With a whopping 58 fourteeners in the state (mountains exceeding 14,000 feet above sea level in elevation), Colorado has no shortage of striking peaks. These spectacular mountains lure hikers and nature enthusiasts looking to challenge themselves and photograph the picturesque scenery of the Centennial State. These 9 must-see mountains should be on anybody’s Colorado bucket list, whether you’re looking to hike to the summit or simply park at a lookout spot to sit, relax, and take in the beauty.
1. Mount Elbert — 14,438 feet
Named in honor of a Colorado statesman, Samuel Hitt Elbert, the mountain is located in the San Isabel National Forest, which is southwest of Leadville, Colorado.
Mount Elbert is the tallest mountain in Colorado and is considered the second highest peak within the contiguous United States, after Mount Whitney. The mountain is part of the Sawatch Range, which features other prominent peaks such as Mount Massive, Castle Peak, Grizzly Peak, and La Plata Peak. There are multiple options for catching striking views of Mount Elbert, with a popular one being hopping onto the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad. This 2.5-hour train ride allows mountain enthusiasts to take plenty of photos and enjoy the passing scenery.
Hikers can embark on multiple route options, with the 9.1-mile round trip standard path reaching the summit with an elevation gain of nearly 4,500 feet. Rated at a difficulty of class 1, many hikers and climbing enthusiasts can confidently embark on this trip with moderate experience and physical fitness. There are no mountaineering skills or technical rock climbing experience required to reach the summit.
PRO Tip: The most popular time to visit Mount Elbert is between early summer and early fall when the trails are mostly clear of snow and slippery ice.
2. Maroon Bells — 14,163 feet & 14,019 feet
One of the most iconic views in Colorado is that of the two sister peaks that form Maroon Bells. Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak are the most photographed mountains in Colorado. The reflective lake at the base casts back the striking contrast of the pyramid-like rocky formations.
There are a range of hikes suitable for every skill level that are available for those seeking to enjoy the splendor of the mountain peaks. The Maroon Lake Scenic Trail is an easy 1-mile round-trip hike and includes a view of an active beaver pond. For something a bit more challenging, the Maroon Creek Trail traverses alpine meadows and aspen forests along a 3.2-mile one-way route.
Between May and October, a shuttle that runs from Aspen Highlands operates between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM helps to alleviate the parking constraints. Driving is possible outside of these hours, though drivers may need to make reservations. The best time to visit Maroon Bells is from late spring to early summer when wildflowers are in full bloom.
PRO Tip: The shuttle service is operated by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and runs at a fare of $16 per adult rider and $10 for children under 12 years old and for seniors over 65.
3. Pikes Peak — 14,115 feet
Pikes Peak was named after the explorer, Zebulon Pike, who himself was never able to reach the summit. Now Pikes Peak is the highest point in the Colorado Front Range and one of the most popular mountains in the state, with three-quarters of a million people reaching the summit each year. The Pikes Peak Summit House serves up the world’s highest-elevation pastries, which are a welcome reward for hikers.
The Pikes Peak Highway has more than 150 turns that greet drivers with an equal number of photogenic vistas and views. Those wanting to let go of the wheel can hop onto The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway and enjoy the sights from a passenger window.
Another unique view of the peak can be seen from the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak serves as a unique craggy and snowy contrast from the red rock formations within the park. The mountain can also be viewed from Manitou Springs and Woodland Park.
PRO Tip: On the last Sunday in June (June 25, 2023) of every year, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb takes place. Also referred to as “The Race to the Clouds,” the race is an automobile hill climb to the summit of Pikes Peak.
4. Longs Peak — 14,259 feet
Longs Peak is the tallest summit located within the Rocky Mountain National Park and is also the highest point in Boulder County. The peak is one of Colorado’s fourteeners that can be viewed from several locations within the Front Range. The oddly shaped peaks feature sharp, contrasting corners and a flat summit. This creates interesting shadows throughout the day and once you know how to spot the peak — you’ll be able to point it out regularly.
The hike to the summit of Longs Peak via Keyhole Route spans 14.5 miles roundtrip and is considered a risky climb even for those with years of experience. There is no designated “Longs Peak hike,” as the path to the top requires traversing vertical rocky faces, loose rocks, and narrow ledges and enduring over 5,000 feet of elevation gain.
For those who don’t want to summit the mountain, Longs Peak can be viewed from basically anywhere within Rocky Mountain National Park or via the popular Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.
PRO Tip: Timed entry reservations are required from late May through late October. These reservations can potentially be made on short notice, though many hikers planning on making it to the summit of Longs Peak make reservations months in advance.
5. Mount Evans — 14,130 feet
The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved road in the United States and one of the few places in the entire world where you can drive over a mountain that’s over 14,000 feet high. Due to snow, this road is closed and impassible by vehicles from Labor Day until Memorial Day. Once at the top, a short hike leads to the summit. The panoramic views of the surrounding ranges and valleys capture the sheer immensity of the Rocky Mountains themselves.
