Bison Peak: Colorado’s Best Early Season Summit

19 Mar 12
Bison Peak Colorado
Colorado's best kept mountain secret? Bison Peak could be it.

Early spring is quite the tease in Colorado. Warm days in the Front Range have a way of thawing our dormant love of mountain hiking but alas, many of the trails we are eager to explore are not yet ready to go. Mud, snow and seasonal closures can make getting to just the start of hikes a chore. Add to that unpredictable snow conditions and snow-buried trails and many of us are left twiddling our thumbs as Old Man Winter begrudgingly retreats for another year.

Thank goodness for summits like 12,431 ft. Bison Peak, located in the Tarryall Mountains about 25 miles past Kenosha Pass on US Highway 285. Bison Peak is one of the most amazing and unique peaks in Colorado and its agreeable, year-round access is just the start. A well established trail leads to a dreamlike rock garden, replete with towering sculptures, many seemingly built by the steady hand of a zen garden master.

It’s a seldom visited peak thanks in part to its location in the lesser known Tarryall Mountains. When compared to towering 14ers, its modest height makes it easy to be overlooked (Bison Peak is the highest point in the Tarryall Range). However, I find the remote setting and stunning natural rock formations to be the strongest allure of this “secret” summit.

Bison Peak Towers

Can you find the hiker in the maze of rock towers?

There are more reasons to check out Bison Peak this time of year. It’s a fantastic warm-up for bigger peaks, with a relatively easy class 1 trail that grazes the summit and a fun, non-technical class 2 scramble to the official top. It’s an excellent hike for your dog as well, just make sure you bring enough water for your pooch – there’s not a lot to be found en route. The 11.2 mile round trip will get some miles on your legs without being overly strenuous. You’ll still get a workout – it’s a 3,700ft.+ elevation difference from trailhead to summit and factoring in the ups and downs along the way, you’ll gain over 4,000 vertical feet. Fit hikers can do the round trip in about 6 hours, while those getting out for the first time this year can count on 6- 8 hours for the entire adventure, though adding in an hour or two for playing on the summit is recommended.

Though it’s an overused phrase, the views from the top are stunning. Besides the glorious 360° vistas, the rock sculptures sit in green, grassy fields festooned with a variety of wildflowers. Perhaps the monoliths were imported from Moab or Mars? How strange to see them standing in a non-desert setting.

Bison Peak Approach

The views of the low, rolling Tarryall Mountains are sweet, especially on a clear day.

If you’re ready to prime those hiking legs and explore the magical rock theater on Bison Peak feel free to download and print this free Bison Peak guide (with hiking and driving directions) from Mountainouswords.com. If you haven’t been up to the high country on foot yet, Bison Peak is the ideal first summit of the year.Chances are you’ll make return visits to see this one-of-a-kind mountain in all seasons.

Before you do this hike, be sure to get the right equipment like this backpack!

2 Comments

  • Wanted to start hiking and camping with my 14 year old son and 10 year old twin daughters this spring and summer! Sounds like Bison Peak might be a great “starter” hike!? Look forward to any comments or feedback, Lana.

    Lana Lancaster   March 23, 2012, 10:03 am

  • Hi Lana,
    If your kids have already done some hiking, Bison can be a great start. If your kids are entirely new to mountain hiking, you may want to start a little smaller and work up to Bison (it’s not hard but it’s almost 12 miles round trip). Depending on where you are, there’s lots of great mountain hikes in the late spring/early summer. Loveland Pass and Berthoud Pass have good peaks. If you want some more hike suggestions feel free to email me at james@elevationoutdoors.com.

    James Dziezynski   March 23, 2012, 10:41 am

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