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Length: 14.6 miles, round-trip
Difficulty: Very challenging
Why we love it: Score an eyeful and enjoy fun route-finding on the best nontechnical mountain climb on the Front Range—a hike worthy of every adventurer’s bucket list.
When to go: Late summer and early fall
Pre-hike fuel: Pack plenty of food and water. You’ll need to start hiking around 2 or 3 a.m., so don’t count on finding open stores beforehand.
Post-hike buzz: Venture into the hamlet of Estes Park for margaritas and chips at local hangout Ed’s Cantina and Grill. Or pit stop in Lyons at the original Oskar Blues taphouse to replenish lost calories with a beer and a burger.
Restrooms: Find facilities at the trailhead parking lot, plus an outhouse near the spur for Chasm Lake, roughly halfway up Longs Peak at mile 3.5.
Dogs: Not allowed
If it’s true alpine splendor you seek—cerulean pools, bare granite, glacier smears, and views that outrun your vision—then you cannot do better closer to the home front than Denverites’ fourteener: Longs Peak. And now is the time to go. With summer thunderstorms in the rear view and snowflakes still on the horizon, the narrow window for hiking to the top of the 14,259-footer is here.
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But don’t mistake this hike for a gimme. Even with primo conditions, the route up Longs is objectively challenging: In roughly 7.3 miles, you gain 5,000 feet of elevation—making it less like a stroll and more like a 10-hour, continuous stair climb. Sections near the top require careful footing and hand-over-hand climbing with huge consequences should you fall. (In 2022, there have already been six deaths on the mountain.) If weather, fitness, and stoke align, however, ticking off this quintessential Colorado summit is worth every step.
To do it, begin from the eponymous trailhead on the easternmost edge of the national park. Ascend through a conifer forest alongside Alpine Brook to a junction near mile 2.5. The woods thin out and give way to more subalpine underbrush. Stay left on the main trail and climb through a moraine, aka the rocky deposits of a glacier, to another intersection around mile 3.5. See Chasm Lake shimmering beneath the Diamond, the black-colored sheer east face of Longs, in the moonlight (because you left the trailhead by 3 a.m. at the latest, right?). Find a privy here—your last facilities on the route.
Peel off to the north, continuing along the singletrack as it cuts across the tundra of 13,281-foot Mt. Lady Washington. Near mile 5, gain the low point on the ridgeline, and veer south on the trail, which dead-ends into the Boulderfield. This appropriately named section requires about a mile of slowly picking and choosing the path of least resistance up the talus to the Keyhole, a can’t-miss-it notch in a rock about the size of a tiny house that you pass through to reach the spine.
From there, follow bullseye-marked rocks into the Trough, or the scree-filled gully on the west flank of Longs. Hoof it up some 600 feet of elevation to the Narrows, a fun, squeezy section along the south face of Longs that leads to the Homestretch: a 300-foot-long granite ramp that requires hand-over-hand climbing to reach the summit.
The top of Longs is broader—roughly the size of a football field—than the view from Denver suggests. Trace the edges to soak in a 360-degree panorama that includes 14,115-foot Pikes Peak and a slew of other fourteeners, plus South Boulder Peak and Bear Peak in Boulder and the handful of skyscrapers that make up the Mile High City’s skyline.
Return the way you came.
Additional information: Keep an eye on the weather report leading up to your hike, and confirm conditions before committing. Avoid precip, of course, but also be wary of wind and temperature swings, which can lead to rockfall. If you encounter impassable ice, a storm head, or spicy weather, turn around.
If conditions look promising, try to start your hike around 2 a.m., and expect to be on the mountain for half a day, at least. (The parking lot will likely fill by 2:30 a.m. anyway.) You want to be off the summit and safely back below the timberline, or treed area, by mid-afternoon when daily temperature swings and wind kick up.
As on any backcountry adventure, always pack the Ten Essentials. Pay particular attention to your layers (it can be 30 degrees cooler on the summit) and nutrition (water and a sugary boost can help unsettled tummies at higher elevations). We recommend wearing a rock-certified helmet beginning on the Boulderfield.
Getting there: From Denver, navigate to Lyons, either by way of I-25 North and CO 7 west or U.S. 36 west via Boulder. From Lyons, follow CO 7 west 24.5 miles through Allenspark. Turn left onto Longs Peak Road and follow it one mile to the ranger station and parking lot.