The Rocky Mountains: 14ers in Buena Vista, Colorado

With over 53 mountains exceeding 14,000 feet, Colorado is a renowned “Fourteener” state. Buena Vista in particular is a mountain climber’s paradise, as Chaffee County has the highest concentration of Fourteeners in all of Colorado. All 15 of the Sawatch Range Fourteeners are within an easy distance from downtown Buena Vista, allowing you to lodge in town and enjoy a fresh meal, taste of local beer, or soak in the hot springs after you return from peaking.

Photo of La Plata Peak: Maddie Anzovino 

 

When to Go

Unless you’re planning to snowshoe, the best months to peak a Fourteener are typically between July and September. If you try to go much before or after those months, you're likely to face heavy snow. Some seasons you’ll be able to climb in late June or early October, as the weather and snowfall varies from year to year. Be prepared to get an early start on your hike. Afternoon thunderstorms are common, so you’ll want to summit before noon, which typically means leaving the trailhead no later than 4:00-5:00 a.m. 

 

Where to Go

For more info about climbing Fourteeners near Buena Vista, visit www.14ers.com for additional route info and updates on trail conditions. Here are some of our favorite Fourteeners to climb:

 

MOUNT ELBERT

Resting at 14,000 feet, Mount Elbert is Colorado’s highest mountain. From the summit, you’ll see magnificent views in every direction, including sightings of other mountains such as Mount Massive towards the north and La Plata Peak towards the south.

  • Distance: 9.0 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 14,433 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 4,700 feet
  • Recommended Map: Latitude 40◦ Maps: Summit County
  • Directions: Head north on U.S. Highway 24 toward Leadville for about 30 miles. Turn left on to Colorado 300 West and cross the railroad tracks. Continue about 0.8 miles, then turn left onto Lake County Road 11 / Halfmoon Road towards Halfmoon Creek. After about 1.3 miles, turn right to continue on Halfmoon Road / CR 11. You’ll be headed towards the Halfmoon Creek Campground. Drive about 5 miles on a dirt road to the North Mount Elbert Trailhead. The parking area on the left has restrooms.Make sure you get a really early start for this climb to avoid afternoon weather. 
  • Trail Route: Soon after you leave the trailhead, you’ll reach the Colorado Trail (at about 0.3 miles). Turn left and follow the Colorado Trail for about a mile; the climb will be moderate, and continue until you see the North Mount Elbert Trail junction. Head right at this fork toward Mount Elbert.  You’ll soon come to Elbert’s northeast ridge. Once you reach the halfway point, you’ll be at tree line. As you continue toward Mount Elbert, don’t be misled by a couple of false peaks that you’ll reach on the way to the 

LA PLATA PEAK

La Plata, which means “silver” in Spanish, is the fifth highest Fourteener in Colorado. Because of the impressive views at the top, La Plata is a favorite among many. You can take one of three routes: 

Northwest Ridge: Class 2, most popular route, incredible views of Ellingwood Ridge as you near the summit.

Southwest Ridge: Class 2, easier route than the Northwest Ridge but harder to access.

Ellingwood Ridge: Class 3, a rugged and difficult trek up the 2-mile ridge. If you use this route, make sure you descend on the Northwest Ridge. 

The standard route for La Plata uses the Northwest Ridge; the beginning of this hike is relatively easy and then gets difficult as you near the ridge and summit.

  • Distance: 9.25 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 14,336 ft.
  • Elevation Gain: 4,500 ft.
  • Recommended Map:
  • Directions: From the stoplight in downtown Buena Vista, head north on U.S. Highway 24 for a little over 19 miles, turn left to take Colorado 82 west towards Twin Lakes. Drive 14.5 miles on Colorado 82. The trailhead and parking area are on the left.
  • Trail Route: To ascend using the Standard Route (Northwest Ridge), follow South Fork Lake Creek Road, go over a bridge, continue for about another 0.25 miles, and then turn left onto the La Plata trail. Keep following the trail through the forest; you’ll cross a couple of bridges before the trail turns into a valley, with Sayres Mountain in the backdrop. The trail directs you to the left and switchbacks until you come to the ridge. Once you’re on the ridge, you’ll see Ellingwood Ridge on the other side of the horseshoe. Keep following the trail (or ridgeline if you lose the trail) until you reach the summit La Plata.

