Colorado

The Ten Best Fourteeners in Colorado for Beginning Hikers

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For most avid hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, finishing the longest and toughest trails in the world is a point of pride.  When it comes to difficult trails, few hikes are more challenging than reaching a legitimate mountain summit.  In the United States, the demarcation line for what constitutes a legitimate summit is the 14,000 foot (4,267 meters) elevation level with at least a 3,000 feet (915 meters) elevation gain.  When it comes to fourteeners, as they are often called, no state in America has more than the state of Colorado.  There are 96 fourteeners in the United States, all of which are west of the Mississippi River, and over half (53 to be exact) are in Colorado.

Rocky Mountains

As a beginning hiker, the tougher fourteeners in Colorado like Capitol Peak, Long’s Peak, Little Bear Peak, or “The Deadly Bells” might be too much for you to tackle at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t set your sights on the clouds.  In fact, there are several challenging, yet completely doable, fourteeners in Colorado that beginning hikers can attempt to tackle.  With the experience of summiting these easier peaks under your belt, it won’t be long before you build up the experience and confidence needed to tackle some of the more difficult peaks in Colorado.  To assist you in finding the right mountain to target for your first fourteener, I have included my list of the Ten Best 14,000 Footers in Colorado for Beginning Hikers for you to review below.

Choosing the Right Mountain

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According to the unwritten rules of the Colorado Mountain Club, summiting a fourteener only counts if you climb at least 3,000 feet in elevation during your hike.  While the spirit of this rule makes sense for more experienced hikers who are trying to test their mettle against the mountains of the Rockies, I don’t think the rule is nearly as important for beginning hikers who are trying to get some valuable mountaineering experience under their belts.  For that reason, I have included a few summit hikes on this list that don’t have quite 3,000 feet of elevation gain but are still great hikes for beginners who want to tackle some of the higher peaks in the American Rocky Mountains.  For an overview of the summit hikes I have included on my list, please refer to the map I have included below.

Colorado 14 Thousand Footers for Beginners Map

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San Luis Peak – 14,014 ft
Torreys Peak – 14,267 ft
Quandary Peak – 14,265 ft
Mount Sherman – 14,036 ft
Mount Democrat – 14,148 ft
Mount Elbert – 14,433 ft
Mount Bierstadt – 14,060 ft
Huron Peak – 14,003 ft
Handies Peak – 14,048 ft
Grays Peak – 14,270 ft

1.  San Luis Peak – 14,014 ft

San Luis Peak Colorado

Difficulty Level: Moderate
Distance: 14 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,600ft
Time Needed: 14 hours
Starting Location: Gunnison

The trek up to the summit of the San Luis Peak is fairly mild in terms of summit hikes.  The most difficult aspect of this hike is the distance as it is the longest hike on this list of fourteeners.  The starting location for the San Luis Peak track is near Gunnison near Stewart Creek, and finding the small parking lot by the trailhead can be tricky.  To help you out, I have included GPS coordinates for the trailhead to help you find your way.

San Luis Peak Trail Map

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2.  Torreys Peak – 14,267 ft

Torreys Peak

Difficulty Level: Moderate
Distance: 14 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,600ft
Time Needed: 8-9 hours
Starting Location: Silver Plume

One of the biggest bonuses for choosing to climb Torreys Peak is the location of the mountain to the nearby Gray’s Peak, which is also on this list of fourteeners.  There is very little difference in difficulty in summiting these two mountains, so if you are in the area and plan on hiking one, you might want to consider also hiker the other.  The other advantage of choosing Torreys and Grays Peaks is the proximity of the mountains from Denver.  It is only a 1.5-hour drive from Denver to the trailhead at Stevens Mine, which makes the hikes a really convenient side-trip if you are visiting the Denver area.  While hiking the trail, keep your eyes out for mountain goats as they are known to frequent the area.

Torreys Peak Trail Map

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3.  Quandary Peak – 14,265 ft

Quandary Peak

Difficulty Level: Moderate
Distance: 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,300ft
Time Needed: 6 hours
Starting Location: Breckenridge

Not only is the Quandary Peak a great fourteener for hikers looking to summit during the summer months, but it is also a great summit for cross-country skiers and snowshoers to tackle during the winter months.  Outside of two very tough stretches that gain over 1,000 feet in less than a mile of hiking, the rest of the hike to the summit of Quandary Peak is very gentle.  If you can survive those two difficult short stretches, you should be able to add this fourteener to your list of conquered summits.

