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Hayden Mountain, still snowy in the springtime. Photo by Ryan Wichelns
The Beginner’s Guide to Climbing Colorado’s Thirteeners

Hayden Mountain

If you’ve never traveled along southwestern Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway to Red Mountain Pass, you should—and hike up Hayden Mountain while you’re there.

Trailhead Elevation: 9,865 feet feet
Summit Elevation: 13,206 feet
Hiking Distance: 6.2 miles, round trip
Time: Half-day hike
Drive Time from Denver: Approximately 6 hours
Closest Towns with Services: Silverton and Ouray
Where to Park: Richmond trailhead, off U.S. 550

The Hike: Climbing Hayden Mountain is about as easy as a thirteener in the San Juans can get: The trail’s proximity to Red Mountain Pass means you (thank God) start at a higher elevation and have less overall climbing to do to reach the summit, and you’ll clear the treeline on an obvious, well-marked trail (it’s one of a few on this list you’ll actually find on a map). As the trail begins switchbacking up the hill from the highway, look for brief views through the trees toward Red Mountains 1 and 2, gorgeous and aptly named 12,000-plus foot peaks.

The Richmond Trail, here, climbs roughly 3,340 feet toward Richmond Pass through stands of quaking aspens, making it a top-tier fall objective. Hikers will start to clear treeline near mile 1.4, where they can start to see all the way up toward the summit of Red Mountain Pass, well to the south. Follow the ridgeline west and onto Richmond Pass at mile 2.6—at this point, you can see down the other side toward Imogene Creek, United States Mountain, and Yankee Boy Basin, renowned for its wildflowers in the spring and summer. You will leave the trail at the top of the pass and pick your way due north up the ridgeline toward Hayden Mountain. While there are plenty of rocky outcrops along the ridge, none of them are difficult to bypass. Eventually the broad summit cone opens up: Switchback your way to the top, where you can try to discern the town of Ouray, tucked in a valley to the north. Once you’ve gotten your fill, descend the route of ascent back to your car.

Fair Warning: Route-finding on Hayden is relatively simple for a thirteener; they won’t all be like this. You’ll follow a well-established trail well above treeline, then hoof it along an obvious ridge to the summit. Nothing on that summit ridge should be more difficult than Class 2, with just a few semi-exposed scrambles around the ridgeline’s gendarmes. Mental note: In the wintertime, the route is also relatively safe. You’ll just want to watch out for small, steep, open zones below the treeline and give a wide berth to possible cornices hanging above Richmond Pass to the south. 

Getting There: Follow U.S. 550 north from Durango or south from Ouray/Ridgway toward Red Mountain Pass. Just north of the pass, the valley broadens at Ironton, the site of a former mining town. Just to the south of the Ironton Townsite trailheads (you’ll see signs), look for a narrow right turn into the trees to find the start of Richmond Trail.

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