Want to try climbing a Colorado 14er? Now is the time to start planning.

Here is a guide for the unique traits of each Colorado 14er along with safety tips and advice about treating 14ers with respect.
May 17, 2024
Sunrise on Torreys Peak, one of Colorado's most accessible 14ers. Photo: Getty Images.
Sunrise on Torreys Peak, one of Colorado’s most accessible 14ers. Photo: Getty Images.

All sports have a season. And like baseball, summer and early fall are the seasons to enjoy climbing Colorado’s famous 14ers.

If you’re interested in climbing your first — or your 14th — 14er, now is the time to start planning.

Nearly all hikers summit 14ers from June through September. That’s when the snow melts off the most popular routes, and the weather generally turns mild enough to attempt them. Climbing a 14er isn’t just a way to stretch your legs; it’s a rite of passage for living here in Colorado.

What are the best guides for Colorado 14ers? Learn more before you venture out.

  • For more information on all the 14ers, including all routes and how to get to the trailheads, go to 14ers.com.
  • If you want a guidebook, Gerry Roach’s “Colorado’s Fourtneeners: From Hikes to Climbs” is one of the best.

So let’s talk about some of the most popular peaks located near the Front Range cities of Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Fort Collins and Greeley.

Consider this a guide for the unique traits of each 14er along with safety tips and advice about treating 14ers with respect.

Pikes Peak: 14,115 feet

Most of the people who reach the top of the mountain that inspired “America the Beautiful” don’t actually hike it, so prepare yourself for some strange looks as you stumble into the recently expanded cafeteria haggard and hungry. Wear your musky scent as a badge of honor and eat those donuts guilt-free as you ponder whether you need a coffee mug to remember your journey. The gift store is a great place to hang out if there’s a thunderstorm too.

Yes, you can drive up Pikes or take the Cog Railway, making this the only 14er you can ride down after summiting. You can decide whether this fits with your own ethics, but there’s nothing in the rule book that says you have to hike down after you climb a mountain. The railway can take you, and you can even schedule a ride down with a shuttle.

This isn’t the only civilization you’ll encounter on Pikes either: Barr Camp, about halfway up, can offer you a cozy place to sleep, breaking up the long trip into two days, and they sell Skittles and other snacks, hot food, Gatorade and a chance to top off your water bottle.

Start your hike at the Barr Lot and pay for parking. There’s a trail all the way to the top, but it’s more than 13 miles, and you gain 8,000 feet, the most by far of any single 14er. If you don’t think hiking is enough, you can enter the popular Pikes Peak Ascent, a long half marathon, and run as much as you can, or you can do the Pikes Peak Marathon the next day, what some consider harder than an ultra. Some people do both, but those people are weird or superhuman or both. Let’s go with both.

Mount Bierstadt: 14,065 feet

This is one of the most popular 14ers for beginners, and for good reason: The trail all the way to the top is gentle, and the hike is seven miles and just under 3,000 elevation gain. That’s still a lot, but compare it to Pikes Peak. Besides, no 14er is easy, regardless of what some bros may tell you. This drive IS easy, as there’s a paved road and two paved parking lots at the trailhead. It’s crowded—some say this one is the busiest—but every 14er is crowded.

Grays and Torreys: 14,278 and 14,267 feet

Remember what we were saying about a paved road and plentiful parking? These mountains will remind you what luxuries those are, as the rocky road, Forest Road 189, to the trailhead will challenge most passenger cars that aren’t 4WD (yes, there are people who still drive those here). Once you get to the top, you’ll have to scrounge for a spot. If you can’t find one, be careful about parking on the road instead of dirt parking at the start of Forest Road 189: Clear Creek has occasionally enforced a rule that does not allow parking on the road. Tickets were reportedly $200. The best way to get a spot at the top of the road is, of course, to leave early, which is something you should do anyway.

The peaks are gorgeous and wild, with a view at the base and the summits that rivals any pair of 14ers in the state. You’ll find it hard to believe you can follow a trail to the top of them, but you can, even if, at times, it’s more of a faint social trail.It’s nearly nine miles and 3,600 feet of elevation gain to do both. Nearly everyone climbs Grays first, then walks over Grays and down to the saddle separating the two: It’s a few hundred more feet to Torreys. A trail between the two means you don’t have to climb Grays again to get home, which will be a relief. The Kelso Ridge on Torreys is one of the most thrilling climbs up a 14er, but it’s only for experienced and skilled scramblers.

Quandary: 14,271 feet

This mountain is known for being another “easy” 14er, but don’t let the distance—three miles one way—fool you. The trail is gentle but steep at 3,500 elevation gain. Your quads will burn on the way down. This peak also has an official hard way up, the West Ridge, that’s well marked but only for the experienced.

