date.
3. Don’t Go Alone Without Experience
If this is your first 14er, bring a buddy with you to share the experience. Having a partner has many benefits. They can provide a second opinion when it comes to route-finding and navigation, assist or go for help in an emergency situation, and help avoid summit fever and biased thinking. Don’t go with someone you don’t know well. Find a mentor with experience on 14ers.com, on an online facebook group or forum, or someone you know through a friend. Meet them before you end up a the trailhead to get to know them and share background info and expectations.
4. Start Early to Avoid Afternoon Storms
Thunderstorms are extremely common in the mountains during summer afternoons. As the highest object above tree line made primarily of water, you become a significant target for lightning strikes while climbing a 14er. Start early – often around dawn – to ensure you have plenty of time to get up the summit and descend back to the tree line by 1pm at the latest. While you are safer under tree cover, you are safest back in your car, so keep moving until you get back to the trailhead parking lot.
5. If You Get Lost, Remember to S.T.O.P.
If you lose the trail, spend time trying to find it but only feel more loss, you may begin to panic. Remember to S.T.O.P. in this situation:
Sit: Rest and regain your composure. Take deep breaths if you need to and listen to the sounds of nature around you. Enjoy the view for a moment.
Think: Analyze the situation and identify your immediate priorities. Is the situation annoying or life-threatening? How can I find shelter, warmth, and water?
Observe: Is anyone in any immediate danger? What gear we you have with us that we can use? How much time is left in the day? Do we have fuel for a fire?
Plan: Decide what to do while awaiting help – or if needed, to find help. For example: Gather fuel nearby to build a fire. Hang out brightly colored clothing and blow a whistle periodically to attract attention, and build a small snow shelter for warmth.
6. Descend if you Develop Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness affects approximately 45% of those who ascent to 14,000 feet. If the symptoms are mild, including headaches, nausea, and fatigue, you can try treating them with over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen. However, if you continue ascending, the symptoms will gradually worsen. If you find you cannot treat them anymore, you need to descend before the progress and become life-threatening. Using oxygen cans or special masks will not help prevent or treat altitude sickness. Descending immediately is the only way to cure the condition.
7. When in Doubt, Turn Back or Call for Help
A lot of things can go wrong quickly on a 14er. Weather can turn on a dime. It is easy to accidentally wander off-trail. People trip, fall, and break a bone all the time. And sometimes, people just get exhausted or unsure of themselves. When in doubt, turn back and call it a day. While a bit of challenge is good for everyone, listening to your gut is important when mountaineering. If you feel in doubt about a situation or the risk you are facing, it is always better to descend. The mountain will still be there to climb again tomorrow.
What are the Easiest 14ers in Colorado to Hike? Now You Know!
Handies, Grays or Quandary Peak – the three easiest 14ers in Colorado to climb. While you asked for one, this gives you three extremely comparable trips, spread throughout three of Colorado’s ranges. If you are looking for more help planning this trip, visit 14ers.com to help out, or visit my 14ers Beginner Guide here. You can also sign up for my Fourteener online course. I cover everything you need to know for a safe and successful first ascent of a Colorado 14,000 foot peak, including any of these three. Safe travels on the trail!
Easy 14ers FAQ
A: The easiest 14er in Colorado, in terms of climbing class rating, distance, and elevation gain, is Handies Peak, if you have a 4WD vehicle that can reach the upper trailhead. If not, Mount Sherman and Quandary Peak are similar short-length 14ers ideal for beginners.
A: I recommend doing one of the easy 14ers further from Denver, like Handies Peak, because there are less people to deal with on the trail. Mount Elbert is another fun choice because it is the tallest peak in the state and one of the most well known. I do not recommend Castle Peak, which involves more route-finding and difficult scrambling. Save it for later.
A: The Decalibron loop includes climbing four 14ers in one day: Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Bross. While Mount Bross remains closed to public access, you can still climb the route using a bypass trail near the summit. The trail begins and ends at the Kite Lake trailhead near Alma, Colorado.
A: Yes, a beginner to hiking or the mountains can climb a 14er with the right preparation and attitude. It won’t be easy and they may need to take some time to prepare. Focus on doing some training hikes that gradually get longer and more difficult. You should also bring someone with you who has more experience to help with navigation and teach you some of the basics.
A: If you prefer working out at the gym, try spending time on the stair-master and treadmill to improve your cardiovascular fitness. Strength exercises like weightlifting will reduce your risk of injury and improve stability on rugged trails. Training with hikes is a great way to directly build your experience and exercise at the same time. Increase your distance and the weight your carry in your backpack to gradually push yourself as you approach your 14er hike date.
A: Experienced hikers, runners, and outdoor enthusiasts can probably climb a 14er without any focused or special training. They probably have the level of fitness and skills required already to get to the summit and back without getting into trouble. If you are totally new to hiking or you are very out of shape, you should probably take some time to prepare before attempting a 14er.
A: Longs Peak is a class three 14er with significant exposure and difficult scrambling. I do not recommend doing it as a beginner as the risk of death or injury is significant. More people have died on Longs Peak than any other 14er in Colorado. Build up some skills and experience with class one and two 14ers before you attempt any more exposed or dangerous climbs like Longs Peak or Mount Sneffels.
A: Yes, you can do most of the 14ers in one day. While some 14ers are done as overnight trips, like Capitol Peak and the Chicago Basin 14ers, they are the exception. Any route up to 15 or so miles can be done as a day trip without too much trouble. Beyond that, most people choose to do it as a backpacking expedition with a base camp below the final ascent stage of the climb.
Easy Colorado 14ers: Now You Know!
As you can see, the 14ers vary quite a bit and provide a lot of different options. You can hike up to the summit, do a dangerous and exposed class four scramble, and even drive a car up to the summit of Pikes Peak and Mount Evans. The easiest 14ers in Colorado, based on climbing class, distance, and elevation gain, include Handies Peak, Grays Peak, Quandary Peak, and Mount Elbert. While Culebra Peak and Castle Peak are the easiest 14ers in the Sangres and Elk Mountains, they are a bit more advanced and best for more experienced hikers. I hope you found this guide on the easiest 14ers in Colorado helpful for planning your next trip; Safe travels on the trails!
Additional Resources Related to the Easiest Colorado 14ers
Here are some additional websites and resources related to easy 14er hikes in Colorado. If you have any recommendations on something to add, please leave a comment below with your suggestion so we can share it with the outdoor community.
Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit
Alex 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.