9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer

9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb This Summer

So before I get in trouble, I just want to point out that there are no truly easy Colorado 14ers.

There’s nothing easy about hiking uphill in the thin air 2.5 miles above sea level. The only 14er hike I’ve ever done where I haven’t suffered just a little was from the parking lot to the gift shop on the summit of Pikes Peak.

On the other hand, there are plenty of Colorado 14ers that are “easy” in a relative sense and can be climbed by mere mortals. Even mortals who are new to hiking, don’t have perfectly sculpted gym bodies, or just got off the plane from Florida.

If you’re willing to sweat and suffer a bit for a chance to stand on top of the Rockies, this blog post if for you. Let’s look at nine easy Colorado 14ers that anyone with basic fitness and lots of heart can climb.

Safety First

There’s no way around it. Hiking and mountaineering are riskier than staying home and watching Dance Moms. Even relatively easy Colorado 14ers kill people under the wrong conditions.

Here are a few rules of thumb to follow in the mountains:

  • Climb early. This is necessary to avoid afternoon lightning danger — and also to snag a parking space. (Easy Colorado 14ers tend to have crowded lots.)
  • Watch the weather and check it once more just before leaving home. Even if the forecast is favorable, plan your climb so you’re off the summit by noon.
  • Watch all around you for building clouds. Remember that lightning can strike from miles away.
  • Don’t travel on or below steep snow slopes unless you’re trained in snow travel and avalanche avoidance.
  • When hiking ridges in the spring, watch for snow cornices and stay well back from their edges.
  • Dress appropriately and carry your 10 essentials. Don’t know what those are? Check out this handy video.

One other word of advice: easy Colorado 14ers get super crowded, especially on weekends. To beat the crowds, climb early and consider hiking on a weekday. Another option: time your hike for September or October when conditions are still good and trails are less crowded.

1. Mount Democrat

Trailhead: Kite Lake

Distance: 4 miles

Elevation Gain: 2150′

Best Beta Source: 14ers.com

Low mileage and a modest elevation gain make Mount Democrat the least intimidating of the easy Colorado 14ers. But don’t be fooled. The standard route is actually quite steep and rocky, making this a great place to test your feet (and your wits) on Class 2 terrain.

Many groups start this hike by camping at Kite Lake trailhead, which is located six miles above Alma on a decent dirt road. (Most 2WD cars should be able to make it.) Bring small bills for the camping and parking fees.

The trail starts out gentle and grassy, but becomes increasingly steep and rocky as you ascend. Look for the ruins for the Kentucky Belle gold mine, which dates back to 1900. Once you gain the ridge, it’s a pleasant (though very rocky) traverse to the summit cone, where the trail switchbacks to the top.

Did the hike up Democrat merely whet your 14er appetite? You can tag on up to three more easy Colorado 14ers by completing the Decalibron Loop connecting Mount Democrat, Cameron Point (14,238′), Mount Lincoln (14,286′) and Mount Bross (14,172′). Be sure to bring a frisbee to toss around Bross’ broad summit.

9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
[CC Image courtesy of David Herrera on Flickr]
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Fourth of July Summit, 2013

2. Mt. Sherman

Trailhead: Fourmile Creek/Leavick

Distance: 5.25 miles

Elevation Gain: 2100′

Best Beta Source: 14ers.com

Even by easy Colorado 14er standards, this route is short and sweet. The scenery is gorgeous, the landscape is full of history, and the summit ridge is rugged enough to provide a little fun.

If you hike in the summer, you’ll pass the Leavick ruins on your way to the trailhead. (In the winter, you’ll park either just past them or a little below.) Believe it or not, this town was once big enough to support a brothel. The local kids snowshoed to school in the winter.

The route up Mount Sherman starts on an old mining road that winds up the ridge. You’ll pass more picturesque mining ruins, including the Hilltop Mine on the saddle between Mount Sherman and its neighbor Mount Sheridan.

Below the saddle, a cairned trail leaves the road, gains the ridge, and follows it to the summit. In the winter and spring, you may need to adjust your route to avoid overhanging snow cornices. (Imagine one of those suckers breaking under your feet.)