Quandary Peak Trail Map

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4.  Mount Sherman – 14,036 ft

Mt. Sherman

Difficulty Level: Moderate
Distance: 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,400ft
Time Needed: 8 hours
Starting Location: Fairplay

Located in the Mosquito Range of the Colorado Rockies, Mount Sherman has a distinct rounded summit.  It is widely considered to be one of the easiest of Colorado’s fourteeners, which makes it a great summit hike for beginning hikers.  You can park as high as 12,000 feet, so you have the option of limiting the amount of elevation gain you will need to hike during your trip to the summit.  If you are in relatively good shape, you should be able to reach the summit of Mount Sherman without much trouble.  However, keep in mind that any mountain needs to be treated with respect, especially ones as high as Mount Sherman.  The starting point for any trek to the summit of Mount Sherman starts at Fairplay, with the trailhead for the summit trail located in Leavick.

Mount Sherman Trail Map

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5.  Mount Democrat – 14,148 ft

Mount Democrat

Difficulty Level: Moderate
Distance: 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,300ft
Time Needed: 8 hours
Starting Location: Alma

One of the biggest advantages of choosing to Mount Democrat as your first fourteener is that it is in very close proximity to two other fourteeners in Colorado – Mt. Bross – 14,172 ft, and Mt. Lincoln – 14,286 ft.  If you have the time and would like to tackle all three of these fourteeners in one trip, it is easy to do logistically.  As far as the hike itself goes, it is one of the easiest of Colorado’s fourteen thousand foot peaks to conquer.  It’s a rocky trail, so bringing hiking poles with you is advantageous.  The beginning portion of the trail is also very exposed to the wind, so having warm gear with you is a good idea, even in the summer months.

Mount Democrat Trail Map

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6.  Mount Elbert – 14,433 ft

Mt. Elbert

Difficulty Level: Moderate
Distance: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,400ft
Time Needed: 9 hours
Starting Location: Leadville

Not only is Mount Elbert the tallest mountain on my list of the Ten Best Fourteeners for Beginning Hikers, but it is also the tallest mountain in Colorado.  While it may be the state’s tallest peak, it is also one of the easiest fourteeners for beginning hikers to summit.  To reach the summit, you can choose between either the Mount Elbert Trail or the Halfmoon Creek track.  Both routes are relatively easy and don’t require any difficult rock scrambling, so they are perfect trails for beginning hikers.  Both of the Mount Elbert summit trails also merge with the Colorado Trail, which is a 486-mile trail that is very popular with hikers.  So choosing to summit Mount Elbert will give you a preview of that trail as well.

Mount Elbert Trail Map

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7.   Mount Bierstadt – 14,060 ft

Mt. Bierstadt

Difficulty Level: Moderate
Distance: 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,400ft
Time Needed: 6 hours
Starting Location: Georgetown

Located in the Mount Evans Wilderness just a short 1.5-hour drive from Denver, Mount Bierstadt is one of the most popular of Colorado’s easiest fourteeners.  The hike starts at the Guanella Pass Trailhead and takes roughly 6 hours to complete.  Because it is one of the state’s most popular fourteeners, the parking lot at the trailhead gets filled up fairly early, so don’t procrastinate in the morning.  The trail isn’t overly difficult, which is why I have it rated as moderate, but there is some rock scrambling that you will need to do near the summit.  During the winter months, microspikes and snowshoes are definitely recommended if you are going to try and summit.

Mount Bierstadt Trail Map

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8.   Huron Peak – 14,003 ft

Huron Peak

Difficulty Level: Moderate
Distance: 8.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,200ft
Time Needed: 7 hours
Starting Location: Buena Vista

According to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Huron Peak may have some of the most spectacular views out of all the peaks in the Sawatch Range.  Although it may have some of the most beautiful views, its trailhead is also one of the least accessible.  To access the trailhead for the Huron Peak Trail, you will need a 4-wheel drive vehicle.  If you don’t have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, you can always park lower, but the trail will be longer.  Starting below the trailhead can add up to 4 miles round trip to your hike, so be prepared for that.  As for the trail itself, it is a very gradual hike until you get to the last mile, then the trail becomes much steeper.  If you are planning on hiking during the winter, microspikes would definitely be recommended.

