Late summer and early fall in the mountains means something different for everyone. For many adventurers, summiting a high mountain peak tops the list. August and September can be the perfect time to get out and hike. The snowpack has melted, leaving clear trails behind. The weather is often perfect with clear blue skies. The elevation keeps high temps at bay, helping hikers beat the heat. Seeing the world from a mountain top is one of the best ways to truly experience Colorado.
Many trekkers set their sights on one of the legendary “14ers” (mountains above 14,000 feet) due to the epic rewards–views from the top of a 14er put basic day hikes to shame. Standing on top of a mountain peak brings an enormous sense of accomplishment and is a rite of passage for locals and visitors alike.
Colorado 13ers–Hidden Gems
Colorado is famously home to 53 peaks considered 14ers. But did you know it’s also home to 637 peaks between 13,000 and 13,999 feet? That’s right–13ers are a thing, too. While these mountains aren’t as famous as their 14er counterparts, they are just as stunning even if they’re just a smidge lower in elevation. You’ll get massive, gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains and the entire valley from the top of a 13er. Once you’re there, you’ll understand why “bagging peaks” is on so many bucket lists. And once you hike a 13er, you’ll understand why local purists often bypass the crazy scene of the local 14ers to experience these lesser known gems.
One huge benefit of 13ers is the lack of crowds. If you’re hiking one of the local 14,000 foot peaks, that summit isn’t just on your list–it’s on everyone else’s, too. But you can get an almost identical experience from a slightly lower peak with less people on the trail by choosing a 13er hike instead. It’s still breathtaking up top with jaw-dropping photo ops. But because 13ers aren’t on everyone’s radar, you’ll ditch the annoying crowds and keep the epic views!
Great Location for Hiking Colorado 13ers
The Sawatch Mountain Range, home to Creekside Chalets, is also home to 15 of Colorado’s 53 14ers and over 100 mountains over 13,000 feet. Wow! This makes Creekside the perfect jumping off point for your peak-bagging adventure. The Sangre de Cristo Range also sits just to the south, putting us right in the middle of the peak bagging action.
So, tie those laces and check out this list of 13ers in close proximity to Creekside Chalets.
At 13,971 feet, Mt. Ouray is the 57th highest peak in the state. This peak is named for Chief Ouray, a leader of the Tabeguache (Uncompahgre) band of the Ute tribe during the mid 19th century. While there are two available routes, one trailhead option is up Poncha Pass, approximately 20 minutes from Creekside Chalets. Ouray is considered to be one of the easier of the summits in Colorado and provides expansive views once you’ve reached the summit. Near the top you’ll also find one of the oldest bristlecone pine forests in Colorado. The cirque on Ouray, dubbed the Devil’s Armchair, gives this mountain a cool, unique view and can be seen from many locations around Salida. You’ll love gazing back up at the peak while you’re downtown and reliving your memories of being right on top!
On May 10, 2017 Chipeta Peak was officially moved from the nearby 12,850 foot subpeak to the previously unnamed 13,472 peak. Chipeta, the wife of famous Ute leader Ouray, holds an impressive place in Colorado history. Hiking Chipeta is a worthy endeavor for any crew looking to summit a peak–it’s an easier hike of about 8 miles from the top of Marshall Pass. The trailhead is close and very easy to access from Creekside Chalets, making it a perfect day trip from the property. If you’re a “peakbagger” (someone looking to get in as many summits as possible), you can also summit nearby Ouray in the same day, a trek that adds about three miles to your day.
Ranking in as the 142nd highest peak in the state, Grizzly sits at 13,708 feet and is in the Sawatch Range. This hike is considered a moderately difficult hike with a stiff uphill climb to the peak. The trailhead to Grizzly is very close to Creekside Chalets–climb13ers.com recommends beginning at the North Fork Campground which is a very convenient 30 minute drive up County Road 240 from the property. (The site does recommend a high clearance vehicle due to road conditions.) Nearby Cronin Peak can be combined with Grizzly if you’re interested in summiting two peaks in a day.
