Why we love it:
Easy access, a well-graded trail, abundant aspens, and amazing summit views make Mount Yale a prime pick among Colorado’s 54 fourteeners.
When to go:
Late spring, after most of the snow has melted, through early fall, when the aspen-covered hillsides turn orange and gold. It is important to get an early-morning start to avoid buildup and allow plenty of time.
The standard route up 14,199-foot Mount Yale, the state’s 21st highest peak, gains 4,300 feet over a distance of about 4.75 miles (one way). Mount Yale is one of the five Collegiate Peaks located in the central Sawatch Range west of Buena Vista. Yale was first surveyed in 1869 by a team led by Josiah Whitney, who named it after his alma mater.
From the parking area at 9,900 feet of elevation, follow the Denny Creek Trail north through the mixed conifer forest. About a mile from the trailhead, the path crosses Denny Creek at about 10,500 feet of elevation. About a quarter mile beyond this crossing, the trail forks. Turn right here to follow the narrower Mount Yale Trail, which crosses Delaney Gulch on a log bridge at 11,100 feet. Shortly after traversing some meadows, the trail begins to climb steeply. After passing treeline at 12,100 feet, the route winds another mile up through the rocks to a shoulder at 12,200 feet.
From here the trail runs northeast, climbing steadily up to a saddle, which you reach at just under 14,000 feet. The summit lies about half a mile to the southeast. Although the trail disappears here amongst the talus, closely spaced cairns (stack of rocks) mark the remainder of the route. To reach the top, carefully scramble along the rocky ridge or walk just below the summit on the right side.
Thanks to your early start, when you arrive at the top, the weather will hopefully be clear and warm so you can sit on top of the world and enjoy a well-deserved snack and panoramic views—stretching from the Front Range to the Elk Mountains near Aspen to the San Juans in the southwest—before retracing your route (no doubt on shaky legs) back to your car.
Getting there: From Denver, follow U.S. 285 southbound to the junction with U.S. 24. Turn right and follow this north to the center of Buena Vista. Turn left at the junction with County Road 306 and follow this west about 12 miles towards Cottonwood Pass. The Denny Creek trailhead is located on the north (right) just before the seasonal closure gate.