Front Range

The Front Range is an endearing term for Denver and other Great Plains-bordering cities, as well as, for the group of stunning mountains that span across these cities western horizon.  The peaks located in the Front Range are a good choice for day or overnight trips from the Denver area or for a quick ascent for someone traveling through Denver to the Vail Valley.  The exception to this rule is Pikes Peak which is located closer to Colorado Springs and has an extreme vertical gain of 13 miles making it less accessible for a day trip from Denver.  Alternatively, the peak does have paved road to its summit for those who may not have the time, physical endurance, or know how to hike it.     

9.  Grays Peak - 14,270’ – As the highest mountain in the Front Range and the highest point exactly on the Continental Divide Grays Peak is a geological monument in its own right.  This peak is an excellent choice for someone new to the art of 14’er ascents.  It is a relatively easy hike to the summit via the Stephens Gulch Trailhead, and only contains class 2 climbing at points.  For a bit more challenging climb this peak can be paired with Torreys Peak via the adjoining saddle. 

The first recorded ascent was by a well-known botanist by the name of Charles C Parry.  Parry and his colleagues are attributed with the discovery and classification of many western plants, many of which he scaled Colorado peaks to uncover.  He named the peak after fellow botanist and colleague, Asa Gray, who is attributed with his extensive work in taxonomy.

11. Torreys Peak – 14,267’ – Grays Peak and Torreys Peak are the only 14’ers attributed with being directly on the Continental Divide.  With this peaks relative proximity to the metropolitan area and ease of ascent it is undeniably one of the busiest mountains.  This can be positive in that it creates a very social atmosphere, but negative in that you may not experience the serenity of backcountry exploration.  The most popular route is an adjoining trail with Grays Peak, typically ending with a descent of Torreys southern slope.  There are many other routes available on Torreys Peak for more advanced climbers including Kelso Ridge which is a class 3/4 climb.  Dead Dog Couloir is also available for expert backcountry skiers.    

This peak was also first ascended by botanist Charles C. Parry who named it after his colleague John Torrey.  Torrey is remembered for his botanical achievements in and around New York, and his namesake is scattered throughout the flora world. 

14. Mount Evans – 14,264’ - Known by locals as the Chicago Peaks Range, Mt. Evans and the other Front Range mountains make up the western skyline of the Great Plains.  It is the closest peak to Denver and hence is one of the most popular 14’ers in the state.  Mt. Evans boasts not only class 1-4 climbing routes, but also the highest paved road in North America delivering your family right to the summit.  The road was built to rival a similar road on Pikes Peak and is now an easy way for everyone to get a taste of high altitude bliss without the physical exertion and danger.

If you take the more recommended route and do it by foot the peak offers a wide array of options.  There are 5 trailhead options each of which will take you on a unique and varying experience.  The most popular route is the Echo Creek Trail and is a 14 mile, class 2 climb with elevation gain of 4,600’.  Campgrounds are readily available near and on the mountain for those wanting to embark on an extended trip.  You can also pair Mt. Evans with Mt. Bierstadt via the sawtooth ridge which is a class 3 climb at points.
Originally, Mt. Evans was known as Mt. Rosa or Mt. Rosalie named for the wife of author, journalist, and explorer Fitz Hugh Ludlow.  Rosalie Osborn was a mere 18 when she married Ludlow and when he died went on to marry his colleague and artist Albert Bierstadt.  Mt. Evans is featured in Bierstadts’ famous painting “Storm in the Rocky Mountains”.  The summit was first climbed by either Judge Lunt of Colorado Springs in 1872 or by Albert Bierstadt in 1863.  The peak was renamed in 1985 by the Colorado legislature after John Evans the second Governor of the Colorado Territory.  A unique feature of this historically significant peak is the presence of the second highest telescope in the world at the University of Denver’s Meyer Womble Observatory. 

15. Longs Peak – 14,255’ – The northernmost and only 14er in Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak is the most popular for climbing in the state.  Due to the great popularity of this peak it is common that you will see up to 100 people at the summit at one time, and it can even be dangerously crowded along the trail.  With its neighbor Mount Meeker they are often referred to as the twin peaks.  The terrain on this peak ranges from smooth and flat to jagged and steep allowing for varying climbs ranging from class 3 to class 5.13!  The east face of the mountain is a 900’ granite cliff known as the diamond, which was first conquered by Dave Rearick and Bob Kamps in 1960.  The relatively late ascent was due to a ban on climbing the diamond by the Park Service from 1954 to 1958.

Longs Peak was most likely used originally by American Indians to collect Eagle feathers, but the first recorded ascent was in 1868 by American icon in exploration and discovery John Wesley Powell.  The peak was named in the 1820’s in honor of Major Stephen Long who is noted for many life achievements including aiding in designs for steam locomotives and exploration of the Great Plains. 

30. Pikes Peak – 14,110’ – Pikes Peak is one of the most famous peaks in Colorado partly due to its relatively lonely presence in the Great Plains, where it sticks out like a sore thumb.  Visually the peak seems to rise higher than many of the higher 14’ers in the state because of it does not have any other high peaks in proximity.  Pikes Peak has the greatest vertical gain of any of the Colorado 14’ers with a staggering 7,400’ from Manitou Springs to the summit.  The trail is a round-trip of about 26 miles which lends to the existence of the Pikes Peak Marathon held every summer in August.  There is also a one-way half marathon called the Pikes Peak ascent also held in August.  Due to these events August is a very busy month for the average hiker, keep this in mind when planning your outing. 

The Manitou Springs route is a class 1 climb; however, due to its length hikers should get an early start or plan on spending the night at either the Barr Cabin or a more primitive camp site.  There is also a road and a railway up to the summit that allow for easy summer access.  Don’t get discouraged on your way up because there are snacks and a souvenir shop at the summit waiting to reward your enormous effort. 

The peaks namesake came in 1806 from Zebulon Pike who’s Pike Expedition is often compared to the Lewis and Clark Expedition with regards to its importance in exploration.  The Pike Expedition is also noted for its help in mapping the southern portion of the Louisiana Purchase.  Pike and his company attempted to summit the 14’er and failed due to the heavy winter snow, which he said was waist high at times.  The summit was reached 14 years later by geologist and botanist Edwin James who on this journey became the first to describe the blue columbine, Colorado’s State Flower.  There was great debate in the following years about after which explorer the peak should be names.  Due to the presence of another James Peak in the area Zebulon Pike eventually won out.  The granite that composes much of the mountain is uniquely pink in character, and is known as Pikes Peak Granite.

38. Mount Bierstadt – 14,060’ – As we have already seen with many of the other Front Range peaks Mt. Bierstadt is relatively easy to access and climb.  From the West Slopes the summit is only a 3 mile hike on a class 1 trail.  Guanella Pass is a popular year round access point that allows for conditioning ascents for climbers, skiers, and snowboarders.  One of the more difficult routes available is the Sawtooth Ridge that connects Mt. Bierstadt with Mt. Evans.

It is likely that Mt. Bierstadt was first climbed by miners in the 1800’s and this thought is supported by the presence of prospecting holes scattered among the trails.  The first on-ski ascent was in 1934 and is thought to be one of the first to have been climbed in this manner.  The peak is named after German-American artist Albert Bierstadt who is noted for painting romantic scenes of the American West in the mid-1800s.

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