Try a via ferrata for a thrilling Colorado mountain climbing adventure

Oct. 7, 2022
A young woman climbs the via ferrata near Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park. Photo by Dan Gambino, courtesy of Kent Mountain Adventure Center Guides.
Via ferrata mountain climbing courses in Colorado offer exciting adventures with stunning views. Here, a teen climbs the Estes Park Via Ferrata with views of Rocky Mountain National Park in the background. Photo by Dan Gambino, courtesy of Kent Mountain Adventure Center Guides.

Do you love rock climbing and reaching mountain summits with unparalleled views?

Do exposed trails, lofty heights and sheer drop-offs rev you up rather than leaving you shaky and afraid?

Then a via ferrata in Colorado might be for you.

What, you might ask, is a via ferrata?

Good question. These are the newest types of guided mountain-climbing adventures that are booming in popularity in Colorado and around the world.

Assisted by guides, participants navigate vertical obstacle courses. They wear climbing harnesses and helmets and clip locking carabiners into steel cables and bolts while crossing rivers, soaring on zip lines and ascending metal rungs hammered into cliffs.

The phrase via ferrata comes from Italian and means “iron path.”

Via ferrate (in Italian) or via ferratas, as they’re known in English, became popular in Europe decades ago. That’s because soldiers used ropes and fixed bolts, cables and pegs set in cliffs to climb Italy’s rugged Dolomite Mountains during World Wars I and II. After the wars, adventurers began using the iron fixtures to explore vertical climbing routes.

Now the via ferrata craze has caught on in the U.S.

If you’d like to give a via ferrata a try, here are some courses in Colorado:

Ouray Via Ferrata, Ouray

Try a via ferrata in Colorado if you're interested in a guided mountain climbing adventure. Photo courtesy of the Friends of the Ouray Via Ferrata.
Try a via ferrata in Colorado if you’re interested in a guided mountain climbing adventure. Photo courtesy of the Friends of the Ouray Via Ferrata.

The Ouray Via Ferrata is unique in that it’s one of only a handful of via ferratas in the world that is free for experienced climbers. The Ouray Via Ferrata is publicly owned by the town of Ouray and managed by the nonprofit Friends of Ouray Via Ferrata, which raised funds to open the attraction.

Inexperienced users must rent equipment and hire guides since mistakes on the course can be deadly.

The Ouray course currently features two routes: one heading downstream above the rushing Uncompahgre River, and the other heading upstream.

The downstream route begins near another of Ouray’s famous attractions: the Ouray Ice Park. Via Ferrata adventurers cross the river on a cable, then navigate rocky traverses, narrow ledges in the cliff and hand-to-hand climbs. The upstream via ferrata route is more challenging and is recommended for experienced climbers who want to test themselves on an array of obstacles in the Uncompahgre Gorge.

The Ouray Via Ferrata is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. from May through the end of October. Climbers weighing less than 88 pounds or more than 265 pounds must use a supplemental belay system. Both routes are one-way only.  Learn more about the Ouray Via Ferrata rules.

Cave of the Winds Mountain Park Via Ferrata, Manitou Springs

Climbers at Cave of the Winds Mountain Park Via Ferrata join a guide to explore the limestone cliffs and mountain paths high above the red-rock canyon at Cave of the Winds.

Inexperienced climbers are welcome as guides and a safety harness system keeps adventurers on course. Sturdy hiking footwear is required. Participants must be age 12 and older and weigh less than 260 pounds.

Granite Via Ferrata, Buena Vista

Located in southern Colorado’s famous river rafting town of Buena Vista at the base of Colorado’s stunning 14,000-foot Collegiate Peaks, Granite Via Ferrata provides cliffy challenges and views of both mountains and the Arkansas River valley.

During the 3-hour tour, participants navigate a combination of ladders, rungs, bridges and steps carved in rock. Participants must be at least 12 years old and weigh less than 250 pounds.

Estes Park Via Ferrata

Climbers ascend a cliff at the Estes Park Via Ferrata. Photo by Dan Gambino, courtesy of Kent Mountain Adventure Center Guides.
Climbers ascend a cliff at the Estes Park Via Ferrata. Photo by Dan Gambino, courtesy of Kent Mountain Adventure Center Guides.

Located east of Estes Park, the Estes Park Via Ferrata requires guides from the Kent Mountain Adventure Center.

Adventurers get to enjoy a route known as The Peregrine Arete on the Deville rocks. The ascent begins in a rocky gully on the side of a cliff. Inexperienced climbers who are physically fit are able to do the via ferrata, which scales a 600-foot cliff.

During the ascent, climbers can enjoy views of Rocky Mountain National Park to the west.

Check out the video.

Mount Evans Via Ferrata, Idaho Springs

Climbing rock faces is part of a great via ferrata adventure.
The Mount Evans Via Ferrata in Idaho Springs includes this exposed section on a cliff face. Photo courtesy of AVA Rafting & Zipline.

The 3-hour Mount Evans Via Ferrata is located in the old mining town of Idaho Springs west of Denver. The route overlooks Chicago Creek and participants navigate a path of iron rungs and jungle-like bridges. Adventurers enjoy three ziplines and rappel down a 70-foot cliff in addition to doing a 50-foot freefall. Participants must be at least 12 years old and weigh less than 250 pounds. Get more information about the Mount Evans Via Ferrata.

Climbers take a moment to enjoy the view at the Mount Evans Via Ferrata. Photo courtesy of AVA Rafting & Zipline.
Climbers take a moment to enjoy the view at the Mount Evans Via Ferrata. Photo courtesy of AVA Rafting & Zipline.

Royal Gorge Bridge & Park Via Ferrata, Cañon City

The via ferrata at the Royal Gorge offers stunning views of the canyon and the iconic bridge. Photo courtesy of the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park.
The via ferrata at the Royal Gorge offers stunning views of the canyon and the iconic bridge. Photo courtesy of the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park.

The Royal Gorge is home to one of Colorado’s deepest canyons, which plunges more than 1,000 feet from the rim to the roaring Arkansas River at the base of the canyon. Famous for its bridge and other attractions, the Royal Gorge now features the dramatic Royal Gorge Bridge & Park Via Ferrata course.

At the Royal Gorge, climbers navigate cables and steel rungs during adventures that can last about 2 ½ hours for the shorter course or about five hours on the longer route. Climbers cross a mini suspension bridge as they head to the course. Then the hiking and climbing begin.

Kids as young as 10 are allowed to do the Royal Gorge Via Ferrata. Check out this video to learn more about the Royal Gorge Via Ferrata.

The Telluride Via Ferrata

Telluride is known for the soaring cliffs that jut thousands of feet up from this historic mining town’s picturesque valley floor. If you love the idea of climbing exposed cliffs, then the Telluride Via Ferrata is a great option. The route traverses steep rock faces more than 600 feet above the valley floor. Fixed steel cables and holds make it possible to navigate this otherwise inaccessible area. Along with views of the 14,000-foot San Juan Mountains that surround Telluride, the via ferrata provides stellar views of the town’s famous Bridal Veil Falls, the highest free-falling waterfall in Colorado

Experienced climbers can navigate the Telluride Via Ferrata on their own. For others, experienced guides are highly recommended. Learn more about booking a trip with a guide. And check out this video that features the Telluride Via Ferrata.

Lawson Adventure Park, Dumont

The Lawson Adventure Park provides a via ferrata that connects with zip lines. Climbers can do an easier route or can take on the advanced climb, which ascends over 1,000 vertical feet. Visitors can also stay at the park and can do rafting trips on the nearby Colorado River. The park is easily accessible from Interstate 70.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.

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