This guest post was written by Ben and Jenna Thomas – Colorado natives, photographers, and authors of international travel blog Wild Imagining. As experienced Colorado hikers, they share with us their favorite beginner fourteeners so you can start bagging some peaks this summer.
The 5 Best Beginner Fourteeners
by Ben and Jenna Thomas
To follow up our post on “How to Prepare for Your First Fourteener,” it only seemed appropriate that we give you some suggestions on which peaks to seek out. Below you’ll find the best beginner fourteeners in a few different categories.
— Best Beginner Fourteener: Overall —
Mount Bierstadt from Guanella Pass
Bierstadt is a relatively short climb of 6.5 miles round-trip and the trailhead starting from Guanella Pass is well over 11,000 feet. That means the hike is short and not too steep. Another perk is that Mount Bierstadt is on Colorado’s Front Range. With an early enough start, you can sleep in Denver, drive to the trailhead, climb a huge mountain, and be back in time for happy hour downtown (just remember to be wary of the altitude!). Mount Bierstadt’s manageable stats and easy location make it a perfect first fourteener to test yourself on. Get more info here.
Photo Credit: Greg Willis
— Best Beginner Fourteener: Overnight Trip —
Mount of the Holy Cross via Half Moon Pass
You can do Mount of the Holy Cross in a day. But the Holy Cross Wilderness is one of the prettiest wilderness areas in the State, so getting to spend a little more time in this backcountry paradise and splitting the climb into two shorter days is a no-brainer. For the perfect intro to fourteener backpacking, on Friday night hike in and up over Half Moon Pass and down to the creek (about two miles). Set up camp there and enjoy a night in the wilderness while you get used to the altitude. Then, get up nice and early Saturday morning and tackle the ascent (around six miles round-trip). Since you’ve cut off some distance and slept at altitude, the climb to the summit and back to camp should be easier, letting you soak in the incredible views. Once you are back at camp, you can relax and enjoy another night out – that way there’s no need to rush to beat the afternoon storms back to your car or to worry about the climb back up and over Half Moon Pass. You’ll have all day Sunday to do that! Get more info here.
*Note: After a few comments from readers, we want to clarify that Holy Cross is a serious mountain, and is the most advanced on this beginner list. It should only be attempted after you’ve gotten a few 14er dayhikes under your belt and are ready to progress to an overnight backpacking trip.
Photo Credit: Ben Thomas
— Best Beginner Fourteener(s): Two for One —
Grays Peak and Torreys Peak from the Grays Peak Trailhead
Easily accessible from the Front Range, Grays Peak and Torreys Peak have awesome trails the entire way. Starting with Grays and its easy switch-backs, you may wonder how you’ll pull off Torreys Peak, as it looms high over you. Once you reach the top of Grays at 14,270 feet, you’ll see that Torreys’ summit is actually three feet shorter and just a quick traverse away. The ridge that connects the two peaks is surprisingly easy and before you know it, you’ll have checked two fourteeners off your list instead of one. Plus, descending on the Torreys trail (instead of the Grays trail that you came up) will give you new views of the surrounding peaks and valley. Get more info here.
Photo Credit: Greg Willis
— Best Beginner Fourteener: Snow Descent —
Mount Sherman via Fourmile Creek Trailhead
Sliding down a mountain on your raincoat, or a trash bag, or just the seat of your pants is some of the most fun you can have on a summer’s day in the mountains. Mount Sherman is our favorite for your first glissade (the fancy word for sledding on your butt). The trail from Fourmile Creek is a nice gradual ascent starting on a four wheel drive road, before switch-backing up to the saddle between Mount Sherman and Mount Sheridan. From the saddle, it is an easy climb to Sherman’s almost flat top. The whole trail is around 7.5 miles round trip, depending on how high up the 4WD road you can park your car.
*An important note: this Fourteener is for that warm mid-June day (or July, depending on the snow year), long after the last snowfall of the spring when the snow turns to slush in the late-morning. Don’t go if there has been a recent snowstorm and/or an avalanche danger warning. Pick a line that isn’t too steep and give it a test run, using your heels to dig in and control your speed. Once you feel comfortable sliding around a bit, enjoy the exhilaration as in a matter of seconds, you cover a distance that took you all morning to climb up. Get more info here.
Photo Credit: Ben Thomas
— Best Beginner Fourteener: Jaw-Dropping Beauty —
Handies Peak from American Basin
At the height of wildflower season, usually around mid-July to the start of August, American Basin is unlike anything we have ever seen. Columbine, Colorado’s state flower, carpet the alpine slope above the trail, and on the other side down near the creek, red Indian Paintbrush, Bluebells, and purple Baby Elephant cover the faces all the way up the basin to the high alpine Sloan Lake. From there, one of the best trails on any fourteener leads up to the summit of Handies Peak. Up there, the San Juan Range engulfs you in every direction. The best part? All of this beauty comes at the bargain price of only 6 miles round trip, provided you have a 4WD car that can reach the basin’s trailhead. With a short climb like that, time is on your side, so take it all in and enjoy. Get more info here.
Photo Credit: Bureau of Land Management
About the authors: Ben and Jenna Thomas are a pair of newlyweds who both grew up exploring the mountains of Colorado. Right now, they’re working their way around the world, from one exciting adventure to the next. Follow their journey at WildImagining.com and make sure to check out their awesome photography on Instagram and Facebook.