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Hike We Like: Handies Peak

The easiest route up this moderate fourteener passes vibrant wildflowers and a sparkling lake on the way to spectacular summit views.

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Why we love it: The moderate elevation gain compared to other fourteeners leaves you with enough energy to enjoy the crystal-clear waters of Sloan Lake and the gorgeous flower display in upper American Basin.

When to go: Late spring, after most of the snow has melted, through early fall, when the temperatures begin to plummet. It is important to get an early-morning start to avoid buildup and allow plenty of time.

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The easiest route up 14,048-foot Handies Peak, Colorado’s 40th highest summit, gains 2,500 feet over a distance of about 2.75 miles (one way). Located in the Handies Peak Wilderness Study Area, the summit is the highest point managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the continental U.S. According to 14ers.com, Handies was named “Tabasco” on some early Forest Service maps in honor of the Tabasco Meat Sauce Company, which sponsored a mining operation on the nearby route to Cinnamon Pass, part of the San Juans’ spectacular 4WD Alpine Loop.

(Check out 5280‘s guide to hiking Colorado’s fourteeners)

From the parking lot at the end of the 4WD road at 11,600 feet, the easy-to-spot trail veers south, winding through the extensive fields of columbine, paintbrush, and many other wildflowers carpeting American Basin’s upper slopes. At about 12,200 feet the path bends to the southeast, then climbs steeply to 12,700 feet before heading towards the basin’s eastern end. Here the route turns right and zig-zags up another slope towards beautiful Sloan Lake.

At the trail junction just before the lake, turn left to continue towards the summit. After crossing some rocky talus, the trail ascends the peak’s southwest slopes to reach a saddle at 13,500 feet. Turn left here to follow the path up the ridge to the summit, where top-of-the-world views await. Once you’ve rested and enjoyed the panorama, descend the same way, detouring past the shores of Sloan Lake if the weather allows.


Getting there: From Lake City, follow CO 149 southbound for 2 miles, then turn right onto County Road 30. Continue approximately 20 miles, following signs to Cinnamon Pass, until you reach a fork. Turn left here onto the 4WD road that accesses American Basin. The trailhead is about 1 mile up the road, navigable only by high-clearance vehicles. If you don’t feel comfortable on this road or crossing the creek 0.2 miles past the fork, park in one of the pull-offs. Beginning the hike here adds 300 feet of elevation gain and two miles round-trip.

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Logistics: Low-impact camping is allowed at the trailhead. For recent information on trail conditions visit 14ers.com.

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