The Best 14ers to Hike in Colorado: My 3 Favorite Choices
Few things compare to the feeling of accomplishment you get from standing on the top of a fourteener. With more than 50 different peaks in Colorado taller than 14,000 feet, there’s an option for everyone; you can even drive up two of them! If you’re looking for the best 14ers to hike in Colorado, you’re in luck as well, with six different peaks that involve nothing more than uphill hiking. In this blog, I’ll walk through my three recommendations for the three best 14ers to hike in Colorado, starting with an explanation of what makes them top contenders.
What Makes a 14er the Best to Hike?
The biggest three considerations aren’t necessarily related to easiness. In fact, often the best views require the toughest climbs. In this case, I considered the ease of access for the six 14ers you can hike, the views from their summit and along the route, and their popularity in terms of how crowded they are. While none of the 14ers score perfect in all these categories, they provide some great guidance on selecting the best 14ers to hike in Colorado. Here’s an overview of these factors in more detail.
Easy Trailhead Access
Not all of the 14er trailheads are easy to reach. While some are accessible via major state highways, many others require significant driving along backcountry dirt roads that may require 4WD and high clearance. I tried to pick a mix of peaks – but be warned that accessible peaks often have larger crowds as a result. You may need to rent a jeep if you really want solitude for your hike. This is the first big factor for picking the best 14ers to hike in Colorado.
No matter which 14er you hike, you’re bound to have spectacular views. However some routes follow ridge lines or otherwise provide an especially unique experience as you work your way to the top. While subjective in nature, I did try to consider these perspectives when selecting my recommendation for the best 14ers to hike in Colorado.
Finally, most people prefer to hike a Colorado 14er which limited crowds along the trail and on the summit. In many cases it’s impossible to completely avoid others on these popular mountains (if you really want this, consider a 13er like Horseshoe Mountain). Ultimately, I tried to pick a mix of mountains of varying popularity, so you can pick a peak accordingly based on how much you can tolerate others in the wilderness.
The 3 Best 14ers to Hike in Colorado
Given these three factors, my experiences, and feedback from other climbers, here are my the 3 best 14ers to hike in Colorado: Handies Peak, San Luis Peak, and Mount Elbert. Here’s a rundown of each of these great mountains in turn.
If you do have a 4WD vehicle with good clearance, Handies Peak is the easiest of all the Colorado 14ers to climb. However thanks to its location deep in the southern San Juan Mountains far from major cities, this peak only sees moderate crowds. This mix makes it one of the best 14ers to hike in Colorado. The views as you hike up the trail through the meadow basin feature great wildflower blooms in summer, while winter and spring ascents include amazing snow capped vistas.
Click here to read my Handies Peak route guide to help you hike to the summit.
San Luis Peak
San Luis is another peak in the San Juan Mountains, but it’s even more isolated than Handies Peak. This makes it the quietest thirteener you can hike, and the best if you’re seeking solitude along your hike. You’ll need a 4WD vehicle, and a lot of stamina for the 13.5 mile hiking trip, but the views are worth it. San Luis Peak is the tallest mountain for dozens of miles, so the views from the top are hard to beat, extending as far as the eye can see. It’s the longest of the best 14ers to hike in Colorado.
Click here to read my San Luis Peak route guide to help you hike to the summit.
Third on my list, Mount Elbert is my northern selection of the best 14ers to hike in Colorado. As the tallest mountain in the state of Colorado, this is a much busier 14er than Handies Peak or San Luis Peak. However the views from the central Sawatch Range, Colorado’s tallest peaks, is incredible, especially with the Arkansas River Valley below. It’s also a more accessible trailhead, with 2WD access during the summer months. Being able to say you hiked to the top of Colorado’s tallest point is a claim to fame of its own, well worth the effort.
Click here to read my Mount Elbert route guide to help you hike to the summit.
Don’t Forget to Prepare & Plan Ahead
Regardless of which of the best 14ers to hike in Colorado you choose to visit, proper planning and preparation is essential. Every year a number of individuals get injured, go missing, or are killed while hiking in the Colorado mountains. Follow these tried-and-true tips to help ensure your hike is safe and successful, while avoiding becoming a news story.
The Best 14ers to Hike in Colorado: Now You Know!
Colorado’s mountains are an absolute joy to explore and ascend. If you’re looking for the best 14ers to hike in Colorado, you’re in luck with these three great options: Handies Peak, San Luis Peak, and Mount Elbert. No one wants to get injured or lost during their trip, so be sure to follow all of the above safety practices in case anything goes wrong. I hope you found this blog on the best 14ers to hike in Colorado helpful and informative to help plan your next adventure. Safe travels on the next summit!
About the Author: Alex Derr
Alex Derr is a mountaineer and blogger based in Denver Colorado. He is working to climb Colorado’s highest 100 peaks, and the 20 tallest peaks in California. He created The Next Summit to share advice, stories, history & reflections from the Colorado Rockies & Sierra Nevada. When not climbing, he is managing the Communications strategy at Visible Network Labs.