The 10 Best Summit Hikes in Colorado from Outside jdziezynski

Trying to narrow down a list of the best summit hikes in Colorado makes my palms sweat. It’s almost harder than hiking the peaks themselves. I’ve been exploring Colorado’s mountains for over 25 years now and have written six mountain hiking guidebooks, and I still have difficulty picking out my favorites. There are just that many good mountains.

My favorite summits are those that embody a certain superlative aspect found on great mountains. That might be the thrill of topping out on an obscure, off-trail peak or simply finding a dog-friendly trail to a gorgeous summit that is shared with my canine pals.

This collection I’ve created focuses on ten mountains that represent a spectrum of adventure styles. While none of these standard routes demand technical gear like ropes and harnesses, the scrambling on some of the advanced Class 3 options can be exposed and dangerous. All of them are beautiful.

1. UN 13,001

UN 13,001 stands behind Lost Man Lake on the north side of Lost Man Pass. (Photo: James Dziezynski) 

Summit Elevation: 13,001 feet
Difficulty: Medium
Class: Easy Class 3
Distance: 7 miles out-and-back
Location: Sawatch Range off Independence Pass near Aspen
Best Feature: Beautiful approach hike that passes several lakes, followed by an off-trail ridge scramble

(Illustration: Gaia GPS)

UN 13,001, also called “Point 13,001,” is the bland moniker of a summit that lacks an official USGS or local name. Thus, it defaults to the formula “unnamed + peak elevation.”

It’s currently the lowest recognized 13,000-foot peak in Colorado, though hyper-accurate LiDar measurements may slightly change its known elevation. Regardless, it’s a fantastic mountain adventure that includes a ridge scramble complete with a bit of hidden route finding that doesn’t become apparent until you’re on the ridge proper.

Access is easy. The trail begins at the Linkins Lake Trailhead off paved Independence Pass, roughly a mile west of the pass summit. Follow the Lost Man Loop Trail past the shimmering waters of Independence Lake, over Lost Man Pass, and down to the shore of the larger Lost Man Lake.

From here, go off-trail and gain the southeast ridge. This ridge scramble looks imposing at first, but safe passages on the right (east) side of the ridge offer secret detours that keep exposure down and the scrambling light. From the summit, you can return via the ridge or pound your knees down the steep, non-technical slopes to the north side of Lost Man Lake and the Lost Man Loop Trail.

2. Mount Flora

A late autumn hike up Mount Flora. Colorado Mines Peak and the old Berthoud Ski Area are in the background. (Photo: James Dziezynski)

Summit Elevation: 13,129 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Class: Class 1
Distance: 6.1 miles out-and-back
Location: Front Range off Berthoud Pass near Winter Park
Best Feature: Dog-friendly trail that offers incredible views, potential wildflower blooms, and extra-credit peaks nearby.

(Illustration: Gaia GPS)

Mount Flora is a peak I revisit yearly, thanks to its easy trailhead access off the top of Berthoud Pass. It’s also a relatively easy summit, good for hiking groups of mixed fitness, with spectacular views. This is still Colorado, and you’re still hiking uphill, but you’re doing so on a well-maintained trail that is never lung-shatteringly steep.

The path up begins at the defunct Berthoud Pass Ski Area. This section of the trail is directly below 12,392-foot Colorado Mines Peak, where a collection of still-functional communication buildings sit on the summit like a futuristic castle; it’s only a few hundred feet off the Mount Flora Trail and is worth a quick detour.

Mount Flora itself sits beyond a false summit on its southwest shoulder. The walk-up is pleasant and steady and can be colorful when spring flowers are in bloom. Because you are walking along the Continental Divide, views range from the eastern cities and plains to the rugged Gore Range summits to the west. For those looking for a bigger day, a pair of 12,000-foot peaks—Cone Mountain and Breckenridge Peak—are east of Flora’s ridge, though both Class 2 options do not have established trails.

