I get the question all the time: “When can you start hiking 14ers in Colorado?” It depends, like most thing in the mountains, on a lot – which range, peak & route you want to hike, what kind of year it’s been, and what your tolerance is for snow and ice. Here’s an overview of what impacts early season hikes, along with some recommendations for good, early 14er hikes.
What kind of winter and spring are you having?
Generally speaking, this issue matters most of all. If you have an extremely late, snowy winter, your spring and summer hiking season will definitely be impacted. In 2019, Colorado experienced a historic winter, with snow and ice lasting on many peaks into July. However during light years, you may find routes snow-free by early June. When considering your spring and summer plans, check out snow total reports, and whether spring has been warmer than average – that helps speed up the melting process.
What’s your tolerance for ice and snow?
Depending on your winter, you may have snow on the ground late into the year. In most years, you can plan on having snow on your route up until early June. During this period, when you can hike depends when you’re willing to hike on snow or ice. For those new to the experience, consider renting trekking poles and microspikes to give it a try. With good traction, you’re very unlikely to slip and fall. If you’d rather wait, you may have limited choices in an early year.
Which Range, Peak & Route do you choose?
Generally, the more southern the range, the faster snow will melt out. Peak and route selections matter too. Some routes and peaks, like Snowmass Mountain, are known for holding snow late into July or August. Most ridge routes clear of snow quickly, like the East Ridge on Quandary Peak. Gully routes can keep snow late into June or July. However snow can last below treeline where trees provide shade into June, so be prepared for what’s hidden in the forest!
When can you start hiking 14ers in Colorado?
While I wish we could answer this with a short answer, it really does depend. Consider whether it’s been an especially snowy winter or warm spring. Pick a range, peak and route that’s southern, exposed, and likely to be free of snow. And at the end of the day, consider how willing you are to deal with some snow or ice. That’s how you can answer the question: When can you start hiking 14ers in Colorado?
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.