The Ultimate Guide to Hiking Colorado's Fourteeners

Fifty-four peaks. More than 140 routes. And hundreds of thousands of feet in elevation. Here, the ultimate beginner’s guide to climbing Colorado’s famous fourteeners.

June 2013

—Photos by Jeff Nelson

If you’re ready for more difficult terrain, here are three talents you’ll need to hone. —DE

SCRAMBLING This skill requires the ability to move over challenging and exposed terrain without the use of ropes. Routes that require scrambling are rated Class 2 up to Class 4. Check out Colorado Scrambles (Colorado Mountain Club Press, 2005) by Dave Cooper for routes to learn on.

ROUTE FINDING To climb more difficult mountains, you’ll need to be able to find the best way up a peak. Learn to recognize when a mountain feels more difficult or is taking longer than it should. That can mean you’re off the best route. And while there are no posted signs, cairns set out by previous hikers often mark the way. Being able to navigate using maps and a compass is also a good idea.

FOCUSING It’s OK to be nervous about falling, but fear should focus you, not paralyze you. Learn to be confident on climbs with significant drop-offs and skinny pathways because those things are a part of more challenging fourteeners. You’ll gain that confidence with every climb, but going with a guide or a more experienced friend can help.


These fourteeners will show you what the harder ones are really like.

MT. SNEFFELS (14,150 feet) This peak in the San Juan Mountains offers a scree-filled gully that feels as if you’re hiking up marbles and a spooky exposed notch just before the summit.

MT. LINDSEY (14,042 feet) From the Northwest Ridge Loop route, there are two ways to reach the top—and both are dicey. One is more exposed but solid, and the other veers from the cliffs but is full of loose scree.

MT. EOLUS (14,083 feet) This peak, deep in the Needle Mountains, challenges your comfort with exposure. They don’t call it the “sidewalk in the sky” for nothing, but the route is solid and fun.

Our sub-14,000-footers deserve love, too.

Colorado’s fourteeners get all the attention, but many other peaks are just as fun to climb. Dan England, outdoor and entertainment editor for the Greeley Tribune, occasional mountain guide, and conqueror of all of Colorado’s fourteeners, suggests four shorter hills.

FLATTOP MOUNTAIN (12,324 feet, Easy) Unlike many in its height category, this popular peak in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) offers a trail all the way to the top. Take a left at the summit to hike over tundra and hit Hallett Peak (12,713 feet), about a half-mile jaunt away, for a stunning view of Longs Peak.

MT. AUDUBON (13,223 feet, Easy) The Indian Peaks Wilderness’ most well-traveled peak has a trail almost all the way to the summit, and yet its wild beauty and breathtaking views make it feel like a much more exciting adventure.

JAMES PEAK (13,294 feet, Moderate) Many aspiring mountaineers—the kind who might one day like to summit more dangerous and exotic peaks—learn how to navigate snow and ice by trekking this peak’s St. Mary’s Glacier route.

MT. ALICE (13,310 feet, Difficult) The long approach is the bane of any peak bagger’s existence, as the fun stuff often occurs near the summit. Mt. Alice’s approach is a really long 18 miles, but the journey truly is the reward. Alice’s trail winds through the Wild Basin segment of RMNP, an underrated beauty full of waterfalls, streams, and the famous Lion Lakes. Alice’s summit, if you can believe it, is boring in comparison.

THE 411 

Credible information from local sources.