Top 25 Classic Colorado Mountains

Top 25 Classic Colorado Mountains

Page Type: List


This list is somewhat arbitrary. Everyone would likely have a slightly different version. I have tried to judge a mountain’s “classic-ness” based on a variety of factors: stature, mountaineering quality, fame (often for non-mountaineering reasons), popularity, route variety, scenery, and others. The difficulty in ranking peaks based on these factors is tremendous. Do you weigh scenery over stature? Reputation over variety? Jagged Peak, for example, appears on this list because of its remote location, its supreme beauty, and the difficulty of its easiest route (reputation). Quandary, on the other hand, makes an appearance because of it accessibility, it popularity, and the variety of routes of mixed difficulty that it boasts. I have not yet climbed all of these mountains, and have gleaned what I can from the existing literature as well as with discussions with climbers who have climbed these wonderful mountains. Take this list for what it is. I have also included a brief explanation for why I have included each mountain and ranked it where I have. Feel free to comment or suggest changes. I am sure that not everyone will agree with this list or how it is ordered. I am always willing to listen to someone’s case to change these rankings.

The Top 25 List

#1- Longs Peak (14,255’)
This seems like the obvious choice for a number of reasons. Longs Peak is the most popular peak in Colorado. It boasts a variety of routes, possibly the most of any fourteener. It also has a large concentration of technical routes such as Kiener’s, the North Face, Keyhole Ridge, the Casual Route, and many others. The Keyhole Route, which is the standard and easiest way to climb Longs, is long, treacherous, exposed, and dangerous, solidifying Longs’ reputation in the mountaineering world. In creating this list, making Longs Peak number one was this was the easiest choice.

#2- Mount Elbert (14,433’)
As Colorado’s tallest mountain, Elbert deserves the number 2 ranking. While it can't compete with Longs’ variety of routes (especially technical ones), Elbert is the highest point in the American Rockies. It is a beautiful and accessible peak that can be climbed by virtually anyone with a can-do attitude. Its height and reputation place Mt. Elbert here right near the top of Colorado’s Classic Mountains

#3- Maroon Bells (14,156’)
For the sake of this list, I have grouped Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak together. This seemed natural to me for several reasons. First of all, most classic views of this massif include both peaks. Secondly, although North Maroon makes most 14er lists, it does not meet accepted local standards that define a “mountain”. It is actually only a sub-peak of Maroon Peak behind it. From Maroon Lake, however, it is North Maroon that steals the show. From there it appears the taller and more magnificent of the pair.
The Maroon Bells deserve this spot high on the list because of several factors: they are probably the most photographed mountains in all of Colorado perhaps even North America. They offer a variety of classic routes, all of which are difficult and dangerous rating no lower than YDS third class. The Bells have attracted an inordinate amount of carnage over the years and have been dubbed “The Deadly Bells”. All of these things make these two of Colorado’s most “classic” Mountains.

#4-Crestone Peak (14,294’)
After Longs and Elbert, ordering this list becomes more challenging, but I feel Crestone Peak is worthy of this high of a ranking. Crestone Peak is one of Colorado’s most rugged and picturesque mountains. It is a challenging climb by any route, and made up of some of Colorado’s best rock. “The Peak”, also scores points for being so far from major population centers. You will have less crowding here than on Front Range mountains.

#5- Capitol Peak (14,130’)
Sometimes people claim that the infamy of Capitol Peak and the famous Knife Ridge is overstated. Even if that is so, Capitol Peak is still worthy of this high ranking. Capitol is a remote mountain with a somewhat lengthy approach that brings you into some of Colorado’s most beautiful wilderness. Capitol’s debatable reputation as Colorado’s most difficult 14er is, like it or not, well established. Even many non-climbers have heard of Capitol and the Knife Edge. Besides Longs Peak’s Diamond, the Knife Edge is probably the most famous single mountaineering feature on any of Colorado’s 14ers.

#6- Mount of the Holy Cross (14,005’)
Holy Cross boasts one of the most famous features on any fourteener: the cross that forms in snow on the north face. Much has been made of this feature and deservingly so. Holy Cross’s fame transcends mountaineering. Even without the crucifix, Holy Cross is a dramatic and beautiful mountain. Lake Patricia and the Bowl of Tears are two personal favorites. The entire Holy Cross Wilderness, in fact, is very special to me. It represents Colorado well.

