Besides craft beer and backcountry skiing, Colorado is well-known for its abundance of breathtaking hiking opportunities. The Centennial State draws people in with the dazzling views and adventure travel opportunities of the Rocky Mountains. Within Colorado state lines, there are 58 fourteeners (mountain peaks with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet). Summiting a fourteener is a bucket list item for Coloradans and visitors alike. And maybe it’s on your list, too?
What if we told you that you can knock two fourteeners off your list in a single day? An avid hiker can summit Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt in one day! This challenging mountain adventure is only a 45-minute drive from Denver. All you need to know is a little about each peak, how to get there, and how to prepare for this epic hike.
Mount Evans is between Evergreen, Colorado, and Idaho Springs, Colorado. By taking Highway 103 to Echo Lake and turning onto Highway 5, visitors of Mount Evans can travel the highest paved road in North America right to the summit of Mount Evans. Chances are good that you’ll spot mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and an abundance of wildflowers along the way.
Mount Evans ranks as the 14th highest fourteener in the state and is a favorite destination for fourteener enthusiasts. This is because of the extremely well-marked trail signs that keep hikers on track, preventing them from getting lost. For an easier hike, the trail starting at Summit Lake only takes an altitude-adjusted climber about 20 minutes. For a more challenging hike, the Chicago Lakes trail extends the hike by 10 miles out and back. While more difficult and more time-consuming, the Chicago Lakes trail passes two alpine lakes, massive cliff walls, and expansive meadows. It can be quite entertaining when you hike the Chicago Lakes trail and pass the folks who drove to the summit; you get the satisfaction of knowing how absolutely worth it the extra effort really was. If you are up for the physical challenge, hiking Mount Evans is the way to go.
Just barely grazing above the 14,000-foot mark, Mount Bierstadt sits at 14,065 feet in elevation. Further west from Denver than Mount Evans and up the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway above Georgetown, Colorado, Mount Bierstadt is arguably the easiest fourteener to climb in the state. Not only does the trailhead start at around the 11,600-foot mark, the trail is also clearly marked and tracked. The hike starts out with a well-maintained wooden footbridge that takes hikers through a marsh, past Deadman’s Lake, and into gorgeous alpine surroundings.
After the wooden bridge ends and you cross the small creek, the hike kicks into a higher gear. Just because it’s easy in fourteener terms doesn’t mean this hike is a walk in the park!
Thick shrubbery coats the trail for quite some time with an increasing incline for a good portion of the hike. Once the trail is cleared of this shrubbery, hikers find themselves above the treeline. This is where it’s important that you are well adjusted to the altitude, have plenty of sunscreen, water, and food to sustain your energy.
The rest of the hike is 100% exposed to the Colorado sun with no form of shade in sight, so dress accordingly. A few hundred feet below the summit, the climbing becomes Class 2; hikers must traverse boulders and extreme winds to reach the top. The views from the top are absolutely incredible. You’ll see Greys and Torreys, another “Two for one” fourteener expedition, just off to the side of Bierstadt.
How To Get To the Trailheads
You can start from either fourteener’s trailheads in order to summit them both in one day.
Option 1: Start with Mount Evans
Coming from Denver, take Interstate 70 to Idaho Springs. At Exit 240, take a left which will put you on Highway 103. You’ll take Highway 103 for several miles until you reach Echo Lake. Pass Echo Lake and take a right onto Highway 5. Highway 5 will end at the trailhead. Parking at Echo Lake instead will get you to the Chicago Lakes trailhead if you want a more strenuous climb.
Option 2: Start with Mount Bierstadt
If you want to start out on Mount Bierstadt, you’ll also take Interstate 70 but instead of turning off at Idaho Springs, you’ll instead turn off at the town of Georgetown. By using the Guanella Pass Road signs to navigate through the small town of Georgetown, you’ll reach Guanella Pass Road. A ten-mile drive up this paved highway will take you right to the Guanella Pass Summit. You can’t miss the sign or the two parking lots just off to the side of the highway. Park at either lot and right where the first parking lot restrooms are located is where you will find the trailhead.
How To Climb Both in One Day
No matter which mountain you decide to summit first, the route that connects Mount Bierstadt to Mount Evans is the same. It’s known as ‘The Sawtooth’; a jagged arête joining Mount Bierstadt to Mount Evans in the front range of central Colorado. The three points resemble the teeth of a saw. Please keep in mind that traversing ‘The Sawtooth’ requires Class 3 climbing skills. It’s a slow-going climb that is demanding, so pack light but dress appropriately. Weather on this ridge can change dramatically and without a notice, and wind conditions can elevate the potential dangers as well.
Cairns can be found along the entire route, keeping you on track and providing more focus for the task at hand. As long as you are confident in your climbing capabilities and are properly prepared for the challenge, ‘The Sawtooth’ is a direct route from one peak to the other and can make for an incredible experience to write home about. As always, respect other climbers and plan well to avoid preventable setbacks such as hydrating properly, sustaining energy levels, and postponing the climb to another day if weather conditions are questionable.
Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt are popular climbs amongst the Colorado community, so you can expect them to have slightly higher traffic than climbs that begin at lower elevations. But, note that ‘The Sawtooth’ is not recommended for beginners, so you can expect fewer people if you are prepared to do this two-in-one-day challenge. You can also expect some of the best views Colorado has to offer and complete the expedition with bragging rights that you climbed two Colorado fourteeners in one day!
The Best Hiking Trips Are Closer Than You Think
Colorado offers some of the best hiking trips in the United States. Getting a few fourteeners under your belt is a must for avid hikers and adventuresses, and Colorado is the perfect place to do it. But beware: after you get one (or two!) fourteeners in, you probably won’t be able to stop! It’s challenging and rewarding; physically and mentally. The air is a little thinner up there, and scree fields can be dangerous. So make sure to drink lots of water, pack protein-rich snacks, and take a friend.
If you can’t get enough of Colorado’s stunning peaks, check out Hiking Colorado. We summit Deer Mountain, a beautiful loop off of Trail Ridge Road. The trail passes through what is known as a Montane ecosystem. This zone has the richest diversity of plant and animal life in Rocky Mountain National Park. We also hike Trail Ridge Road - the highest continuous paved road in the United States, reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet. If reaching new altitudes is your goal, this is the trip for you.
Want to look for more hiking trips? Click here to find the best hiking adventure for you!
Thank you to Kyle Rutton with Visit Georgetown, Colorado for writing this blog for us. If you’re looking for places to stay, food to try, and things to do in and around Georgetown, check out their website.