MOUNT YALE

Reaching 14,199 feet, Mount Yale is Colorado’s 21st highest peak. You’ll pass trickling streams and a picturesque meadow as you journey to the summit. At the top, enjoy 360 degree views a variety of mountain peaks, such as Mt. Princeton, Pikes Peak, Mt. Harvard, Mt. Columbia, Huron Peak, Missouri Mountain, Mt. Belford, Mt. Oxford and La Plata Peak. You’ll even get a glimpse of the town of Buena Vista and the Arkansas River Valley.

  • Distance: 9.5 miles round trip (from the Denny Creek Trailhead)
  • Elevation: 9,900 ft. – 14,199 ft.
  • Elevation Gain: 4,300 ft.
  • Recommended Map: Latitude 40◦ Maps: Salida / Buena Vista
  • Directions: From the traffic light in Buena Vista at the intersection of U.S. 24 and Main Street, head west on Main Street/CR 306. Travel 12 miles until you reach the Denny Creek Trailhead and parking lot, located on your right.
  • Trail Route: Hike north on Brown’s Pass Trail. After crossing 2 streams, watch for a small beaver pond on the left. Approximately 200 yards past this pond, look to your right for a path leaving the main trail. Follow this path, heading east. You will cross Delaney Creek and, after another half mile, arrive in an open meadow. Continuing on you will come to a steep section with fallen timber. Make your way up this section. You will come to an open area with Mt. Yale directly in front of you to the east. Follow a row of cairns leading to a 13,900 foot saddle to the left of the summit. After reaching this saddle, hike the rocky ridge southeast to the summit.

What to Bring

 

  • Dayhiking Pack: you’ll want a relatively small and lightweight dayhiking pack for peak days. Make sure the pack fits well, especially on your hips (so you don’t have all the weight in your shoulders). The size of your pack will be dependent on how many layers and how much gear you want to bring with you. 
  • Sturdy Shoes: you’ll want a sturdy hiking boots or cross-trainers. Boots with ankle support can be helpful on rocky and uneven trails that lead to peaks.
  • Layers of Clothing: make sure to completely avoid cotton! You’ll want to dress in layers because you’ll typically switch from being cold and hot during your hike, with mornings being chilly, afternoons being warm, and peaks being cold. You usually want to have a base layer short sleeve shirt or tank top, topped by a long sleeve shirt or mid-weight layer. On top of that, you can add a jacket. Always make sure you bring a rain jacket; you never know when you’ll run into one of Colorado’s torrential downpours. On your legs, you could wear nylon hiking pants with zip-off legs (with the pants turning into shorts) or wear leggings and shorts.
  • Water: depending on how long your hike is, you should bring around 2-4 liters of water. You could bring a couple full 32 ounce water bottles or fill a bladder in a hydration pack. You could also bring iodine tablets or drops to make stream water safe for drinking. 
  • Food: pack food and snacks like granola bars, trail mix, beef jerky, gel shots or cliff bar energy blocks. Make sure the food you bring has a good balance of protein and carbohydrates. Foods with high fructose corn syrup will not digest well, and foods with a high sugar content will give you a quick rush of energy but then will make you crash.
  • Sun Protection:  at 14,000 feet, the sun is extremely strong, so make sure to grab sun block and lip balm with SPF.
  • Cell Phone: you may have to hike around a bit to reach service, but bringing a phone is important in case you need to contact help.
  • First-Aid Kit: at least one person in your group should have a first aid kit. You’ll especially want to bring mule skin or Band-Aids for blisters.
  • Sunglasses
  • Matches and/or Firestarter
  • Pocket Knife 
  • Map(s) and Compass

Other Good Ideas:

  • Hat to block sun
  • Warm hat and gloves (it gets cold at the peak!)
  • Hiking Poles
  • Whistle
  • Headlamp