Three Winter 14ers For Your Bucket List

By: Amy Kesic

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Just because winter is in full swing, doesn’t mean you have to stop bagging peaks. A little snow, wind, or cold never deters a true Colorado Outbounder. With a little extra preparation, the challenge of a winter 14er can be just as fun as a summer one — if not more. In fact, if these easier peaks are still on your bucket list, save them for the winter for a little change of perspective. Climbing these mountains through the pristine wonderland of snow is a rewarding experience!

Caution: 14ers are unforgiving in any weather condition, but never more so than in the winter. Be doubly prepared and be sure to do thorough research before attempting any of these hikes.

Quandary Peak (14,265’)

  • Length: 7 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 3450 feet
  • Difficulty: Class 1

Because of its ease of access, this is perhaps the most popular winter 14er in Colorado. It doesn’t take a mountaineer to scale this simple beauty, just physical fitness and some determination. The trailhead is located just south of Breckenridge off of Hwy 9. There is winter parking near the trailhead plus the fact that it’s a Class 1 mountain with low avalanche risk and it's no wonder winter hikers flock to this locale. The first half of the hike winds through a lush forest but soon enough you’re above the tree line and enjoying the views of the gorgeous Tenmile and Mosquito Ranges. A couple of false summits make natural resting areas — despite its straightforward ascent, it’s a steep one. Mountain goat sightings are very common on Quandary, even in the winter. Keep your eyes peeled and you may get lucky!

Inside Tip: This peak is especially attractive to backcountry skiers. The intermediate descent has you dropping nearly 3500 exhilarating feet.

Mt. Bierstadt (14,060’)

  • Length: 11 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 3250 feet
  • Difficulty: Class 2

In the summer, the foot traffic up the very popular Mt. Bierstadt can be like conga line. If that’s not your style, try hiking it in the winter instead. Because Guanella Pass is closed during the winter, you are forced to park near the Silver Dollar Lake Trailhead, which adds roughly two miles and 400’ in either direction to the hike. This fact alone weeds out the more casual hikers. If you are up for the mileage, this is a hike to remember. Known for its scenic qualities, Guanella Pass is an Outbounder’s treasure. At the trailhead, you’ll cross the valley floor and then begin your ascent, with the picturesque Torreys and Grays Peaks in your view to the west. At the top, you’ll see the neighboring Mt. Evans to the east, not to mention the breathtaking views of the entire Front Range.

Inside Tip: Take your snowshoes for “just in case,” but don’t be afraid to stash them in a snowbank once you’re above the tree line. It’s always best to be fully prepared, but if it becomes clear that snowshoes aren’t necessary, no need to haul them up the mountain!

Mt. Democrat (14,148’)

  • Length: 7 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 3100 feet
  • Difficulty: Class 2

Much of the allure of Mt. Democrat comes from the fact that you can summit four 14ers in one hike. If that’s a bit more than you bargain for, however, doing Mt. Democrat solo makes for a classic winter 14er. Like Mt. Bierstadt, the trailhead to Mt. Democrat is accessed by a road that is closed in the winter. You’ll have to park at the closure and hoof it to Kite Lake, adding about 3 miles to the trip. The distance from Kite Lake to the summit is short, but steep, so take your time and rest as necessary. Take the time to appreciate the beautiful Mosquito Range and the surrounding peaks, including Quandary, Grays and Torreys. Descend from the saddle between Democrat and Cameron, back to Kite Lake. Snowshoes are recommended in the lower elevations.

Inside Tip: If you’re determined to do Decalibron (Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross), keep in mind that the descent from Bross, tricky even in summer, is precarious; use extreme caution.

Bonus: Grays Peak (14,270’)

Another peak that’s accessed by a closed road in winter, this is a good hike only if you’re up to adding 6 miles to your trip, for a total of 14 miles. I recommend camping at the trailhead overnight. If you are not deterred by the distance, this Class 1 hike is a great option for those who want an adventure close to Denver, particularly if you’re going to ski down.

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.