When the summer hits Colorado, it’s time to tag some summits. The trailheads are open, the sun shines late in the day and the wildflowers are in full bloom. To heed the call of the mountains, check out these five non-technical hiking peaks that get your peakbagging mojo flowing.
The Classic Climb: Peak 1
The unmistakable triangular pyramid of 12,933-foot Peak 1 cuts an impressive profile over the town of Frisco. And while it may look good from town, the views from its open slopes are even better. The trailhead is located at a park-and-ride lot thirty seconds off I-70 (a big plus if you’d like to spend more time hiking and less time in the car). Hidden in the deep woods at the start of the hike are the ruins of Masontown, a turn-of-the-century boomtown that was twice flattened by avalanches before it was completely abandoned. Breaking treeline brings you to Mount Royal, a spur on the shoulder of Peak 1 that offers great views of Lake Dillon and the impressive eastern reaches of the Gore Range mountains. Once out of the trees, the final march to the summit switches from the gentle east side slopes to the dark, rocky terrain on the west. Rest assured, a solid class 2 hiking trail will guide you to the top. If you’re feeling burly, the class 3 traverse to Tenmile Peak is a blast or keep on rolling along the numbered peaks. The class 3 terrain continues to Peak 4, then it’s a rolling ridge walk. The entire traverse is roughly 12 miles and will deposit you at Peak 10 at Breckenridge ski area.
The Unexpected: Bison Peak
The Tarryall Mountains in the Lost Creek Wilderness see much less traffic than neighboring ranges. At 12,431 feet, Bison Peak out stands as the highest point in the wilderness area, but it’s not the modest elevation that draws visitors. The summit of Bison Peak is decorated with a sprawling array of dramatic rock towers seemingly imported from the desert landscape of Moab. Wild flowers and green grasses carpet the summit plateau, a stretch of alpine glory that is about a mile long. The approach hike winds through aspen and pine forests. Right when it seems like the entire hike is leading to a rather mundane summit, the impressive formations rise in the distance as you breach treeline. Bison is a grand day hike and it’s also a draw for backpackers who’ve come to experience the magic of the Lost Creek Wilderness area.
The Road Trip: Blanca Peak
The Sangre de Cristos are the perfect place for a three day weekend and a trip to the top of 14,345-foot Blanca Peak offers added value for ambitious hikers. Camping at the base is advised. The approach starts at the dry dunes and progresses to a lush, high alpine meadow with streams and lakes at treeline. The class 2 hike is easy to follow and if you’re into grabbing 14ers, a traverse to Ellingwood Point may be in order. A third 14er, the tricky class 4 Little Bear is also in the area. After you’ve gotten your fill of peakbagging, descend to the sand dunes where magical springs and streams flow through the dusty landscape (for more details on Sangre hiking, see page 17).
The Flower King: Mount Zirkel
At 12,182 feet, Mount Zirkel benefits from the same northern exposure that’s responsible for over 400 inches of snow annually in the Steamboat Springs area. More moisture and lower elevations translate into tons of wildflowers and plenty of greenery in contrast to other mountainous areas of Colorado. Besides the splendor of the peak, there are several fantastic camping and backpacking sites in the region, including diversions to Mica Lake Basin or the top of nearby 12,059 foot Big Agnes Mountain. No one would blame you for saving this one until the autumn—the aspen colors are stunning!
The Big Daddy: Mount Elbert
The highest point in Colorado at 14,433 feet, Mount Elbert is more like a friendly grandfather than a wicked stepmother. Its broad, sloping dome is characteristic of many of the Sawatch-area summits and several excellent hiking trails lead to its summit. While it is still a stiff 4.5 mile trek to the top, there is nothing technical to worry about, though be prepared for a pair of false summits en route to the true high point. Views are understandably amazing. If you have a weekend to play in the mountains, Colorado’s 2nd highest peak, 14,420 feet Mount Massive has a trailhead literally across the street from the Mount Elbert’s trailhead at Elbert Creek.
The San Juans boast the most interesting collection of 14ers and other high peaks in the state, and the region has been busy developing an AMGA-certified guiding culture to get out atop of them. So if you don’t have the gumption to go it on your own, hire a hand to try peaks like 14,150-feet Sneffels, 14,017-feet Wilson Peak or even the notorious, technical 13,119-foot Lizard Head, a climb that can turn back even accomplished peakbaggers. Try these two options: San Juan Mountain Guides or Peak Mountain Guides.
EO contributing editor James Dziezynski is the author of Best Summit Hikes in Colorado, 2nd ed. (Wilderness Press, 2012). You can find more details on these peaks and 45 more in his book.