Lace up your hiking boots and get ready to bag one of Colorado's easiest fourteener summits – Handies Peak

Reaching 14,052 feet in the San Juan Mountains, Handies Peak is offers a great option for beginners among the state's 58 fourteeners

Handies Peak is a class one hike consisting mostly of a dirt-packed trail with zero scrambling and moderate elevation gain. The hike is considered much easier compared to most standard fourteener-summiting routes, with 2,500 feet in elevation gain over 5.5 miles roundtrip (remember, nearly all of that gain comes during the first half of the hike). It generally takes hikers a total of 2-4 hours to complete the entire trek, depending on pace.

That being said, even though this fourteener is considered easier to bag than other peaks, climbing it is still a strenuous activity in remote terrain.

Photo Credit: Breanna Sneeringer, OutThere Colorado.

Photo Credit: Breanna Sneeringer, OutThere Colorado.

The trail starts by winding through American Basin, which is famous for its burst of summer wildflowers in July. Zigzag up the valley to Sloan Lake, tucked away in a granite alpine bowl at 12,920 feet. The lake is a beautiful spot for taking a break or eating lunch thanks to its turquoise alpine waters and surrounding mountain views.

From the lake, the hike continues through a small rocky section that descends slightly before a series of switchbacks climbing back up the mountain. Near the top, be aware of a false summit the must be passed before summiting Handies Peak.

Photo Credit: Breanna Sneeringer, OutThere Colorado.

Photo Credit: Breanna Sneeringer, OutThere Colorado.

The American Basin Trailhead can be found near Lake City, requiring a high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle to reach it. The best time to use the trail is between July and September. Dogs are able to use the trail if kept on a leash. There are also several areas to camp near the trail.

If accessing the trailhead on the Silverton side, come prepared to make it over Cinnamon Pass with much higher clearance. Catching the trail on this side of the mountain is seriously no joke. Expect to see mostly ATVS and lifted Jeeps on this route.

Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks, two additional fourteeners, are also located nearby.

Editor's Note: Fourteener climbing is inherently dangerous. Like any outdoor winter activity, there are several risks involved including exposure, inclement weather, altitude sickness, avalanches and hypothermia. Stay prepared, know your route, check the forecast, and always carry more food and water than you'll need. As a general rule of thumb always leave a detailed itinerary with a close friend or family member.

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(1) comment

Steve B/Colorado

The Grizzly Gulch route to Handies' summit is a bit more challenging and equally scenic in wildflower season. Bear in mind that Handies, Redcloud, & Sunshine are managed by the Gunnison field office of the Bureau of Land Management. Prospective climbers should check with them in advance to learn about any camping or trailhead parking conditions or restrictions.

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