As you approach the summit, the ridge gets sharper, rockier, and more fun. There are even one or two sections with a hint of exposure. (I remember because an off-leash dog ran between my feet on one of them.)

On the summit, try to find some privacy among the rocks and enjoy stunning views of Mount Sheridan (13,748′) and Dyer Peak (13,855′ and one of Colorado’s 100 highest).

Bonus fun fact: Local climbers training for high-altitude trips in Asia and South America often acclimatize by sleeping on Mount Sherman.

9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
The Mosquito Range with Mount Sherman center [CC Image courtesy of David Herrera on Wikimedia Commons]
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Hilltop Mine [CC Image courtesy of Charles Weston on Flickr]
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
[CC Image courtesy of Adam Baker on Flickr]

3. Handies Peak

Trailhead: American Basin

Distance: 5.75 miles

Elevation Gain: 2500′

Best Beta Source: 14ers.com

Pretty much everyone who climbs Handies Peak agrees that it’s probably the most beautiful Colorado 14er. It doesn’t hurt that it’s located in the wild heart of the jagged San Juan mountains. Also, the distance between Handies Peak and the Front Range cuts down on the hiking traffic that plagues other easy Colorado 14ers.

Getting to American Basin can be tricky. The road is decent until the last mile, but follow the directions at 14ers.com carefully. If you make a wrong turn, you might end up on a Shelf Road, which is a whole different kind of adventure (one that finally convinced me to buy a SPOT).

The trail begins at the end of the 4WD road. See that beautiful valley spreading out before you? Its distinctive U shape means it was cut by a glacier. Starting in late June, this basin fills with stunning wildflowers.

The trail follows the valley, then meanders and switchbacks up the slopes of Handies Peak toward the beautiful Sloan Lake. From here, traverse to the saddle and follow some gentle switchbacks to the summit. The entire route is solid Class 1, even as it crosses talus slopes.

And if you haven’t been to the San Juans, prepare to be knocked out by the view from the top. Colorado 14ers guru Gerry Roach said it best: “If civilization is pressing in on you, climb Handies and spend a long hour or two on the summit.”

9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
[CC Image courtesy of Bureau of Land Management on Flickr]
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
[CC Image courtesy of Bureau of Land Management on Flickr]
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
[CC Image courtesy of Bureau of Land Management on Flickr]

4. Mount Bierstadt

Trailhead: Guanella Pass

Distance: 7 miles

Elevation Gain: 2850′

Best Beta Source: 14ers.com

If you’re looking for an easy Colorado 14er close to home, Mount Bierstadt might be your peak. But be warned: proximity makes it one of the most crowded Colorado 14ers.

On summer weekends, climbing Mount Bierstadt feels a bit like marching in a parade. Don’t let this give you a false sense of security. In 2015, eight people and a dog were struck by a single bolt of lightning on this route.

That being said, it’s a beautiful route and well worth checking out — especially if you can hit it on a weekday.

From the trailhead at Guanella Pass, descend slightly and follow a series of boardwalks through a willowy area. The trail crosses Scott Gomer Creek, which lacks a bridge and can run quite high in May and June. (Prepare by bringing water shoes.)

The route then turns upward and ascends Bierstadt’s wide east face. Careless hikers have eroded the trail to the size of a highway in places and also created numerous social trails. For the sake of the environment, stick to the main thoroughfare.

The terrain becomes Class 2 as you approach Mount Bierstadt’s rocky shoulder. Once you gain the ridge, it’s a short scramble (250′ vertical) over rugged talus to the summit. Use your hands for balance if needed.

From Mount Bierstadt’s summit, look down at Abyss Lake. (Believe it or not, some people actually climb Bierstadt from down there!) You’ll also see the beginning of gnarly Sawtooth Ridge, which some intrepid hikers scramble over to reach Mount Evans (14,265′).

9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Mount Bierstadt (right) and The Sawtooth (left)
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Class 2 near the summit
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Busy summer summit
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Great in any season

5. Quandary Peak

Trailhead: Quandary/McCullough Gulch

Distance: 6.75 miles

Elevation Gain: 3450′

Best Beta Source: 14ers.com

This easy Colorado 14er near Breckinridge is famous for its resident herd of mountain goats. Why are there so many? Because they like to lick salty hiker pee off the rocks. And believe me, there are plenty of hikers around to oblige.

