Summertime in Colorado is the outdoorsman’s dream. With 300 days of sunshine a year and skies bluer than sapphire jewels, the mountains quite literally call to you.
People love biking and whitewater rafting, casual strolls, and pool days – but the ultimate Colorado day experience in the summer? Hiking fourteeners.
For many, the task sounds more daunting than fun, but with views like this one waiting for you at the top, the destination is well worth a grueling, sweaty journey. For anyone who works during the week and can’t afford a multi-day camping excursion but is still looking to get a one-on-one encounter with nature, 14ers are you new best friend.
I took the liberty of hiking seven, ranging from easy to tear-inducing to give you a feel for what you’re getting into. Here we go.
1. Mount Sherman
Let me start by saying, no 14er is actually easy. There are less hard, hard, and extremely hard. But once you have a few under your belt, you can start to gauge which involves less exertion. Sherman falls under the less hard category with a mere 5.25 mile round trip hike to the summit. It’s considered a Class 2 hike with 2,100 feet of elevation gain. With the peak standing at 14,036 feet, that means you are standing over two miles above sea level to start. If you are from out of town or plan on bringing out-of-state guests, give them a couple of days to adjust to the altitude before embarking on this hike and be sure to bring plenty of water. Even for a hike this short, I bought 64 oz and drank like a fish the night and morning of. The trail boasts plenty of wildflowers in the summer months, and the views are breathtaking. Unfortunately for us, the morning we hiked Sherman was cold and overcast, but other pictures from the summit are beautiful.
2-5. Mount Democrat, Mount Lincoln, Mount Cameron, Mount Bross
If you simply want to up your numbers with the least amount of time and effort, head over to the Mosquito Mountain Range and bust out these four brother peaks in a single morning. I brought my brother along for this one, and though he had never climbed a 14er in his life, he did great with four in a row. Start at the trailhead for Lincoln and Democrat and stroll through a relatively flat beginning beside a lake and fields of fresh wildflowers. At the saddle, we took on Democrat first before scampering back over to the right and knocking out Cameron and Lincoln. From the top of Lincoln, you take a visible path to the left which loops you around to Mount Bross. Though Bross is technically on private land (shhh), groups of hikers still make their way to the top to accomplish the 4-in-1 hiking day. The weather on the top of Democrat was picture perfect that day, but we experienced the strongest gusts of wind I have ever felt from Lincoln to Bross, which made enjoying the summit a little difficult. Still, if you are up for the challenge and what ended up being a 10-mile round trip, it was definitely worth the wind.
6. Mount Columbia
Columbia was our first 14er excursion of the summer, and it was a rude awakening. I have only done 13 of the 58 mountains so far, but I can easily name Columbia as the hardest one to date. We started at 7:00 am to birds singing, the smell of fresh pine and blue skies. We thought we were in for a treat. The trail begins with three miles under tree cover with gentle inclines and babbling brooks – it was gorgeous. But as the trail steepens and the trees begin to disappear, so does the fun. Just kidding, I am being dramatic, but we lost the trail on the way up and found ourselves up against 2.5 miles of vertical sliding rocks. I was accompanied by three boys who had all notched at least seven 14ers and I don’t think any of us had ever struggled so much. With each step, I worried I would cause a barrage of rocks to land on my friends, and the effort to keep the rocks from shifting taxed all our energy. After escaping to higher ground – what we thought was the summit – we realized it was false. False summits are common on many 14ers, but this one was a real bubble-buster. Still, after making it to the ridge, the remaining hike up to the top was comparatively easier, though tedious. We stayed at the top long enough to take some pictures of our miserably-exhausted faces before some light hail forced us to head back down. By the end of the day we had hiked 15 miles and were definitely ready to be done. If you brave this hike, be sure to bring extra water, as we all ran out by the end. Above all, try not to lose the trail!
7. Mount of the Holy Cross
Where Columbia was hands-down the hardest, this one was hands-down the prettiest. Nestled just 40 minutes west of Vail, Mount of the Holy Cross boasts some of the most gorgeous trail scenery to entertain you on your hike. We left from Vail Village about 4:45 am, and had a short drive to Minturn, but the real time-suck is the nine miles of rough dirt road leading to the trailhead. Even with a four-wheel drive car, it still took us 45 minutes. However, the dawn light added an air of magical mystery to everything. At the peak of summer, parking was limited, especially because many people simply enjoy the scenery to camp. Finally on the trail, we had three miles of meandering through winding pines and gentle rivers with stunning overlooks every time you pass through the tree cover before breaking out of tree line. The hard thing about Holy Cross? After making it out of tree line, you then dip way down to ground level again before beginning your actual ascent up to the summit. That means there is an expansive uphill climb waiting for your tired legs on the way back to the car – rough. Still, the hike up is absolutely worth it.
There is a clearly marked trail to follow, plenty of scenic areas to catch your breath, and reaching the top is incredible. If the altitude and the steep climb did not take your breath away, the panoramic views at the top surely will. As anyone who ventures into nature knows, pictures never do it justice – you’ll have to experience it for yourself. Altogether is was a worthwhile 16 miles of hard work. The sun shone brightly on us, especially on our way down so be sure to bring sunscreen and bug spray because I got eaten alive. And as always, bring plenty of water and ENJOY yourself.