10 of the Best Mountains to Climb in Colorado State

Mountain landscape in Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Whether you are a reformed couch potato or the rugged outdoors type, exercise can be its own reward. For those who want a rich combination of fresh air, scenery, and an exercise challenge, there is only one solution. Mountain climbing is one of the fastest-growing pastimes in the world, with millions of climbers in the US alone. While many climbers dream of one day beating Mt Everest, most US climbers opt for something closer. As a home of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado is one of the most popular climbing destinations in the country. Below are ten of the best sites in the state.

Mount Elbert

Mount Elbert

At more than 14,400 feet, the majestic Mount Elbert is one of the tallest peaks within the continental United States.  It is the tallest mountain point in the state. The summit is perfect for those who want an adventure, but a gentle challenge.  The mountain is one of the most prominent attractions of the San Isabel National Forest, located near the city of Leadville. At about 130 miles west of Denver, the peak is part of a Rocky Mountain range.  It is near several other summits, providing a cluster of local challenges. The weather around the peak can vary wildly, so climbers should be prepared for anything.  The mountain can receive snow around the year, but can also host hail or thunderstorms during the summer.

Perhaps most importantly, there are three climbing routes with different degrees of difficulty.   A route from the east leaves the Colorado Trail and provides a 4.6-mile hike climbing 4,500 feet. The South Elbert Trail offers a less steep but longer opportunity to climb, lasting 5.5 miles. Finally, the Black Cloud Trail is the same length but provides a steep and difficult climb.  This trail is only recommended for experienced climbers, whereas the other two could be considered more of a hike.

Capitol Peak

Capitol Peak

Capitol Peak may not be the highest range in Colorado, but it can still provide a challenging climb.  At 14,137 feet, the summit is part of the Elk Mountain range. The Capitol Peak trail extends about 15 miles total, providing beautiful views of Capitol Lake and several forests. More experienced hikers and climbers may be able to climb the entire distance since the peak itself is mostly stable and predictable.   However, part of the trail is gentle enough to hike with dogs.

San Luis Peak

San Luis Peak

For many climbers, isolation is part of the experience. They envision ascending a lone peak in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded by nothing man-made. For climbers seeking insulation, San Luis Peak may be just the challenge.  Although it is part of the Rocky Mountains, the peak itself is surrounded only by pristine creeks and flower-covered plains.  At the center of this tranquility is a summit stretching just over 14,000 miles.

Less experienced climbers and hikers may enjoy taking the more comfortable trails to enjoy the view, tackling the summit itself after contemplation.  Despite the isolation, the city of Gunnison is nearby, providing lodging for those not ready for a few days of camping. The climb itself could be considered medium difficulty, with the South Ridge and East Flank considered the best routes.

Crestone Needle

Crestone Needle

At just over 14,200 feet, many consider the Needle the trademark climbing experience of the Crestone Mountain Range. Located less than ten miles from the city of Crestone, adventurers would do well to reserve lodging long in advance.  While it is true that Crestone Peak is a taller summit, the Needle offers the perfect combination of noteworthy difficulty and stability.  This is definitely one of the climbs that lead to bragging and fabled stories long after the trip.

Climbers looking for a slightly less challenging ascent should focus on tackling the South Face through the Broken Hand Pass.  However, even this trail can be dangerous, with a few experienced climbing points along the way up. On the other hand, the Ellingwood Ledges Route is a steep and difficult climb reserved for the very experienced.   Climbers who want to avoid snow should wait until well in the summer.

Longs Peak

Longs Peak

At about the same height as Crestone, Longs Peak stretches up to about 14,255. It is considered a medium to difficult climb, and one of the more popular summits at the fourteen thousand range. The good news is the trail is well-traveled, so new climbers can likely get advanced advice and watch others.  The bad news is that popularity means many people will want to climb at the same time.  If you don’t mind waiting in line, it is still a rewarding trip. The top of the mountain is flat enough to allow a few creative and powerful photographs from the peak.

