Summer in Colorado means it’s time to head to the high peaks. But, topping out on a peak doesn’t have to mean reaching 14,000 feet and it doesn’t have to require an epic day when you start and end by headlamp (though those are super fun, too!). There’s more than just the top when it comes to most mountains. With that idea in mind, we suggest you try at least one of these four peaks.
Bang for your buck: Twin sisters peaks
WHERE: The trailhead is across Colorado Highway 7 from Lily Lake on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park, 6 miles from Estes Park.
Why we love it: Located in Rocky Mountain National Park, this tough 7-mile roundtrip hike gives you the chance to top out on a peak and be back to town in time for brunch. A stiff jaunt through quaking aspens and abundant wildflowers turns into easy scrambling to summits offering panoramic vistas of Longs, Meeker, the Estes Cone, the Continental Divide and the rapdily shrinking Mills Glacier.
Do it: From the trailhead, climb steadily along the well-worn trail that ascends through lodgepole pine forest, crosses an old landslide, and ascends up a series of switchbacks. Keep an eye out for elk. After just 3.5 miles—but about 2,200 feet of vertical gain—and a short bit of talus, you will reach the top of East Twin Sisters Peak (1,428 feet), where expansive views of the park and Indian Peaks Wilderness reward your efforts. If you’ve got energy, scramble over to the less visited West Twin Sisters Peak (11,413-foot).
Scrambling: North Apostle and Ice Mountain
Where: Start at the South Winfield Trailhead deep in the Central Sawatch Range, approximately five miles south of the historic mining town of Winfield, 26.7 miles from Buena Vista.
Why We Love It: This scramble offers fun class 3 climbing and the chance to explore the forbidding Three Apostles massif (13,951-foot Ice Mountain, 13,860-foot North Apostle, and 13,568-foot West Apostle Peaks). It’s steeper and rougher than other Sawatch peaks. And if you like life lists, it gives you the opportunity to tick off two of Colorado’s centennial thirteeners.
Do It: From the South Winfield Trailhead, head up North Apostle’s southwest ridge, a Class 2 route that gains 3,600 feet. From the 13,860-foot summit, scout out the northeast ridge route (where you’re headed) on Ice Mountain. If you’re comfortable with what you see, return to the 13,460-foot saddle between Ice and North Apostle, gain the ridge, and then navigate your way to find the path of least resistance. The trail is not well defined here and the rock is notoriously loose, so use caution and be prepared for route-finding, scrambling and navigating steep couloirs (that hold snow well into July, perhaps longer this year) to reach the summit of Ice Mountain.
Big Views and Wildflowers: Mount Audubon
Where: Start at the Mitchell Lake Trailhead in Brainard Lake Recreation Area in the Indian Peaks, 15 miles from Nederland. There’s an $11 fee for cars.
Why We Love It: This easy day trip from the Front Range puts you up on broad, sloping ridges and alpine meadows bursting with a dazzling display of blossoms. En route to the top you will enjoy panoramic views of Mitchell Lake, Little Pawnee Peak (12,466 feet) and Mt Toll (12,979 feet), and you can enjoy periodic glimpses of Longs Peak (14,259 feet) and Mt Meeker (13,911 feet). From the 13,233-foot summit of Audubon, which is the highest of the surrounding summits, drink in big vistas of the Indian Peaks, the Never Summers, Rocky Mountain National Park and even Pikes Peak to the south.
Do It: Even if you start early, don’t expect to be alone. Hiking enthusiasts of all levels love this moderately challenging, 8-mile round-trip adventure that delivers relatively easy access to the top of one of the state’s most breathtaking peaks. For the first 1.7 miles follow the Beaver Creek trail through the forest. Near treeline, pick up the Mount Audubon trail as it heads west, meanders over open tundra, and climbs a short talus section before reaching the stunning summit perch.
Corn Snow: Geissler Mountain
Where: Independence Pass, 20 miles from Aspen or 43 miles from Buena Vista.
Why We Love It: Thanks to an epic winter that kept on coming during a wet spring, there’s a good chance you can find sweet late-season corn turns here if you want to tick off the “skied in August” box (or save this one for next spring). The peaks of Geissler Mountain provide multiple touring and descent options for varied abilities, tons of vert if you want it and views for miles.
Do It: From the Upper Hairpin Trailhead (located on the last hairpin turn before the summit if driving up from Aspen) hike north up the Roaring Fork Drainage. From here, depending on conditions, you can hit either the south face of 13,380-foot Geissler Mountain East—an open skiable slope with an intermediate pitch—or test your skills on the steep northwest face couloir, which may be your best bet in August. On 13,301-foot Geissler Mountain West, look for corn snow on the saddle on the east side or the skiable east-southeast-south facing terrain. For a real adventure, link the east, central and west summits.