Huron Peak Trail Map

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9.   Handies Peak – 14,048 ft

Handies Peak

Difficulty Level: Moderate
Distance: 8 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,600ft
Time Needed: 6 hours
Starting Location: Lake City

Many people consider Handies Peak to be one of the prettier summit trails out of all the easier fourteeners in Colorado.  The trail crosses plenty of beautiful meadows, takes you thru thick forests, and even crosses a creek on its way to the summit.  If you want your hike to technically count as a fourteener summit hike, you will need to start your hike at Grizzley Gulch.  You can make the hike easier by starting at American Basin, but starting from this spot won’t get you the 3,000 feet of elevation gain that is technically required to complete a fourteen.  No matter where you plan to start, you should be in for a treat with all of the beautiful wildflowers that grow in the valleys and along the trail.  You will also get some great views of Sloan Lake from the trail, which is an absolutely stunning mountain lake.

Handies Peak Trail Map

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10.   Grays Peak – 14,270 ft

Grays Peak

Difficulty Level: Moderate
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,600ft
Time Needed: 8 hours
Starting Location: Silver Plume

LIke Torreys Peak earlier on my list of fourteeners for beginning hikers, Grays peak is a great summit hike to choose for a variety of good reasons.  Not only do you have a chance to see mountain goats, who frequent the area, in the wild, but the hike is also in very close proximity to the Denver area.  If you are going to be visiting Denver, the 1.5-hour drive to the trailhead at Stevens Mine is an easy side trip to make.  Not to mention the added bonus of having two easy to summit fourteeners close to one another.  If you are going to summit Grays peak, it would be easy to also summit Torreys Peak on the same trip.

Grays Peak Trail Map

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Packing the Right Gear

Isthmus Peak Track Hike-5013

Trying to tackle your first fourteener can be difficult enough with the right gear and absolutely dangerous without it.  Before you head off to bag your first fourteener summit, I would strongly suggest that you review the gear that I recommend below and make sure you are prepared for the hike.  Some of the gear I have categorized as “Optional”, but some of the gear is absolutely “Essential”.  Please don’t take any chances by trying to complete a hike of this caliber without the right equipment.

NOTE:  This post contains references to products on my Amazon Store site.  I may receive a commission when you purchase these products from my store, though at no additional cost to you.   I hand-pick and recommend only the products that I am either familiar with or comfortable recommending

Fourteener Hiking Checklist

There is a lot to think about when packing for a trip, so I don’t expect you to remember to come back to this article to review my packing list when packing for your hike.  To make things easier for you, I have included an easy-to-print packing checklist below for you to print off now and review later.

View Checklist

Hiking Boots (Essential)

While most of the beginner fourteeners I have included on my list aren’t overly technical hikes, there could be sections of the trails where you will need to be careful with your footing to prevent slipping or getting injured.  For this reason, having proper hiking shoes or boots with you when you hike.  I would recommend waterproof hiking boots with a protected toe to protect your feet from the elements and the trail.
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Choosing the Right Hiking Boots

Choosing the right hiking boot is important because you are going to be spending a lot of time walking, and much of that will be on rocky and uneven trails.  When looking for a good set of hiking boots for this trip, please keep the following characteristics in mind:

  • The boots should be light-to-mid weight.  The last thing you will want to have is heavy boots when you are doing as much walking as you will be.  It is said that each pound of weight on your feet equates to roughly five pounds on your back, so your boot weight really matters.  Look for boots that weigh between 2.2lbs (1kg) to 3.3lbs (1.5kg).  Anything more than that is too heavy.
  • Look for boots that have a rubber sole with deep lugs.  This will give you the best traction and ensure that you don’t slip on uneven rocks.
  • Look for a mid-to-high height boot to give you good ankle support.  You are going to be walking on some uneven surfaces and you don’t want to twist an ankle while on the trail.  For added support, look for boots that have speed hooks or D Strings.
  • Make sure the boots you purchase are waterproof.  You will want to protect your feet from the elements should the weather turn bad.  Walking in wet boots can be miserable.