Hikers can enjoy a 5.5-mile trail leading to the summit, taking in the vast and sprawling scenery.  More experienced climbers can pass through the Keyhole Rock, and rise to the challenge.    The total trip is more than 14 miles, but the climb itself offers a variety of difficult environments.

Longs Peak is part of the Front Mountain Range of the Rocky Mountains, located near the city of Estes Park. Climbers should focus on Shelf Trail, East Longs Peak, Clark’s Arrow, and Longs Peak Trail. The trails are considered medium difficulty from late summer through early fall.  The potential for snow and ice the rest of the year limits the trail to experienced climbers.

Pyramid Peak

Pyramid Peak

Pyramid structures can be found in several locations throughout the world.  The most famous locations in Egypt, China, and Mexico receive millions of visitors each year.  The Pyramid Peak mountain in Colorado is also famous for its four-sided pyramid look, although this structure was created by nature.  Located only twelve miles from the popular tourist destination Aspen, this could be the perfect destination site for climbers looking for both a challenge and fun.

However,  at just over 14,000 feet, what it lacks in height,  it achieves in difficulty. Part of the Elk Mountains, the peak is notorious for falling and loose rocks. The summit is best tackled in the late summer months, where temperatures reduce the possibility of slick conditions. However, in all weather climbers should watch for falling rocks created by fellow travelers. Most climbers focus on the northwest and northeast ridges, but all approaches can be treacherous.

Mount Wilson

Mount Wilson

Boasting more than 14,200 feet of the summit, Mount Wilson is not for the faint of heart.  The tallest peak within the San Miguel range, it is about ten miles from the city of Rico. Mount Wilson is a triathlon of mountain climbing.   The peak offers every potential challenge an adventurer could face.  Much of the mountain is covered in snow and ice all year round. That means climbers will want to bring ice climbing equipment and expect slippery conditions the entire time. In addition, the mountain is also known for loose rocks and the resulting fatal falls.

The mountain also offers rappelling and horizontal rock moving across the ledge to El Diente Peak. Unlike other peaks, climbing in late summer and early fall does not result in dry conditions.  The ice glaciers present at the top guarantee an ever-present danger from freezing water. Dress warmly and come equipped for a vast variety of climbing conditions.  While the South ridge route was first tackled by A. D. Wilson in 1874, most climbers today focus on the north side.

Little Bear Peak

Little Bear Peak

At just over 14,000 feet, this summit is the tallest within the Sangre de Cristo group. Near the town of Blanca, the peak boasts a number of potential adventures. Climbers looking for a medium challenge can ascend the Eastern face, which is less steep and slightly more stable.  Experienced climbers can scale the northwest side of the mountain facing Blue Lakes.

The famous Hourglass section of the mountain, however, should only be attempted by the most expert of climbers.  The granite face is often covered with water and ice, and the entire section is at risk for falling rock.   This challenge requires rappelling and ice climbing tools for a near 90-degree climb.

Grays Peak

Grays Peak

Let’s be honest, not every climber is looking for the death-defying challenge.  There are those among us who enjoy the physical exertion but prefer something more like a hike.  Although Grays Peak rises more than 14,200 feet, it is known for its well-traveled path and more gentle slope. This is a training peak for people who want to tackle a true mountain, without all the professional level rock and ice climbing equipment and peril.  Unfortunately, the well-traveled path in summer seasons means braving the crowds as much as the summit.

The nearby Silverthorne town, as well as a number of local resorts, also provide a perfect after-hike respite.

Torreys Peak

Torreys Peak

Although it rises more than 14,200 feet, Torreys Peak is another climb for the beginning hiker.  The trail is well-traveled, providing plenty of visual cues for those who tend to get lost or confused. The location is also very popular, meaning it is likely that many others will be climbing at the same time. This can be unfortunate for those looking for some time away from people.  However, newer adventurers may find the potential for guidance and assistance reassuring.  Either way, the trail is also only mildly steep, with the entire trip talking about eight miles.

In another bonus, Torreys Peak is located very near Grays Peak.  Many climbers camp nearby and take both trails within on trip.