This mountain gives you a good chance to see goats, though you know better than to approach them, right? They may approach you for food, but do your best to ignore them. They are generally harmless but still wild. Don’t try to pet them, in other words.

You’ll need to reserve a parking spot or ride a shuttle to the trailhead from June 15 through Sept. 15, which covers nearly all of the climbing season. This system started last year in response to the hundreds of cars parked along the county road close to Quandary, which is illegal, and it’s the reality of the number of people who want to climb the 14ers.

Parking is $30 for “non-peak” full days of Monday-Thursday, excluding holidays, and $55 all other days. The shuttle is a much better deal at $7 and dogs ride for free, as well as Summit County residents if they e-mail proof of residency. You can reserve a spot two weeks in advance of your trip starting June 1.

Democrat, Lincoln, Bross: 14,148, 14,293 and 14,321 feet

This route even has its own name, the Decalibron, It offers a chance to climb two official 14ers, but only if you sign a wavier here releasing the owner of any liability from his mining activities. Bross, another official 14er, remains closed. Landowners are concerned that hikers may sue if they get hurt on their property. The Kite Lake route bypasses Bross’ summit, and hikers should stay off it. The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, which has worked to restore access, urges hikers to stay off during negotiations. There’s a fourth 14er, Cameron Peak, that you can access from the trail, although this one isn’t considered official because it doesn’t rise 300 feet from the saddle of the other two peaks. It’s still worth a visit.

The hike is worth it, too, as it’s a pretty, fun and relatively gentle hike up two 14ers.

Longs Peak: 14,259 feet

Whoa, pardner, hold on there a minute. Yes, you can see Longs Peak from most places along the Front Range, and yes, it sure looks awesome, doesn’t it? It is. It’s considered one of the most awesome faces in the world. Is that enough to give you pause? No? Read on.

Longs is, well, long, at 15 miles, and you gain nearly 5,000 feet. You’ll gain a chunk of that over an exposed route called the Keyhole, through sections called the Ledges, the Trough, the Narrows and the Homestretch, which is not nearly as friendly as the name implies (the other names are accurate).

Not only is the route dangerous, it creates its own weather, and nearly all of the route is above treeline, leaving hikers exposed to hail, hard rain, wild wind and, worst of all, lighting. It’s Colorado’s deadliest mountain.

And yet many people pick Longs as their first 14er because it’s so close—it’s the only 14er in Rocky Mountain National Park—and we can see it every day.

If you’re unsure, try a hike to Chasm Lake first, which acts as a good preview to the approach to Longs and will also offer incredible views of Longs’ fierce east face.

If you think you’re ready, you’ll need sturdy footwear, warm, weather-tough clothes and the ability to scramble, hike and just keep going on little sleep, as you should be at the trailhead well before sunrise.

Climbing Longs is a day you’ll never forget. We just want that to be for the right reasons.

Things that can kill you on a 14er

  • The weather — Be off the summit and close to treeline by noon, as afternoon thunderstorms occur more often than bacon cheeseburgers after you’ve reached the top. Why is it important to be below treeline? Well, lighting strikes the tallest thing, and when there are no trees around…
  • The elevation — Living at 5,000 feet helps, but you’ll still likely get short of breath, a headache or some nausea. If you get dizzy or forgetful, head down immediately. Eating and drinking helps but is not a cure.
  • The way — Stay on the path, as even Longs Peak is well marked, and don’t take shortcuts. People have disappeared on 14ers for that reason, and even the gentlest routes can turn scary if you leave them.
  • The crowds — You should embrace the fact that you won’t be alone on a 14er, but crowds can kick rocks down on you, trip you or, in theory, threaten you. Keep an ear out for the warning “ROCK!” and put your head down and cover it.

How to treat the 14ers with respect 

  • Stay on the trail or route – Social trails are eroding the 14ers, and it only takes a few footfalls to gash the land. Shortcuts are inexcusable. 
  • Leave No Trace – Pack out your trash, including those cardboard signs you use for summit shots, and pick up after your dog and, yes, yourself. 
  • Pick a weekday to hike – This will help alleviate overcrowded trails and parking lots. 
  • Keep the wildlife wild – Don’t approach animals for selfies and don’t feed them.

About the author

Dan England has worked for Colorado media for 25 years, including 20 at the Greeley Tribune. He's won more than 100 state and national awards, including Best of Show from the Colorado Press Association in 2015. Dan loves to write about the outdoors, as they are not just a job but an adventure. He has completed more than 20 marathons and 20 ultramarathons in addition to climbing more than 200 peaks, including all the 14ers in Colorado and Mount Rainier in Washington. He is a running coach, specializing in ultramarathons, and is certified by the UESCA. Dan is married to Valerie Vampola, a professional singer, and has three children, Jayden and twin girls, Andie and Allie, and a heeler, Pepper, who ran her first trail marathon last year in western Kansas.