Colorado has 58 mountain peaks over 14,000 feet, more than any other state. These mountains (known as fourteeners) offer a breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape. The journey to the summit can be an unforgettable experience with a chance to see wildlife like moose and mountain goats along the way.
The adventure of reaching a fourteener’s summit is exhilarating and rewarding, but let’s be honest, even the “easy” ones will challenge you more than your typical hike! With the proper preparation and mindset, anyone can conquer these majestic peaks. Whether you’re looking to challenge yourself to finish all 58 or want to experience the thrill of one, hiking a fourteener is a bucket list adventure that will leave you feeling accomplished.
Set your alarm and pack your hiking bag because it’s fourteener season! To make your first summit a success, here are five beginner-friendly fourteeners to tackle this summer (and not the ones you can drive up.)
- Elevation: 14,066 feet
- Distance: 7.25 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 2,850 feet
- Location: Front Range, the trailhead starts on Guanella Pass near Georgetown and Idaho Springs
- Permits: none
Located near Georgetown, about an hour and a half from Denver, Mount Bierstadt is among the most accessible fourteeners. The gentle climb in elevation to the summit has earned Bierstadt the reputation for being the easiest fourteener in the state and is an excellent option for younger hikers.
- Elevation: 14,272 feet
- Distance: 6.75 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 3,450 feet
- Location: Tenmile Range, the trailhead starts on McCullough Gulch Road near Breckenridge
- Permits: Bus shuttle or parking permits are required for Quandary Peak due to its popularity. Parking reservations begin June 1 and the shuttle begins June 15. Additional information about reserving parking can be found on Summit County’s website here.
Quandary is the highest peak in the Tenmile Range and a popular fourteener because of its proximity to Denver. The trail to the summit is well-marked, and while the ascent is not as gentle as Bierstadt, it’s relatively tame as far as easy climbs go. The trail offers impressive views above Blue Lakes and a good chance of spotting mountain goats.
- Elevation: 14,043 feet
- Distance: 5.25 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 2,150 feet
- Location: Mosquito Range, the trailhead starts at Fourmile Creek near Leadville
- Permits: none
With Mount Sherman, it’s possible to park as high as 12,000 feet! Leaving only a couple thousand feet of elevation gain from trailhead to summit and just over 5 miles of hiking. The beginning of the trail is mostly flat but winds through a meadow that will be filled with blooming wildflowers at the right time of year.
- Elevation: 14,275 and 14,267 feet
- Distance: 8.25 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 3,600 feet
- Location: Front Range, the trailhead starts at Grays Peak (189) road near Keystone and Breckenridge
- Permits: none
For hikers looking to take on more of a challenge, Grays and Torreys Peaks are an excellent option for bagging two summits in one day! Grays Peak is the highest point on the Continental Divide at 14,275 feet, while Torreys is slightly less at 14,267 feet. They are easily accessible from I-70, close to nearby Keystone and Breckenridge for post-hike brews, and both trails are well-maintained and make it easy to navigate from peak to peak. It’s easy to see why these two are some of the most popular fourteeners in Colorado.
- Elevation: 14,438 feet
- Distance: 9.5 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 4,700 feet
- Location: Sawatch Range, the trailhead starts on Halfmoon Creek road near Leadville
- Permits: none
We saved the best for last because what is better than telling your friends you reached the summit of the highest peak in Colorado and the 2nd highest peak in the contiguous United States? That’s right! Mount Elbert is the tallest peak and one of the most beginner-friendly fourteeners. You’re in for a long day with just over 9 miles of hiking, but the views will make you forget all about your aching feet.
Hiking a fourteener as a beginner can be challenging, especially if you’re from out of state and have yet to acclimate to the elevation, but we’ve got you covered with tips to help you successfully make it to the summit. Remember, safety should always be your top priority! Don’t hesitate to turn back if conditions become unsafe; always be prepared for unexpected situations.
Like most outdoor activities, planning goes a long way toward reaching your goals! Research the trail and road conditions. Do you need an AWD vehicle, high clearance vehicle, etc? Check the weather conditions for the time you’ll be on the trail and if there is any chance of rain or afternoon thunderstorms. Pack all the necessary gear, food, water, and layering pieces of clothing for changes in weather and temperature as you hike.
Begin your hike early in the morning. It’s preferable to be on the trail before sunrise. Not only will you enjoy the vibrant colors of the morning sun rising over the surrounding peaks, but it will give you plenty of time to reach the summit and descend before thunderstorms develop in the afternoon. Hiking above treeline during a thunderstorm can be very dangerous. Watch the weather as you go; if it starts to look bad, don’t be afraid to turn around! It’s better to be safe and try to summit another day.
Dress for Success
Wear sturdy shoes that are comfortable for long periods. Remember, depending on the mileage, you could be hiking for 8-12 hours. Bring plenty of layers of clothing. You may start at the bottom of the trail very warm as you make your way up, but at the summit, it will undoubtedly be windier and colder, and after working up a sweat, you’ll be reaching for that warm hoodie or jacket! Pack a hat, sunglasses to protect you from the sun, and even a rain jacket if you get caught in a storm.
If this is your first fourteener, pace yourself and take plenty of breaks on your way up. Listen to your body, drink lots of water, and bring nutritious snacks to keep your energy levels up.
Follow Leave No Trace Principles
The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace offer a clear set of guidelines for minimizing environmental impact while enjoying the outdoors. They are principles such as staying on designated trails, packing out all your trash, respecting wildlife, and more. Check out their website here to review all Leave No Trace principles.
Are you interested in tips for other Colorado adventures? Check out our Summer Safety Tips for Colorado Adventures for more in-depth information on how to stay safe in Colorado’s backcountry this summer.
See you at the summit!