#7- Mount Massive (14,421’)
Mount Massive is massive in more ways than one. It is a huge, seven-summited massif, more of a sub-range than a singular peak. It is the second highest point in Colorado. It has a large variety of routes, none exceeding class 3. It has more area above 14,000’ than any other mountain in the Lower 48.

#8- Mt. Sneffels (14,150’)
It seems crazy to me I couldn’t place a San Juan 14er higher than 8, it is my favorite Colorado Range. The thing about the San Juans, however, is that there is no supreme monarch as there is in other ranges. The San Juans are a range of secrets. These wilderness peaks almost have a reputation as a whole instead of as any individual. I think you will find, however, that despite the San Juans’ late appearance in my list that they are well represented as a range in total.
If any San Juan 14er is more distinguished than the others it is probably Mt. Sneffels. This is largely due to the famous vantages of Sneffels spectacular North Face. This dramatic aspect of the mountain is visible for many miles, almost as far as Grand Junction. Sneffles also offers a variety of routes including a class 2 route (or 2+), several excellent class 3 scrambles, and technical class 5 routes on the gigantic north face. Sneffels is also probably the most frequently climbed San Juan 14er.

#9- Blanca Peak (14,345’)
Blanca Peak is the highest mountain in Colorado outside of the Sawatch Range, yet none of the three mountains higher boast any technical climbing routes and Blanca offers several. On the other hand, there is also a class 2 route to Blanca’s summit. Blanca Peak is also known as The Sacred Mountain of the East to the Navajo Nation. It is considered the eastern boundary of their traditional homeland. Blanca anchors the Sangre De Cristos, perhaps Colorado’s most dramatic mountain range, and therefore deserves it place in the top 20.

#10-Jagged Peak (13,824’)
Jagged Peak is the first thirteener to appear on my list. If Jagged’s summit was above the magical 14,000’ mark, it would probably be near the top. Jagged deserves to be in the top 10 because it very well might be Colorado’s best mountain. Deep in the Weminuche Wilderness, Jagged Peak is the most remote mountain in Colorado top 100 (Jagged ranks 94). It is one of only 3 mountains in that top 100 list that require class 5 moves to reach the summit. Jagged Peak requires a multi-day approach. And frankly, Jagged is in one of the most beautiful spots in the San Juan Range, which in the opinion of many is Colorado’s finest.

#11- Pikes Peak (14,110’)
Pikes Peak rounds makes the list mostly because of its fame rather than its mountaineering, though it does offer some surprisingly quality routes. Pikes Peak is a Colorado icon whose stature extends far beyond mountaineering. A cog-railway brings people of all sorts to the summit. It also has road all the way to the top. Famously, “America the Beautiful” was written on Pikes. Pikes Peak strikes out, however, for many of the same reasons. The development on the summit of Pikes is somewhat anti-climatic after a long climb. You may find yourself feeling like you climbed and climbed and never did reach the top. It is a different sort of summit experience. Enjoy your hot coffee and freshly made donuts!

#12- Sunlight Peak (14,059’)
Sunlight Peak makes the top 20 for two crucial reasons. First is its prime location. As with Jagged Peak earlier, Sunlight’s location deep in the heart of the San Juan’s most rugged wilderness counts highly in Sunlight Peak’s favor. The Chicago Basin is an amazing place. Secondly, Sunlight’s infamous summit block is one of the most memorable climbing features on any Colorado 14er.

#13- Snowmass Mountain (14,092’)
Snowmass Mountain is a gorgeous peak. It has many moods and faces. Its two-pronged summit is visible from many high peaks in the Sawatch and Mosquito Ranges and remains capped with snow often longer than any other. Snowmass also offers a variety of routes. The standard route from Snowmass Lake to the east is one of my Colorado favorites. Snowmass Mountain can also be climbed from Geneva Lake on the west where it presents a steeper, more dramatic face. Snowmass Mountain is a great, moderate snow climb. I pity people who do this mountain in only one day; it takes more time to fully appreciate this amazing place.

#14- Crestone Needle (14,197’)
Crestone Peak makes the list for many of the same reasons as Crestone Peak. In addition, Steve Roper and Allen Steck included the Ellingwood Arete route in their famous book Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.

