Days are getting longer, temperatures are rising and summer is in sight. If your legs are itching to get back on the trail after a big, snowy winter full of skiing and riding, rejoice! We have what you need: a roundup of our favorite shoulder season climbs: summits that are incredible in summer and even better with some snow on them. We chose these climbs because they are relatively safe and have low avalanche danger, but please check conditions at avalanche.state.co.us or summit reports at summitpost.org. Keep in mind that conditions are especially unpredictable this time of year so go prepared with gear for all variations including ice axe, crampons, snowshoes, and avalanche equipment.
What: This cone-shaped peak offers breathtaking views of the Steamboat Lake area, town and a plethora of crystal blue alpine lakes. At 6.5 miles round-trip with a gain of 2,200 feet in winter, it’s relatively easy and a shorter time commitment than many Colorado summits. However, finding the trail in winter can be difficult and the route often requires strenuous trail breaking. Stick to the ridgeline to avoid cornices and avalanche danger until you reach the icy fire lookout perched at the top.
Who: Navigationally savvy adventurers seeking a beautiful, shorter climb steeped with mining history and unbelievable vistas.
Where: From Steamboat Springs, drive to the north end of town. Turn north (right) onto CR 129, marked by a sign for Clark and Hahns Peak. Follow CR 129 for 29 miles, past the small towns of Clark and Hahns Peak to reach the tiny village of Columbine. Park at the Columbine General Store and begin your hike across the street on FS Road 490.
What: A gradual 12.2-mile round-trip adventure to a summit scattered with unique and wild rock formations. Magical rock gardens littered with enormous stone monoliths and stunning views reward those who venture to tackle this forested mountain nestled in the Lost Creek Wilderness. Southern sun exposure makes it ideal this time of year, but don’t underestimate it. Snow level can be rather low, and since you’ll be gaining over 4,000 feet, snowshoes can often be necessary at some point in the day.
Who: Those seeking solitude and an exceptional Colorado experience should head to Bison. It’s one of the most unique peaks in the state.Where: Take Hwy 285 from Denver. Go over Kenosha Pass and continue to the small hamlet of Jefferson. Just before Jefferson’s only convenience store, turn left onto Park County 77 (a.k.a. Tarryall Road), a paved, but rough route. After 17 miles, Tarryall Reservoir will be on your right. Continue for another 3.3 miles until you reach Ute Creek Trailhead (8,760 feet).
What: This Fourteener’s East Ridge is popular since it offers the safest and shortest winter route to reach this summit nestled amidst the peaceful South Colony Lakes basin and surrounded by the jagged magnificent Crestones. Over this 13-mile round-trip adventure, you’ll gain 5,650 feet. Follow the South Colony Road until you decide to head north for the East Ridge. This road is popular with snowmobilers, but quite often you will have to rely on navigation and trail-breaking skills since the mountain does not see a lot of action otherwise in winter. Our favorite part: the last 500 feet along the narrow summit ridge.
Who: Seasoned winter climbers with mountain sense looking to bag a Sangres de Cristo Fourteener in winter; those seeking solitude and a navigational adventure.
Where: From Westcliffe, take CO 69 south for 4.5 miles. Turn right onto Colfax Lane toward the South Colony Lakes Trailhead. Continue 5.5 miles to the end of Colfax. Turn right and continue one mile to a junction. This is as far as you can drive in winter.
What: This 13-mile round-trip ascent on the East Ridge Route comes complete with trail breaking and a wonderful ridge walk full of striking scenery. The initial part of the route heads south from the hatchery along an often-packed road to reach the Highline Trail. At 10,960 feet, you intersect with Colorado Trail. Here, you usually have to break trail through deep powder and over rolling terrain, but once you break through treeline nature rewards you with remarkable views. Enjoy a mix of scrambling, boulder hopping and moving over wind-scoured snow and rock as you traverse the long, gradual east ridge to reach the apex.
Who: Those looking for a challenging, but rewarding climb of 5,000 feet that requires route finding and navigation over terrain that can sometimes be confusing.
Where: From downtown Leadville, head southwest on Highway 24. After 3.6 miles, turn west (right) onto CO 300. After three miles, reach the Fish Hatchery on your left. Continue left in the Hatchery until you see the Colorado Trail and the Mount Massive Trailhead.