3. Storm King Peak

Approaching the real work on Storm King Peak (Photo: James Dziezynski)

Summit Elevation: 13,753 feet
Difficulty: Very Difficult
Class: Class 3
Distance: 15 miles out-and-back
Location: Grenadier Range Near Ouray
Best Feature: Epic, Lord of the Rings-style backcountry adventure in one of Colorado’s most remote regions. The peak itself features challenging but satisfying Class 3 scrambling.

(Illustration: Gaia GPS)

For the adventurous, this is as good as it gets. There are several peaks named “Storm King” in Colorado, and this one is the monarch of them all. It is located deep in the Grenadier Range, a remote pocket of mountains best known for the aesthetically pleasing ramps on Vestal and Arrow Peaks. Storm King has its own mountainous charm, however, and offers an extended non-technical scramble on excellent rock to its lofty summit.

Most people do this hike as an overnight, starting at the Beartown Trailhead, which requires a 4×4 vehicle to reach. Hike in along the Vallecito Trail, going off-trail toward good camping in the meadows below Storm King and its sister peak, Mount Silex. On summit day, you’ll need savvy navigation to find a gully on the south side of the mountain, where the Class 3 rock is consistent. The broad summit is one of the most exhilarating and hard-earned in Colorado.

This route is for expert navigators with strong physical fitness and is not dog-friendly. It’s by far the most difficult route in this article, and it may very well be my personal favorite.

4. Peak 1

Views south near the summit of Peak 1 looking out on the enticing Tenmile Range Traverse. (Photo: James Dziezynski)

Summit Elevation: 12,795 feet
Difficulty: Medium
Class: Class 2
Distance: 7 miles out-and-back
Location: Tenmile Range near Frisco 
Best Feature: Steep, on-trail adventure that pops you above Dillon Reservoir. An excellent autumn adventure with the option to continue along the Tenmile Range Traverse.

(Illustration: Gaia GPS)

Peak 1 is the first in a series of numbered peaks in the Tenmile Range. Along the way to this summit, you’ll pass the (barely there) ruins of a ghost town, two named sub-summits (Mount Royal and Mount Victoria), and encounter a bit of mild scrambling near the top. This hike starts right in the town of Frisco, so it’s easy to access. When you are done, it’s a short trip to a celebratory meal at one of the many restaurants in town.

The trail itself alternates between steep, east-coast style (few switchbacks) and open ridgeline. Emerging from treeline offers great views of the reservoir and the I-70 corridor. Near the top, you’ll briefly wander onto the rugged west side of the mountain, where morning shadows offer a contrast from the sunny east side of the ridge.

It’s a great out-and-back hike, but if you’re feeling burly, continue the Class 3 ridge over to Tenmile Peak (which could be called “Peak 2”), Peak 3, and Peak 4. Beyond Peak 4, the ridge mellows out and becomes simple hillwalking. A nice point-to-point with two vehicles is to traverse near Peak 6 and descend via the Colorado Trail to the parking lot at the Copper Ski Area.

5. Cooper Peak

Cooper Peak’s south shoulder as seen from Gourd Lake (Photo: James Dziezynski)

Summit Elevation: 12,264 feet
Difficulty: Difficult
Class: Easy Class 3
Distance: 19 miles out-and-back
Location: Indian Peaks near Grandby
Best Feature: Overnight camping at one of Colorado’s most beautiful backcountry lakes, followed by an off-trail scramble to a remote but accommodating summit.

(Illustration: Gaia GPS)

Part of Cooper Peak’s appeal is the hike on-trail to Gourd Lake, whose name belies the sheer beauty of this white-cliffed backcountry basin in the Indian Peaks. Cooper’s massive shoulder rises beyond the lake and, past that, its hidden summit.

From Gourd Lake, it’s an off-trail trek to the saddle between Cooper and Marten Peaks. The ridge that connects the two offers great scrambling with low exposure. The landscape from Cooper’s massive south shoulder contrasts the boulder-strewn ridge. A high alpine meadow merges into a modest slope that leads to Cooper’s true summit block—one of the deepest points in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Navigation beyond Gourd Lake looks straightforward on maps but is actually a bit tricky in practice. This is a good route for experienced navigators who want to step up into more challenging terrain while still being within range of known, established camping and hiking areas.