In 2005, the USGS approved a name change of UN (Unnamed Peak) 13,872 to Cronin Peak. The name comes from Mary Cronin, first woman to summit all of Colorado’s 14ers. She completed this in 1934–at the time only the 4th known person to accomplish the task. There are two options for summiting this hike–either from Baldwin Creek trailhead or up the road to Mt. Antero, both of which are about 45 minute drives from Creekside. (Be aware–the Mt. Antero road makes your summit hike quicker but also requires a solid 4-wheel drive vehicle while Baldwin Creek is passable for any vehicle.) It’s possible to summit Cronin Peak and Grizzly Mountain in one day–increasing your peak bagging stats!
The trailhead to 13,575 foot Broken Hand Peak begins at South Colony Lakes Trailhead in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. While the trailhead is further from Creekside Chalets than the previous hikes, the scenic drive south along the Arkansas River is pleasant. Broken Hand is a harder hike than Ouray or Grizzly and is a good option for those who want a more challenging adventure. Regular visitors to this peak rave about the view of the famous Crestone Needle, another well-known landmark in the beautiful Sangre de Cristo range.
Safety Tips for Summiting Peaks
As you consider which peak to summit on your Colorado adventure, remember: while these mountains aren’t quite 14,000 feet, they are not easy strolls. You should still expect a full day of hiking to reach the summit of these high altitude peaks. They require solid physical fitness and a go-getter mindset. Also, whether you’re climbing a 14er, 13er or even heading out for a long excursion, keep these safety tips in mind.
- Research the Route: Choose wisely. Dig into the trail descriptions and make sure this is the right trail for you. Keeping your hiking experience and fitness level in mind not only keeps you safe, it makes your day more enjoyable.
- Check Weather Conditions: Weather changes quickly at high altitudes. Don’t get surprised! Check the forecast before you go and expect the unexpected. Clear blue skies in the morning have fooled more than one experienced hiker–afternoon thunderstorms occur often..
- Start Early: All summiting adventures should begin early in the morning. Afternoon thunderstorms happen more often than you can imagine. Leaving early increases the chance you can summit and complete the hike.
- Pack Essential Gear: Well-fitting hiking shoes are a must–and be sure they are broken in. Wear a comfortable backpack stacked with a hydration pouch or plenty of water bottles and low sugar, high protein snacks. Include a map or GPS, a first aid kit and extra layers of rain gear and warm clothing (temps drop drastically at elevation, even in summer.). If you’re following information from your phone, take screenshots and ensure you have back up chargers. And bring a flashlight, even if you’re not planning to be out after dark.
- Hydrate and Snack Regularly: High altitude hiking leads to quick dehydration and increases the rate of calorie burn. Drink plenty of water and stop for snacks regularly to stay hydrated and energized.
- Acclimatize: High altitudes are no joke. Thinner air with less oxygen makes you hike slower at best and can lead to altitude sickness at worse. Stay hydrated! Understand the symptoms of altitude sickness (headache, nausea, dizziness, fatigue) and be prepared to descend if necessary.
- Hike with a Group: Bring a buddy or hike in a group. There is safety in numbers. If you’re dedicated to going it alone, you should be experienced and extra prepared.
- Respect the environment and wildlife: Staying on the marked trail minimizes the risk of getting lost and helps prevent damage to fragile ecosystems. Wildlife might look cool in a picture, but it’s serious business when you’re in the backcountry. Keep a safe distance. Never feed or approach animals. Practice Leave No Trace principles. Pack out all trash, no matter how small. And remember: Poop happens. Doo Right Colorado can help you plan. Poop jokes may be funny, but leaving it behind on the trail surely isn’t.
- Notify Someone: Share your hiking plans with at least one friend or family member. Include trailhead locations and estimated return time.
- Know your local Search and Rescue info: While no one ever wants to use it, Search and Rescue saves lives. Research the hike and know which agency to call if you get into an emergency. The local S&R from Creekside Chalets is Chaffee County North, but check your trailhead location to be sure.
- Revel in the experience: Hiking any peak is an accomplishment! Stop for breaks, appreciate the view and pat yourself on the back a bit. You’re doing it!
In the end, whether you choose to hike a 14er, 13er or just walk around the shops downtown, you’ll love coming home to a Creekside Chalet after a long day. Soak in the hot tub, listen to the creek and revel in your well-earned memories. It could just be the best thing you do for yourself all year! Book online or give us a call. We can’t wait to see you!