Pro tip: Goats can be aggressive and have even killed people, so don’t approach or feed them.

Quandary Peak’s uber-accessible trailhead lies just off Colorado 9. If the lot is full, park along County Road 851 or in the overflow lot near the highway. (Don’t park in front of any of the private homes along CR 850.)

The entire route to the summit meanders along Quandary’s long east ridge. The trail is excellent, and the terrain is solid Class 1. As you ascend, look to your left for gorgeous views of North Star Mountain (13,614′), Mount Lincoln (14,286′), and Cameron Point (14,238′).

This ridge can also be climbed in winter on snowshoes. If you try it, prepare for extreme wind and cold, and be alert you don’t stray into avalanche terrain.

The trail steepens toward the summit, but the slope angle rarely gets over 25 degrees. In the summer (and also on calm winter days), expect quite a party on the top. (If you’re lucky, the goats will join in.)

9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Mountain goat
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
View of Quandary’s east ridge and summit from North Star Mountain

9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Hikers on east slopes trail [CC Image courtesy of Craig Talbert on Flickr]
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Wintery view from the summit [CC Image courtesy of Andrew Davidoff on Flickr]

6. Huron Peak

Trailhead: Clear Creek/South Winfield

Distance: 6.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 3500′

Best Beta Source: 14ers.com

Huron Peak is one of the few mountains that rivals Handies Peak for prettiest Colorado 14er. For maximum effect, try to hike it in June or October when the surrounding mountains are dusted with snow.

Of all the Sawatch Range 14ers, Huron Peak is furthest from a paved road. For a little extra fun, drive in the night before and camp near the photogenic Winfield ghost town. Be sure to walk up to the cemetery (follow signs for the Colorado Trail).

The two miles of road between Winfield and the trailhead can be gnarly, so either bring your 4WD or plan on a longer hike.

From the trailhead, switchback up the mountain to tree line. As you ascend, you should start catching amazing views of the Three Apostles and Ice Mountain (13,957′).

Above tree line, the trail crosses a wide basin filled with tundra. Keep looking behind you for great photo ops.

Gain Huron Peak’s shoulder and keep switchbacking upward. As you approach the summit, the terrain transitions to Class 2 talus. It’s steep, but not particularly hard. The trail passes a couple of exposed spots near the summit ridge. Have a peek over the edge if you’re not afraid of heights.

On a clear day, you’ll be able to see most of Colorado’s mountain ranges from Huron Peak’s summit, including the distant San Juans. This is one of the easy Colorado 14ers that even old mountaineering hands enjoy climbing again and again.

9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Winfield ghost town
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Three Apostles
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Summit views in October

7. Grays Peak and Torreys Peak

Trailhead: Grays Peak

Distance: 8.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 3600′

Best Beta Source: 14ers.com

One big peak not enough for you? Well, Grays Peak and Torreys Peak are probably the best easy Colorado 14ers for your first “double.”

The three-mile road from Bakerville to the trailhead requires good clearance. It’s usually passable by 2WD vehicles (a guy I know once made it in a Honda Civic), but conditions change from year-to-year.

From the parking lot, an excellent trail weaves through some willows before ascending into a beautiful cirque and onto the flanks of Grays Peak.

As you climb, keep an eye out for Torrey Peak’s rugged Kelso Ridge off to your right. Believe it or not, that’s actually a route up the mountain. White mountain goats are also common in this area.

Most climbers summit Grays Peak first, then scramble down a faint trail that traverses the rocky saddle to Torreys Peak. The second summit adds about 575 feet of elevation loss and gain. Expect some Class 2 hiking on steep, rocky trail, but nothing so serious you’ll need to use your hands.

9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Grays Peak and Torreys Peak (left) from the Summit of Grizzly Peak D
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Cirque below Grays Peak and Torreys Peak
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Summit of Grays Peak
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Top of Torreys Peak (note the trail up Grays)
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Summit views

8. Mount Elbert

Trailhead: North Elbert

Distance: 9 miles

Elevation Gain: 4700′

Best Beta Source: 14ers.com

The tallest peak in both Colorado and the Rockies is surprisingly easy to climb. The standard route is long, but it’s a solid Class 1 all the way. Slope angle is mostly moderate, though there’s one steep section beginning around 13,450′.