Hiking Socks

When you are on a long hike in an alpine region like you will be when hiking in Colorado, the last thing you want to have is cold feet.  If your feet get wet from rain or sweat, chanced are that they will start to get cold.  I would recommend that you wear a pair of socks that are designed for hiking.  These socks are typically made of wool or synthetic fibers that protect your feet from getting cold when they get wet.  If you are interested, I have included a link to some socks that I recommend below.
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Hiking Pants (Essential)

Just like with your socks, you want to also make sure that the pants you wear on this hike are moisture-wicking.  Under no circumstances should you wear denim jeans on the hike.  Wearing pants like denim jeans that do not wick away moisture can be a recipe for disaster.  If these pants get wet, you will become cold and miserable.  Instead, look for a pair of pants that are moisture-wicking.  If you know that you are going to be hiking in the rain, I would go a step further and wear a pair of hard-shell waterproof pants.  If you would like to review some of the recommendations I have for pants to wear, I have included a link below.
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Breathable T-Shirt

In case the weather is warm when you hike, you will want to make sure that you have a T-shirt for your bottom layer.  The T-Shirt should be moisture-wicking in case you need to wear additional layers on top of it and you sweat.  If the T-shirt isn’t moisture-wicking it will make you cold when it gets wet.  If you would like to shop for some moisture-wicking T-shirts, I have included a link to some recommendations I have below.
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Light to Medium Base Layer (Essential)

Because you are going to be hiking in an alpine area, you will want to make sure you have a base layer that can protect you from cold temperatures should the temperature drop.  I would recommend a medium to a heavily weighted base layer that is moisture-wicking.  If you would like some suggestions of base layers that I recommend, I have included a link to some of my recommendations below.
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Fleece or Nano Puff Jacket (Essential)

Should the temperature start to drop while you are on the hike, you are going to want to have a jacket to keep you warm.  This is especially true as you start to reach a higher altitude.  The temperature might be quite warm as you start the hike, but once you reach the high ridge on the trail the temperature could be considerably colder than down below.  For this reason, I recommend carrying a fleece, or even better a light down jacket, in your bag in case you get cold.  If you would like some recommendations, I have included a link to some of the jackets I recommend below.
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Hard Shell Rain Jacket (Essential)

If it starts to rain during your hike, you are going to want to have a hard-shell waterproof jacket to stop you from getting wet.  This is one of the most important pieces of equipment you will carry in your bag because getting wet at high altitude can be a recipe for disaster.  When looking for a jacket to bring, I would recommend a rain jacket with a hood to keep your head dry as well.  If you would like some recommendations on a hard-shell rain jacket, I have included a link to some of my recommendations below.
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Hat and Gloves (1 Hat and 1 Pair Gloves)

Hat and Gloves.png Even though it may be too warm to wear a winter hat and gloves at the beginning of the hike, these are things that you will likely be glad you have in your bag when you get to the high ridge on this hike.  The temperature can be much colder at high altitude and the winds are typically much stronger.  If you would like to see some of the hats and gloves that I recommend, I have included a link to my recommendations below.
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Hiking Backpack

Hiking Backpack.png Chances are that you are going to be bringing several pieces of clothing and gear with you on your hike that you won’t be wearing at the start of the hike.  You are going to need some way to comfortably carry this gear.  I would recommend a small, light-weight hiking backpack.  You aren’t going to be carrying a ton of gear, so a light bag that is under 25L is probably adequate.  If you would like to see some of the bags that I recommend, I have included a link to my recommendations below.
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Water Bottle or Water Bladder (Essential)

Most of the fourteener summit hikes I have included on my list are long hikes.  It will take you somewhere between six and fourteen hours to complete these hikes, depending on the mountain you choose, your fitness level, and hiking experience.  For hikes as long as these, you need to stay hydrated.  If you don’t stay hydrated you can cramp up or get dizzy and make the hike unsafe.  I would recommend carrying a water bottle or water bladder with you on the hike.  If you would like some of my recommendations, I have included a link to some great water bottles and water bladders for you to review below.
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50%-100% Deet Insect Repellent

