By Kim Fuller Published in the Denver Post & Elevation Outdoors
Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks always receive all of the attention, but some of the state’s shorter summits are equally beautiful, often less crowded and can even be more challenging than more popular 14ers.
“The less popular, non-14ers offer solitude — in most cases — and showcase viewpoints, geology and wildlife often not seen from high-traffic peaks,” said James Dziezynski, author of “Best Summit Hikes in Colorado.”
Dziezynski has a new book out this summer that covers all the summit hikes along Interstate 70 between Denver and Vail. Take a look at six of Dziezynski’s favorite non-14er peaks:
Summit elevation: 12,966 feet.
Take Prince Creek Road off of Highway 133 out of Carbondale for about 8 miles to the Thomas Lakes trailhead at Dinkle Lake. Dziezynski said the talus fields at the base make for fun boulder hopping, and when you gain the ridges, the alluvial fans below look like flowing rivers of rock.
“The twin summits are a nice touch,” he said of Sopris, “and the traverse between them is one of the most beautifully crafted natural lines in the Rockies.”
Difficulty: The Thomas Lakes route is rated class 1. It’s 12.6 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 4,600 feet.
Overnight and post-hike: Carbondale is the closest town, with inns and motels, or you can camp around Thomas Lakes at the foot of the mountain. Carbondale offers many good restaurants along Main Street.
Summit elevation: 13,220 feet.
A well-established trail from Dry Gulch trailhead (off of Loveland Pass exit 216 on I-70) leads the first half of the hike and then opens up to a ridgeline leading toward the peak. After a stroll across the high tundra, a steep hill climbs to the false summit, and Dziezynski said an “easy bit thrilling” scramble takes hikers to the true summit. Most of the trail is exposed above treeline, so start early.
Difficulty: The Dry Gulch route is rated class 3. It’s 7.15 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 2,800 feet.
Overnight and post-hike: The trailhead is right off the highway, making the drive an easy day trip from Denver. Camping at Dry Gulch is also an option. On the eastbound journey back home, stop at the new Westbound & Down Brewery in Idaho Springs.
Summit elevation: 13,077 feet.
From the Fall Creek trailhead (south of Minturn and 5 miles up Tigiwon Road No. 707), hike 2.5 miles until a junction with the Notch Mountain Trail. Take the right fork and climb steadily past timberline to the Notch Mountain Shelter. Dziezynski shared how a lot of people get lost navigating this area, so make sure you are confident in your route-finding skills before setting out.
Difficulty: The Fall Creek route is rated class 2+. It’s 9.5 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 3,480 feet.
Overnight and post-hike: Hikers can stay at Minturn’s new hostel, The Bunkhouse, or camp off of Tigiwon Road. For post-hike beers and barbecue, stop at Kirby Cosmo’s right on Main Street, and then across the street at Zibby’s Ice Cream.
GRIZZLY PEAK A
Summit elevation: 13,988 feet.
As the highest 13er in Colorado, Grizzly Peak A is in the Sawatch Range at the head of McNasser Gulch. Start at the McNasser Gulch trailhead on South Fork Lake Creek Road (off of Independence Pass). Walk up a gravel road for the beginning, then on open, gentle talus rock, then up a steep, 800-foot scramble to the saddle, then another half mile to the summit. Add in the neighboring Garfield Peak with a class 2+ traverse.
Difficulty: The McNasser Gulch trailhead route is rated class 2+. It’s 8 miles round trip with about 3,200 feet elevation gain.
Overnight and post-hike: Camp at the trailhead (avoid the private property areas by the road), and stop in Leadville at High Mountain Pies for pizza.
Summit elevation: 12,180 feet.
Northwest of Steamboat Springs, the Slovania trailhead sits at the helm of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness. Dziezynski said the area gets more moisture than many other mountain areas in Colorado, and as a result, the entire route up Mount Zirkel is “greener and more decorated with wildflowers than most other alpine areas.” The long hike, 17 miles, can be broken up into an overnight to make it more manageable.
Difficulty: The Slovenia Basin route is rated class 2. It’s 17.2 miles round trip with about 3,800 feet elevation gain.
Overnight and post-hike: Stay in one of the campgrounds along Seedhouse Road on the way to the trailhead, or camp along Slovenia Basin. Apres-hike, drive to Steamboat Springs for food and drinks at The Rusted Porch.
Summit elevation: 13,849 feet.
This hike in the Sangre de Cristo Range can be accessed from the Lower or Upper Huerfano trailheads. The walk-up routes have views of the Sierra Blanca Massif summits. Dziezynski said the long, rolling ridges are perfect for a steady climb, without major exposure, offering “the hard work and rewards of a 14er, minus the crowds.”
Difficulty: The Lower and Upper Huerfano routes are rated class 2. They are 8.4 miles or 10.6 miles round trip, respectively, with both routes a little over 4,000 feet elevation gain.
Overnight and post-hike: Stay or stop in Westcliffe, a town at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Check out happy hour from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Westcliffe Wine Mine.