#15-Grays & Torreys (14,270’)
Grays and Torreys make the list as a pair. They are classic because of their accessibility, the relative ease of attaining both of their summits in a day, the variety of routes available (including the classic class 3 scramble Kelso Ridge), and their popularity. They are also the only two fourteeners on the Continental Divide. Grays Peak, in fact, is the high point of the Continental Divide within the United States. I know many hikers who have only climbed Grays and Torreys and no other fourteeners.

#16- Little Bear (14,037’)
Litter Bear scores high for being in the dramatic Sangre De Cristo Range and for being one of only six 14ers that requires class 4 moves to reach the summit. The “hourglass” gully on the standard West Ridge route is notorious as one of the hardest spots on the standard route of any fourteener. Indeed, the hourglass is the spot I fear more than any other. Several people have died here from falling rock or crumbling footholds. This reputation both counts for and against Little Bear and that is why it appears in this position in my list.

#17- Mt. Meeker (13,911’)
Mt. Meeker is a continuation of Longs and for that reason alone deserves to be the second thirteener to appear on my list. Meeker has so much to offer: several technical rock and snow routes, a variety of easier routes, and a crux summit block that is exposed and exciting.

#18- Pyramid Peak (14,018’)
Pyramid is not as well known as its sister mountains the Maroon Bells, but it still is a formidable peak. The standard route is short and less complicated than Maroon Peak but requires class 4 climbing and is very exposed. As with the Bells, Pyramid consists of horrible rock and is a dangerous climb. The Elk Range, however, is amazing, and the area around Pyramid and the Maroon Bells is one of Colorado’s most famous and most photographed.

#19- Mt. Wilson (14,246’)
Mt. Wilson is a massive and impressive mountain. It anchors an impressive alpine massif that includes fourteeners Mt. Wilson, Wilson Peak, El Diente, and thirteener Gladstone Peak. It is one of six Colorado fourteeners that requires class 4 climbing to reach the summit by the easiest route. It is also the second highest peak in the San Juans.

#20- Vestal Peak (13,864’)
Vestal Peak deserves to be the third thirteener because of two primary reasons: its location in the most dramatic sub-range in the largest wilderness area in the best mountain range in Colorado, and Wham Ridge, one of Colorado best technical, alpine climbs. The Grenadiers are some of Colorado’s most interesting peaks, and Vestal anchors them with pride.

#21-Quandary Peak (14,265’)
Quandary Peak is one of Colorado’s easiest and most popular 14ers. Yet it also offers alternate class 3 and even class 5 routes. It is a popular winter climb and is easily accessed off I-70 and Highway 9.

#22-Wetterhorn (14,015’)
People might criticize choosing Wetterhorn over its considerably taller neighbor Uncompahgre, but Wetterhorn is simply a much more fun mountain to climb. Its standard route is exposed and class 3, and in my opinion, one of the best class 3 scrambles on a Colorado fourteener. The San Juan location, even if it is near the range’s northern end, also adds to its appeal.

#23-Dallas Peak (13,809’)
Dallas Peak makes the list as the fourth and last thirteener for one main reason: it is, by the easiest route, the most difficult peak in Colorado’s top 100 and 500. Gerry Roach claimed that Dallas “feels like a displaced test peak from the Canadian Rockies”. The difficulty of Dallas and its location in the San Juan Range make it one of Colorado’s Top 25 Classic mountains.

#24-Harvard (14,420’)
As the third highest mountain in the state, Harvard gets considerable attention. Rightfully so, it is a majestic and impressive peak. The Harvard-Columbia traverse, though strenuous, is one of the hardest mountaineering routes in the Sawatch Range.

#25-Princeton (14,197’)
Mt. Princeton towers over Buena Vista. It is one of Colorado’s most prominent and powerful peaks. The views of Princeton are classic and stunning. Princeton is kept from being higher on the list, however, because of its lack of mountaineering variety and the low quality of its standard route, which is mostly on a road and in broken scree.

Honorable Mentions:

Uncompahgre Peak (14,309’)
Mt. Evans (14,264’)
Mt. Shavano (14,229’)
Grizzly Peak (13,988’)
Stewart Peak (13,983’)