Due to its close proximity to the Denver metro region, Mount Evans is one of the most popular summits in the state. A spectacular view of Pikes Peak can be seen to the south once you’ve summited Mount Evans.
Mountain goats and bighorn sheep, as well as white-tailed deer and marmots, can be viewed along the drive. As the road continues towards the top, the guardrails will disappear — leaving drivers to carefully traverse the switchbacks to the top.
PRO Tip: Those seeking to drive up to Mount Evans should be aware of the per-vehicle amenity recreation fee of $15 that provides entrance to Summit Lake Park, Mount Goliath Natural Area, and the Summit of Mount Evans Interpretive Site. Upcoming fee-free days include June 19th.
6. Mount Sneffels — 14,155 feet
Sneffels is the Nordic word for snowfield, which is appropriate nomenclature for the mountain being characterized by its white snow capped summit and icy terrain. At 14,155 feet, Sneffels is the highest point in Ouray County.
Mount Sneffels is part of the San Juan Mountains and is located in the rugged Mount Sneffels Wilderness, which spans 16,500+ acres. The peak can be viewed on the way toward Telluride across the Dallas Divide on State Highway 62. The area doesn’t have much in the way of hiking opportunities, aside from 15 miles of constructed trail. The primary trailhead used to summit Mount Sneffels is the Yankee Boy Basin Trail, with a secondary route being located at the Blue Lakes Trailhead.
Summertime is one of the best times to visit the Sneffels Wilderness Area, as visitors will be less likely to encounter slippery ice. Gorgeous, sweeping landscape awaits, such as rolling green meadows and an abundance of wildflowers.
PRO Tip: Hiking Mount Sneffels is not for the faint of heart and it’s considered a relatively dangerous route due to loose rocks and sheer and jagged peaks. The route draws a handful of hikers each year in comparison to the less intense fourteeners found throughout the state.
7. Crested Butte — 12,168 feet
Crested Butte is not only the namesake of one of the coolest towns in Colorado, but it’s also a prominent peak in the Elk Mountain range. While it’s not at the elevation requirement of a 14er, Crested Butte is still a must-see mountain in Colorado. With the world-class Crested Butte Ski Resort located on the north side of the mountain, thousands of tourists and locals alike ski the 1,500+ acres of snowy terrain each winter.
The ruggedly stunning mountain has a pointed peak, making it distinctive from the surrounding mountains. The mountain can be viewed from Meridian Lake and of course, the town of Crested Butte. The hike to the top of the summit is short and steep, yet rewarding in both views and accomplishment. From the Silver Queen lift, Crested Butte can be hiked in approximately 2 hours round trip or 4-5 hours from the base area.
Lift tickets are $20 for adults and include round-trip transportation. Free rides to the bottom are available to those who hike up from the base area. The most challenging aspect of the hike is basic scrambling near the top. Hikers should carry extra food, water, and rain gear for the unpredictable weather on the mountain.
PRO Tip: During July, Crested Butte hosts the Wildflower Festival. This multi-day event provides over 200 workshops on all things wildflowers. For the 2023 season, the event will run from July 7th through the 16th.
8. Castle Peak — 14,265 feet
Castle Peak is located within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area and is yet another one of Colorado’s 14ers. The mountain isn’t located far from Crested Butte and it sits adjacent to a glacial snow field. Apart from the sunniest summer months when the trail becomes loose gravel, hiking Castle Peak involves traversing through a fair bit of snow. This adds a layer of danger but also makes for a postcard-worthy view.
The peak doesn’t invite the same crowds as the more popular fourteeners, making Castle Peak a great option for those seeking more solitude. Ranked as the ninth-highest mountain in the Rocky Mountains, Castle Peak is considered a challenging route to hike.
The 12.3-mile Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak hike is popular with backpackers and campers and takes an average of 8-9 hours to complete. For those seeking to hike the peaks in a day, starting early is a must. The Northeast Ridge Trail is the standard climb to the summit, though some scrambling is required through deep snow during the winter.
PRO Tip: Those with a 4WD vehicle can get significantly closer to the trailhead, shaving off some distance from their route.
9. Capitol Peak — 14,131 feet
One of Colorado’s most majestic mountains, Capitol Peak is also ranked as one of the hardest fourteeners in the state. A bit more elusive than its counterparts in the Elk Mountains range, this peak is notorious in reputation amongst locals and international “peakbaggers.”
The Capitol Peak trail is 15.1 miles long and lightly trafficked overall. The route up to the peak requires scrambling and exposure to significant heights while being capped with the infamous “Knife Ridge.” This short, yet exposed section has claimed multiple lives. Located just outside of Aspen, Capitol Peak is a must-see mountain and you don’t have to summit it to have profound admiration for the jagged mountain.
Capitol Peak can also be viewed from the summit of Crested Butte. The toothy ridge line is immediately recognizable. Those not looking to embark on a harrowing hike can take in the unique views from the trailhead or from the Spring Park Reservoir area.
PRO Tip: The trail up to the summit of Capitol Peak is best from July until September. Once snowfall rolls in, the trail can become even more treacherous than its standard class 3 to class 4 rankings.