Spotlight: Colorado Peaks – Soaring to Great Heights
The southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado inspire and beckon the ascent
What You’ll Find
The pinnacles of the dramatic southern Rocky Mountains include the 54 Fourteeners—peaks reaching 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) above sea level or more—all of them in the state of Colorado. Colorado’s unique and majestic mountain peaks attract people from around the world, with nearly half a million people climbing the Fourteeners each year.
Just as stunning, and often less traveled, are lower elevation peaks—11, 12, or 13,000 feet above sea level—that offer magnificent views sure to rival any of the Fourteeners.
The southern Rockies span the entire state of Colorado, from the northern border with Wyoming to the southern border with New Mexico. Climbers and hikers access these peaks from dozens of small mountain towns and remote trailheads throughout central Colorado. Read our Destination Colorado itinerary for attractions throughout the state and across all federal lands or search for hiking and other recreation opportunities on any of these Colorado national forest and park websites:
- Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests
- Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests
- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
- Pike and San Isabel National Forests
- Rio Grande National Forests
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Routt National Forest
- San Juan National Forest
- White River National Forest
Opportunities to camp near a Colorado Fourteener are plentiful. Advance reservations at many local campgrounds are available on Recreation.gov, as well as many first-come, first-serve campgrounds. After your ascent, return to your campsite to rest your weary feet and recount the adventure of conquering a Fourteener!
Make Sure You
“Know before you go” when hiking high alpine peaks! Study your maps, plan your route and include contingency plans for bad weather, injuries or illness. Let people know exactly where you are hiking and when you plan to return. If a Fourteener is your destination, start early (before dawn), and plan on beginning your descent no later than 12 noon, even if you don’t reach the summit.
Also, altitude sickness can quickly turn a pleasant day in the mountains to an emergency requiring quick action. Read our Preventing Altitude Sickness article for tips to stay healthy during your high-alpine journey.
High-alpine soils are fragile and can take years to recover from off-trail travel. The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative is a non-profit organization assembled to promote low-impact hiking, educate the public about these special places and lead volunteers into the high country to restore trails and summit routes damaged by hikers.
Climbing a high-elevation peak requires advanced planning and preparation. Hike in groups, never alone, and recognize the ability of the weakest climber. Here is a list of all peaks ranked by difficulty: Fourteener Routes.
Also, consider climbing a lesser known, and lower-elevation peaks that offers equally stunning views, yet may not be quite so crowded. The Outdoor Recreation Information Center located in Denver provides excellent trail information for a variety of hiking experiences. The Colorado Mountain Club is also a great resource for conservation opportunities, educational programs and group adventures to the mountains.
Did You Know?
Off-trail hiking destroys ancient soils at elevations above 12,000 feet. Foot traffic across the landscape can remove alpine plants and expose the soil, which then washes away leaving only the bedrock behind. It can take 1,000 years to regenerate just an inch of soil. Get a closer look at these rugged, yet fragile landscapes in the video “Colorado’s Alpine Environment” below, courtesy of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.