easy class 3 14ers

Easy Class 3 Colorado 14ers – 4 Peaks for New Climbers

When it comes to climbing 14ers, Class 1 and 2 peaks aren’t a huge technical challenge. With enough stamina and gear, almost anyone can hike up and scramble over boulders to one of these summits. Something changes at the Class 3 level. Scrambling starts to require both your hands and feet to keep balance. The grade becomes steeper, and sometimes drop-offs are deadly. The chances of a serious fall on Class 3 climbs is always present, but with good preparation and experience the actual risk is small. Here’s a quick introduction to Class 3 climbing along with my suggestions for easy Class 3 Colorado 14ers – perfect for those new to the experience.

Table of Contents

easy Class 3 14ersWhat is Class 3 Climbing? What Do I Need to Be Prepared?

Class 3 routes are defined by the Yosemite Decimal System as “Scrambling with increased exposure. Handholds are necessary. Falls may be Fatal.” With this increased risk, there are a few things you can do to prepare.

  • Visit your local rock climbing gym to get comfortable using your hands to climb.
  • Wear a helmet to protect against falling rocks from above. This is an essential for Class 3 and 4 routes.
  • Research the route well, and save pictures on your phone. Most Class 3 routes are only difficult if you go off-route accidentally.
  • Try to get an idea of how you respond to exposure – visit easier trails that include ledges or vistas to try to ease yourself into it.
  • Don’t bother trying to use ropes unless you have experience with them – they’re usually not necessary or particularly helpful on these routes unless you really know what you’re doing.
  • Continue using core 14er safety practice: Bring the 10 essentials, research your route, and leave your plans with a friend at home.

RELATED READ: 9 MOST DIFFICULT COLORADO 14ERS | 9 DEADLY PEAKS

Mt Sneffels Route Guide

Mount Sneffels - South Slopes Route

Mt Sneffels provides one of the shortest and least technical class 3 routes on any 14er in the state. Located down in the San Juans, getting there is often more difficult than the climbing itself. The difficult part of the route consists of 3 main sections: A first gully climbs up a class 2 slope, followed by a class 2+ climb up another gully to a V-notch, and a third scramble/climb up the crux to the summit. At just 6 miles round trip, this is an easy class 3 14er, perfect for your first.

  • Standard Route: South Slopes
  • Trailhead: Yankee Boy Basin
  • Elevation Gain: 2,900 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 6 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 3 Climb
  • Range: San Juan Range


Read the complete Mount Sneffels route guide.

Longs Peak - Keyhole Route

Longs Peak is the most well known 14er on this list, located in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s longer than Mt Sneffels, at 14.5 miles but involves easier route-finding thanks to a series of patterns painted on rocks by the National Park Service. The route is also very busy, so it’s easy to tag along with a more experienced party, helping to compensate for the length. This isn’t a trip to take likely – more people have died on Longs Peak than any other 14er. Take your time making your preparations.

  • Standard Route: Keyhole Route
  • Trailhead: Longs Peak
  • Elevation Gain: 5,100 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 14.5 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 3 Scramble
  • Range: Front Range


Read the complete Longs Peak route guide.

Southern Colorado 14ers: Kit Carson Peak

Kit Carson Peak - Via Challenger Point

Kit Carson Peak is arguably the technically easiest class 3 14er. If you stay perfectly on the route, some argue it never really exceeds class 2+ difficulty. However, the long approach hike and ascent over Challenger Point make this a long and arduous climb even without more advanced climbing. If you make it a two-day trip, it becomes a far better option for your first easy class 3 Colorado 14ers.

  • Standard Route: Via Challenger Pt.
  • Trailhead: Willow Creek
  • Elevation Gain: 6,250 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 14.5 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 3 Climb
  • Range: Sangre de Christo


Read the complete Kit Carson Peak route guide.

Wetthorn Peak - Southwest Ridge Route

Wetterhorn is one of my favorite Colorado 14ers for a host of reasons. The approach hike up the basin is very short, the class 3 climbing is on solid rock, the exposure is contained to a few short sections, and the crowds down in the San Juan mountains are non-existent. Make sure you thoroughly research the route in case you end up being the only person out there – but the scrambling is relatively straightforward and easy to navigate.

  • Standard Route: Southwest Ridge
  • Trailhead: Matterhorn Creek
  • Elevation Gain: 3,300 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 7 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 3 Climb
  • Range: San Juan Range


Read the complete Wetterhorn Peak route guide.

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. 

Class 3 14ers for Beginners: Now You Know!

Most of Colorado’s 58 fourteenrs are relatively easy class 1 and 2 hikes and scrambles. However, around 20 of them are more difficult and dangerous class 3 or 4 climbs where a fall could be fatal. Take your time working up to these peaks, and choose one of the four easy class 3 14ers from this list for your first. A little patience and time spent preparing will make your climb all the better once you hit the mountain. Safe travels on the trails!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A: Class 3 routes involve increased scrambling and potentially exposure to steep drop-offs. Of these, Kelso Ridge on Torreys Peak is often recommended for those new to Class 3 climbs due to its relatively lower exposure and clear path. That said, any Class 3 route requires a good level of fitness, comfort with heights, and experience in mountainous terrains. Always proceed with caution and respect for the environment.

A: Mount Bierstadt is frequently identified as the least difficult 14er in Colorado. It has a well-maintained trail and a moderate elevation gain, making it an attractive option for beginners. Still, altitude can be a challenge for those unaccustomed to it, and weather conditions can change rapidly. Proper preparation and respect for the mountain are always recommended, regardless of the perceived difficulty level.

A: A Class 3 14er refers to a peak above 14,000 feet that requires some scrambling or climbing with the use of hands, according to the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) used to rate the difficulty of walks, hikes, and climbs. Class 3 routes typically have increased exposure with possible steep drop-offs. The risk of injury increases with Class 3 and above, and these routes require experience, appropriate equipment, and comfort with heights and exposure. Examples of Class 3 14ers in Colorado include Kelso Ridge on Torreys Peak, Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route, and the Crestone Needle.

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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