Crestone Peak Route Guide | A Thrilling Class 3 Climb

The Crestones are two of the state’s most ruggest 14ers, nestled in the southern rockies. Crestone Needle is a shorter route, with a bit more difficult scramble. Crestone Peak has a longer route, including the need to regain Broken Hand Pass on your way back to the trailhead. This isn’t a route for beginners: take your time and research the route to stay safe. Get started with your research with this Crestone Peak Route Guide.


Crestone Peak Route Guide Fast Facts

Crestone Peak Route Guide - South Face

Follow the road from the upper trailhead through the forest. The way is relatively flat, with few turns along the way. After many miles you will reach a turnoff to the right from the main road, stay left on the road. 

Continue pass the road through a gate at the end. Hike along a slope and past a mining claim as you re-enter the forest and approach the South Colony Lakes area.

If you’re spending the night before your ascent, I recommend sleeping somewhere near the lakes. Be sure you don’t sleep too close to the water, and watch out for signs with restoration areas. In the morning, head along the south side of the lake and pickup the trail up to Broken Hand Pass.

This is a rough, rocky trail, with a few Class 3 moves at the notch at the top of the pass. In spring months, there will still be snow in the shaded area and you’ll want crampons and an ice axe. Make sure you wear a helmet year-round and alert others below you when rocks go falling down.

Make it up onto the saddle of Broken Hand Pass, a great spot for a pause and snack. Once you’re ready head down the slope and head towards Cottonwood Lake and Crestone Peak beyond it.

Skirt the shoreline of the lake and refill your water bottles if you need it, this is one of the last good spots. Take a right beyond the lake and begin regaining elevation along the trail.

Head to the right to skirt a steep section at the bottom of the South couloir up Crestone Peak.Then take a right up the rough trail as you head towards the base of the gully.

Enter the bottom of the Red Gully from the right. You’ll see why it’s named so. The difficulty never exceeds Class 3 so long as you move back and forth to find the best path as needed. 

Generally stick to the middle of the gully, and go to the left of the right as needed to avoid steeper territory before returning to the center. In spring months there may be sections of snow where crampons and an ice axe are highly advised. 

This is one of the steeper sections in the gully, beyond 13,500 feet. Take your time moving up the ledges, aiming for a notch at the top that separates Crestone Peak from the traverse towards the Crestone Needle.

At the top of the gully, turn left and climb a series of exposed ledges to the summit. This is the most exposed section of the entire climb, but it’s very easy scrambling on sturdy rock. Keep your eyes on the prize!

The view from the summit is spectacular, with valleys straddling either side of the mighty Sangre de Christo range. Look to the south to see the Great Sand Dunes National park, and look north to see the rest of the Rockies. I hope you enjoyed my Crestone Peak Route Guide.

Crestone Peak Standard Route Guide

No Crestone Peak Route Guide is complete without a topographical map. I recommend downloading and printing out this map to bring a paper copy with you, in addition to a digital version on your phone or GPS.

Hiking & climbing 14ers is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.

  1. Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
  2. Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
  3. Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
  4. Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
  5. Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
  6. Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.