That being said, keep in mind that Elbert’s hulking size makes it a bit unique among the easy Colorado 14ers. Expect to spend several hours above tree line, get a super early start, and descend if you see clouds building.

The route winds through the forest, then breaks above the trees. The beautiful rolling tundra and stunning open views are major highlights of this hike. Keep an eye out for marmots, pikas, mountain goats, red-tailed hawks, and the occasional bighorn sheep.

From Elbert’s lofty summit, you’ll have amazing views of most of Colorado’s other mountain ranges. You’ll also have a close-up view of Mount Massive (14,429), Colorado’s second tallest peak by just a few feet.

And for just a moment, you’ll be indisputably the highest person in Colorado (which is no easy feat).

9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Mount Elbert Trail (left) [CC Image courtesy of mark byzewski on Flickr]
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Winter ascent
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
Sunrise over Mount Elbert
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
[CC Image courtesy of Yinan Chen on Flickr]

9. Pikes Peak

Trailhead: Barr Trail (parking info)

Distance: 13 miles (one way – assumes you ride the train down or get picked up)

Elevation Gain: 7500′

Best Beta Source: Barr Camp website

You’re probably looking at those numbers going, Holy crap! What’s this doing on a list of easy Colorado 14ers? But there are a few ways to tame this beast.

The first is to spend the night at Barr Camp, located midway up the trail. Accommodations here range from cabin bunks to lean-tos. Expect rustic facilities, meaning no heat or running water. Spaghetti dinners and pancakes included are included in the reservation. Barr Camp fills up during all seasons, so, book ahead online to guarantee a space.

A second way to ease this route is to descend via the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which will deposit you near the trailhead in Manitou Springs. Book in advance to avoid a 13 mile slog back down the mountain. The railway has a rather byzantine policy regarding hiker ticketing. Read the website carefully, and in case they don’t make it clear, don’t park in their lot.

The Barr Trail is generally a gradual hike across easy terrain, with the steepest sections in the first three miles and at the end. About a mile from the top, you’ll have a chance to look over the edge of a 1,500 foot cliff. Then ascend a series of switchbacks called the 16 Golden Stairs. (As the Barr Camp website points out, “do not expect actual stairs.”)

When you reach the top, you’ll quickly realize that Pikes is a different kind of 14er. In addition to beautiful views, you’ll find a visitor center (set for a massive expansion to 2020), a souvenir shop, and a parking lot full of tour buses. Be sure to try the world famous donuts cooked daily at 14,000 feet.

9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
[CC Image courtesy of David Blackley on Flickr]
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
[CC Image courtesy of W.G. Dayton on Flickr]
9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
[CC Image courtesy of red, white, and black eyes forever on Flickr]

Got more easy Colorado 14ers to recommend? Comment to share.

9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb this Summer
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Sarah

The original Miss Adventure Pants. Click "About" for the gory details.

11 thoughts on “9 Easy Colorado 14ers You Need to Climb This Summer”

  1. Shh…don’t tell people about the amazing stuff in American basin! It’s terrible out there…the pollen from the flowers will irritate your allergies..nothing to see at all!

    1. You know, come to think of it, most of Colorado is a burned out wasteland. Last place anyone would want to move!

    1. Hey blogofwhoiam, super appreciate your comment and your email. Color me ignorant, but I don’t think I was fully appreciating what a problem summit signs and other left behind junk has become on our mountains. It’s been awhile since I’ve been up an easy 14er in the summer when the damage is most obvious.

      After reading up a bit more on the issue, I’ve removed the pic of the summit sign. Since this blog is aimed at people who are new to Colorado and the outdoors, it seems important to encourage leave no trace whenever possible.

      A little background reading for people who want to learn more about the issue:

      http://www.aspentimes.com/news/graffiti-on-mount-elbert-raises-hackles/

      Thanks for being a conservation rock star.

  2. Pikes Peak is 13 mikes one way, 26 miles round trip. I really dont think it should be on this list. Humbolt might be a better replacement.

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