6. London Mountain

The social trail leading to the summit of London Mountain (Photo: James Dziezynski)

Summit Elevation: 13,199 feet
Difficulty: Medium
Class: Class 2+
Distance: 5 miles out-and-back
Location: Mosquito Range Near Alma
Best Feature: Fun, short scramble amongst mine ruins and views of Colorado’s highest peaks.

(Illustration: Gaia GPS)

London Mountain was one of the most profitable mining operations in Colorado, churning out silver and gold until operations ceased in 1939. It has faded into obscurity, as few hikers visit its craggy summit these days. The area near London Mountain is home to Mosquito Pass, a popular 4×4 road that connects Alma to Leadville. But the peak itself should not be overlooked.

London’s northwest ridge is a fun, quick scramble that doubles as a tour through a defacto mining museum. There are no established trails on the mountain, but the way to the top simply follows the ridge. Faint social trails pop up and disappear along the way. Summit views west look out on Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, Colorado’s two tallest mountains.

It’s a good half-day hike, with the option to connect Kuss Peak, Treasurevault Mountain, and Mosquito Peak in an all-day ridge walking tour.

7. Bison Peak (also called Bison Mountain)

A hiker is dwarfed by towers near the summit of Bison Peak. (Photo: James Dziezynski)

Summit Elevation: 12,435 feet
Difficulty: Easy But Long
Class: Class 1
Distance: 12 miles out-and-back
Location: Lost Creek Wilderness near Jefferson
Best Feature: Wild, Moab-like rock formations create a rock garden in a vast, open alpine meadow.

(Illustration: Gaia GPS)

Bison Peak’s towering rock formations seem like they were copied and pasted from Utah’s deserts. These unique sculptures are the crown jewels of a hike that seems rather ordinary for the first five miles. Though it’s gained a bit of popularity in recent years, Bison Peak is still a relatively quiet place.

The hike up until the rock garden starts in the forested foothills of the Tarryall Mountains along the Ute Creek Trail. It’s not until breaking treeline that the spectacular theater of rock, grass, and flowers comes into view. Bison’s true summit is easy to reach, thankfully—it’s not perched atop one of the stacked formations that decorate the land leading up to the top.

Save your hike here until September or even October. Spring hikes have water, but along with it, packs of murderous mosquitos. Midsummer can get very hot, and by then, many of the water sources will have dried up.

8. Crestone Peak

Hiker near the top of the Red Gully on Crestone Peak (Photo: James Dziezynski)

Summit Elevation: 14,299 feet
Difficulty: Difficult
Class: Class 3
Distance: 13 miles out-and-back
Location: Sangre de Cristo Range near Westcliffe
Best Feature: Great scrambling on good rock

(Illustration: Gaia GPS)

Ah, here’s the 14er you’ve been waiting for! There are plenty of great 14ers in Colorado, but Crestone Peak is one of the best. Crestone’s south face features the “Red Gully,” a sustained Class 3 scramble that claws its way up to one of Colorado’s most scenic summits. Views of neighboring Crestone Needle and down to Sand Dunes National Park offer dramatic counterpoints to Crestone Peak’s accommodating summit area.

It’s a bit of work just to get started on Crestone Peak. Many people opt to camp at South Colony Lakes, though more ambitious campers aiming for a bit of privacy may lug their backpacks up and over Broken Hand Pass (and eventually back) down to Cottonwood Lake.

From Cottonwood Lake, the Red Gully is a straight shot to the top. It’s advised to climb this one in late summer when the gully has melted out, and the rock is relatively dry. When conditions are good, the prolonged scrambling up the gully is a blast, though some climbers feel the steepness lends itself to a sense of exposure. But the difficulty should never surpass Class 3.

It’s logical to add in an ascent of the Class 4 route on Crestone Needle; skilled climbers can traverse the two, some using a rope for the final 90-foot pitch that connects the two on Crestone Needle.