If you are doing one of these hikes during the early spring, late autumn, or winter seasons, you probably won’t need to worry about bringing insect repellent.  However, if you are going to be doing this hike during the summer months, having some insect repellent with you is a great idea.  The bugs won’t be as bad as you climb in elevation, but at the beginning of the hike, you will be glad to have it.  For some recommendations on insect repellent to bring with you as you travel, please refer to the recommendations I’ve included at the link below.
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Sun Screen

Sunscreen is another item that you probably don’t need to worry about if you are going to be doing this hike during the early spring, late autumn, or winter seasons.  However, if you are doing this hike during the summer months, having some sun protection is a good health precaution.  Granted, a majority of your body is probably going to be covered by clothing for much of the hike (especially at higher altitudes), but you will want to protect your face from getting sunburned.  For some recommendations on sunscreen to bring with you as you travel, please refer to the recommendations I’ve included at the link below.
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SunGlasses

Even if you are going to be doing one of these hikes during the dead of winter, having a good pair of sunglasses will help you a great deal on this hike.  In fact, during the winter months when snow will likely be on the ground, having a pair of glasses to protect your eyes from snow glare is recommended.  During the months where snow isn’t a factor, having a good pair of sunglasses to shield your eyes when hiking into the sun will make the hike more comfortable.  If you would like to see some of the sunglasses that I recommend, I have included a link to my recommendations below.
View Recommended Options on Amazon.com

Camera Gear

The views that you will see on the fourteener summit hikes on my list are too beautiful to properly put into words.  If you don’t bring a way to record the beauty you see on these hikes, you will regret it for as long as you live.  I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true.  You will definitely want to have some way to take some pictures of the absolutely stunning beauty that you will see.

I would recommend bringing a lightweight camera or your camera phone with you for these hikes.  DSLRs take great photos, but they can be very heavy to carry and these hikes are long and challenging.  That is why I think lighter is better here.  If you have the money to invest in one, a mirrorless camera would probably be ideal for the hikes on this list.  They take DSLR caliber photos but are much smaller and lighter.  If you would like to see some of the cameras and camera gear that I recommend, I have included a link to my recommendations below.

View Recommended Options on Amazon.com

Hiking Gaiters (Optional)

Having gaiters with you when you hike the Rocky Mountains in Colorado isn’t essential, which is why I have them marked as optional on my list.  However, if you have them, they can be a real asset on these hikes.  This is especially true if you are hiking in inclement weather such as rain or snow.  If you are interested in bringing some gaiters with you on your hike and would like some recommendations, I have included a link below with some of my recommendations for you to review.
My Recommendation:  WINOMO Adjustable Outdoor Waterproof Ankle Walking Gaiters Hiking

Headlamp or Flashlight (Optional)

If you are going to complete your fourteener summit hike during the daylight, then you don’t need to worry about having a headlamp or a flashlight with you.  However, if you are planning on getting a very early start on the trail so that you can reach the summit in time to snap some amazing sunrise photographs, you will need to bring a source of light with you.
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Microspikes (Optional)

Microspikes Some of the summit trails on my list of fourteeners for beginners can be quite slippery, even when they aren’t wet or icy.  For that reason, I think it is always a good idea to carry a pair of microspikes or crampons in your bag when you attempt to summit any mountain as high as 14,000 feet.  If you would like some recommendations for good microspikes to purchase for your hike, I have linked to some recommendations below.
View Recommended Options on Amazon.com

In addition to the items listed above, the following list includes some additional items that you might want to consider bringing with you when hiking in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

  • Travel Medical Kit
  • Blister Pads or Mole Skin
  • Tylenol or Ibuprofin

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4 replies »

  1. This post makes me crave Colorado so much! We had no plans to go there this summer, but since Europe is probably out, we’ll keep our eye on the COVID situation and see what happens. Have you climbed all these 14ers? I’m so impressed. One thing about Mt. Sherman is that if you climb it from the opposite (Leadville) side – the Iowa Gulch trailhead – it’s quite a bit faster. I think we were up and down in 4.5 hours, including some time spent on top. We joined the Fairplay people at the start of the ridgeline. Great post!

    • It has me excited too!! I have yet to climb any of these, but have many friends who have. Since my international travel plans for this year are now shot, I am going to try knocking off a number of these and some additional national parks this summer 😃

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