The State of Colorado has 54 individual 14,000’ mountains, more than any other state. We take pride that there is almost nowhere along the Front Range where we can’t see one of these towering peaks. If you’ve never hiked a 14er, or been to the top, now is a great time to cross this adventure off your bucket list.
Hiking a 14er is no easy task. Most require six to eight on the trail, good levels of fitness, caution and preparation when venturing into this extreme terrain. Arrive to the trailhead early and leave plenty of time to reach the summit before noon! You want to be well away from the peak when/if thunderstorms roll in around midday. June through August is the best time to climb these mountains as trails are largely devoid of snow. The greatest threat when hiking is exposure to the elements and in the summer months the threat comes from afternoon thunderstorms. A lightning strike on Mount Bierstadt recently hospitalized 3 hikers.
Preparation is of vital importance when taking on one of these peaks. Here are a few basic items to pack:
Sunscreen. There’s nothing like a sunburn to erase the memories of a great accomplishment – like climbing to the top of a mountain. As we discussed in our last blog, skin care is vital to your personal health.
Water! If you remember anything, remember this: bring plenty of water. The majority of unnecessary injuries that occur on these slopes is due to dehydration. Aim for at least half a gallon (two Nalgene bottles) and ensure you are already hydrated when you reach the trail.
Light Jacket. For every 1000’ gain in elevation, the average temperature drops 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit. It might be warm and toasty in Denver, but at the top of that 14,000’ peak the temperature will be much lower. You’re going to want a light jacket at the top.
Hiking Boots. Leave the running shoes at home; they lack the proper support you need when hoofing up a high alpine trail on variable terrain. Wearing a pair of proper hiking boots will lower your chance of rolling an ankle and provide better traction when trudging up a mountain slope.
Munchies. Trail mix, Cliff bars, nature valley granola bars all make for great trail snacks. When you reach the summit, or need some extra energy for the climb, you’ll want a tasty treat.
When you have all the required gear, you need to find is a route. Here are some of the best 14ers for beginners, including a couple mountains you can get to the top of even if you can’t walk to the top.
Mount Evans (elevation: 14,265’)
This is the crown jewel above Denver, Colorado. It’s the closest 14er to Denver and also is one of the most accessible. Mount Evans wilderness area is a short 30 min drive outside of Denver to Idaho Springs. A $6 entrance fee is all you need to access the numerous trails in the area including summit trails. If you don’t feel like walking, you can take the drive up Mount Evans on the highest paved road in the United States!
Pikes Peak (elevation: 14, 114’)
This is the mountain that inspired America the Beautiful. It’s the most famous mountain in Colorado. It’s also one of the most trafficked mountains in our states with a road and cog rail (train) reaching to the top, where there’s also a gift shop. Perhaps not the best for those looking for a more wild adventure, but there’s something comforting in the fact that at the top you can enjoy fresh fudge.
Mount Bierstadt (elevation: 14,064’)
Trail Roundtrip Length: 7 miles
Another 14er near Denver. Located just out of Georgetown at the top of Guanella Pass. Seven miles round trip makes this peak a relatively short trek, however the trail travels over 3000 vertical feet from trailhead to peak, meaning it is steep!
Grays Peak (elevation: 14,278’) and Torrey’s Peak (elevation: 14,275’)
Trail Roundtrip Length: 8.5 miles
If you want to cross two peaks off your list, then Grays and Torrey’s are perhaps the two easiest 14ers to hike in one day. If you are hiking with young children, it’s probably best to stick to just one of the two (Grays Peak) but if you get an early enough start you can easily cross off both of these peaks.
Quandary Peak (elevation: 14,265’)
Trail Roundtrip Length: 6.75 miles
Thanks to its location and easy access, located at Hoosier Pass between Breckenridge and Fairplay, this peak gets plenty of traffic. It’s a relatively easy climb and like many of these hikes can be done in half a day, making it the perfect early morning hike.
Hiking a 14er is one of the most rewarding outdoor activities in all of Colorado. Use this guide to help you set up your next trek, and before you know it you will become a regular peak bagger, perhaps joining the ranks of the few who’ve climbed every single 14er in the state.
For those who are unable to make it to the mountains, there is a program called flat 14ers that converts activity like walking, swimming, and hiking into steps that can then be converted into reaching the summit of a 14er.