9. North Arapaho Peak

A large cairn sits on the summit of North Arapaho Peak. (Photo: James Dziezynski)

Summit Elevation: 13,513 feet
Difficulty: Difficult
Class: Class 3
Distance: 9.6 miles out-and-back
Location: Indian Peaks near Nederland
Best Feature: An airy, solid traverse that first ascends South Arapaho Peak. Views of one of Colorado’s remaining glaciers.

(Illustration: Gaia GPS)

North Arapaho is a prominent peak along the mountainous western horizon when views from the Boulder/Longmont region. It’s home to the Arapaho Glacier, one of Colorado’s last remaining year-round glaciers. It borders land protected by the Boulder watershed, so the standard route first ascends South Arapaho Peak, 13,343’, which is technically a shoulder of North Arapaho Peak.

Following a walk-up South Arapaho, the airy, exposed traverse begins! There is a tricky Class 3 or possibly Class 4 one-move climb up a slanted boulder that will be easy for anyone over about 5’7” but a little trickier for those shorter. Beyond that, the semi-narrow ridge drops into a ledge system that involves a few short, steep descents (no shame in going on your butt) before a delightful scramble up to the surprisingly open, flat summit. As of 2023, a large cairn denotes the summit of North Arapaho Peak. Along the ridge are 2,000-foot views down onto the glacier.

The traverse is less than a mile but requires good route finding and a few confident moves, though the main line stays at Class 3. North Arapaho Peak is also the highest mountain in the Indian Peaks.

10. Mount Sneffels

Storm clouds gather above Yankee Boy Basin seen from high on Mount Sneffels. (Photo: James Dziezynski)

Summit Elevation: 14,155 feet
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Class: Class 2+ / Easy Class 3
Distance: 6 miles out-and-back
Location: San Juan Mountains near Ouray
Best Feature: This is a solid hike that transforms into scrambling along either of the mountain’s two standard routes: a gully scramble or a ridge scramble.

(Illustration: Gaia GPS)

Mount Sneffels is brilliant to view from a distance, but the terrain on the hike up might be even better. This 14er is located in the colorful San Juan Mountains, a region known for its glowing sky-blue lakes, rich flora, red-capped mushrooms, and vanilla-scented pine trees.

The standard route up Sneffels follows a road up to a dense talus field that eventually finds a weakness in the mountain: a deep gully that nearly tops out on the summit. A gutsy little scramble atop the gully reveals the short walk to the summit, where the views of the neighboring San Juan Mountains look straight out of a fantasy novel.

Sneffels highlights the beauty of southwest Colorado, and the peaks in the area display vibrance and color not seen in northern ranges.

Tips and Advice on Hiking Colorado’s High Peaks

Tabor Lake at the foot of Tabor Peak (Photo: James Dziezynski)

While you should consult guidebooks and other resources for more details on hiking at high altitude, a few tips will help point you in the right direction.

Always be aware of the weather and start early—4 a.m. or 5 a.m. is a standard summer start time. Aim to be off summits by 11 a.m. Thunderstorms are regular, predictable events and should be avoided, especially when above treeline.
Drink plenty of water and electrolytes.
Apply sunscreen and cover up as much skin as possible. High-altitude UV is harsh!
Use an app like Gaia GPS and download your maps and routes for offline use before you go. This is especially important for the off-trail adventures listed here. Bringing a quad map and knowing how to use a compass are equally important.
Poles are your friends! If you value your knees, bring along collapsible poles that you can tuck away during scrambling sections.
Altitude sickness is a major concern, especially for those coming from lower elevations. Take time to acclimate, and if you start to have a headache and feel dizzy, nauseous, and irritable, turn around and descend ASAP.

About the Author

Dziezynski with a fine trio of pups at the top of Pawnee Pass in the Indian Peaks Wilderness (Photo: Bart DeFerme)

James Dziezynski is the author of three editions of Best Summit Hikes in Colorado, a collection of over 55 routes and 100+ summits throughout the state. He’s also the author of three additional mountain hiking guidebooks. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, and is the SEO Director at Outside.

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