5 beginner fourteeners to help you get better at high-elevation hiking in Colorado

The view from the summit of La Plata Peak. Photo Credit: Spencer McKee

As summer nears, many Coloradans will set their sights on summiting their first 14,000-foot peak. Picking the right fourteener to climb can be crucial when it comes to safety and success. Here’s a list of which peaks I’d recommend climbing as you’re getting into fourteener climbing in Colorado. These peaks weren’t picked because they’re the easiest or shortest, they were picked because they’re doable for many beginners with proper training and offer a variety of experiences that will help you build your fourteener skills prior to moving onto harder routes.

Editor’s Note: Any fourteener hike can be deadly. Do you research beforehand on how to prepare and always stay up-to-date on trail conditions and weather. No fourteener climb is ‘easy’ or safe. Be a responsible hiker and make smart decisions, plan ahead, and never hesitate to turn back if that’s the best option.

1. Quandary Peak

5 beginner fourteeners to help you get better at high-elevation hiking in Colorado

Quandary Peak. Photo Credit: Spencer McKee; OutThere Colorado.

Quandary Peak is the busiest fourteener in the state for a number of reasons, including that it’s convenient to access and that it’s not as difficult to summit compared to most peaks of a similar height.

The trail is very straightforward, making it easy to follow for first-timers and the number of other people using the trail makes it a little safer in the event that something does go wrong. Plus, the parking lot is very accessible, just off Hoosier Pass near Breckenridge, meaning there’s no 4WD road or chance of getting lost on the way to the trailhead.

Trail Name: Quandary Peak East Ridge

Class: Class 1

Length: 6.75 miles

Gain: 3,450 feet

More info: Click here

2. Mount Bierstadt

5 beginner fourteeners to help you get better at high-elevation hiking in Colorado

A recent photo of me and the pup on top of Mount Bierstadt. Her 5th unique fourteener. Photo Credit: Mariah Hoffman.

Another popular peak for beginners, the trail to the summit of Mount Bierstadt is very straightforward with the exception of some light scrambling and frequent winds. Bierstadt is also easy to find and park at.

This mountain is also known for being a peak that tends to dry out quickly following winter, making it accessible earlier in the season. Use a website like 14ers.com to check for up-to-date trail conditions prior to starting any hike. I’ll usually start monitoring conditions roughly a week out.

Trail Name: Mount Bierstadt West Slopes

Class: Class 2 (‘Moderate’ rockfall potential)

Length: 7 miles

Gain: 2,850 feet

More info: Click here

3. Mount Evans

5 beginner fourteeners to help you get better at high-elevation hiking in Colorado

One thing to note about Mount Evans is the exposure risk. You should practice your route-finding skills prior to this climb and stay within your abilities when it comes to scrambling. Also, don’t wear jeans like I am in this picture. I’ve learned a lot since then.

When the Summit Lake is accessible, Mount Evans offers a unique fourteener hike that’s well-trafficked, features varied terrain, and delivers on beautiful views.

It’s a bit weird when you get to the summit and see countless people that have simply taken the Mount Evans Highway to the top, but the fun scrambling and stunning backdrop makes this one very worth it.

Trail Name: West Ridge from Summit Lake

Class: Class 2 (‘Moderate’ exposure, rockfall potential, route-finding, and commitment)

Length: 5.5 miles

Gain: 2,000 feet

More info: Click here

Editor’s Note: Mount Evans Highway will not be open to vehicles during summer 2020, making hikes to this peak too difficult for a beginner.

4. Mount Belford

5 beginner fourteeners to help you get better at high-elevation hiking in Colorado

Mount Belford, CO. Photo Credit: Simpsora.

Slightly more adventurous than the other peaks on this list, you’ll find the well-marked trailhead for this high-elevation trail on a long gravel road. This one is steep and a little longer, but the trail is easy to follow to the summit.

Mount Belford is also nice because hikers have the option to climb an additional peak (Mount Oxford) via a saddle if they’re really looking to test themselves. Note that this two-peak hike is long and has a high level of commitment, but continues in Class 2 nature.

Plus, the trailhead also offers access to Missouri Mountain, which is another great option for beginners though more difficult at 10.5 miles and 4,500 feet of gain.

Trail Name: Mount Belford Northwest Ridge

Class: Class 2 (‘Moderate’ exposure, rockfall potential, route-finding, and commitment)

Length: 8 miles

Gain: 4,500 feet

More info: Click here

5. La Plata Peak

5 beginner fourteeners to help you get better at high-elevation hiking in Colorado

The view from the summit of La Plata Peak. Photo Credit: Spencer McKee

Though a long and strenuous Class 2 grind, La Plata Peak trail is easy to follow and doesn’t really have too many hazards. Plus, the ridgeline trail provides one of the most scenic fourteener summit climbs around.

Trail Name: La Plata Peak Northwest Ridge

Class: Class 2 (‘Moderate’ exposure, rockfall potential, and commitment)

Length: 9.25 miles

Gain: 4,500 feet

More info: Click here

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