Hike Barr Trail to Pikes Peak Summit

Rate this Adventure 12 miles 7400 ft gain  - Point-to-Point Trail

Added by Amy Kesic

Summit a 14er sitting at 14,115 feet. At the summit, you can enjoy a sunrise, a gift shop, and a restaurant to make the adventure complete. Catch a ride down on the cog railway.

Barr Trail is a 12 mile hike that travels the east face of Pikes Peak, from Manitou Springs (6700’) at the base, to the summit (14,115’). Because there are so many factors that can influence anyone’s experience of the trail (weather, fitness level, time of day, preparedness, etc.), and because many good resources are already available online, I’ve decided to write this from a personal perspective rather than a technical one.

Pikes Peak was my 5th 14er of the summer, and I had decided to hike this as part of the Pikes Peak Challenge benefiting the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado. There were about 400 total summit hikers for this cause, making it a fun group hike and opportunity to make new friends.

After checking in at 4:30am, we got into shuttle vans that took us to the trailhead. I was hiking by 4:52 a.m. in the foggy, pitch dark. Using headlamps for light, a string of us headed silently up the trail (no one feels like talking at 5:00 a.m.). I could see in my headlamp that the atmosphere was thick with fog, and in fact it was so humid (and warmer than I’d expected), that I shed my jacket after the first 15 minutes or so. We were passing through the cloud cover. Somewhere around the 1 mile mark, someone said, “Look at the stars.” We’d broken above the clouds, and the sky was inky black with brilliant, clear stars that looked close enough to touch.

I can’t describe the first three miles of the trail because of the darkness, but I absolutely recommend hiking in the dark! This was my first time doing so, but it won’t be my last. Just be sure to hike with a friend or two since predators are most active at night.

Around mile 3, the sun began to rise, and…wow. What an incredible sight above the clouds! I only lament that by then the trees crowded out much of the view. If I were to do it again, I would stay at one of the few clear spots and take the 10 minutes or so to just observe the sunrise. Instead, I kept moving. I did catch a nice alpenglow on Pikes Peak through some aspen, though.

The next six or seven miles are through the forest. This was punctuated only by Barr Camp Barr Camp at the 6.25 mile mark, where we took a much needed bathroom and snack break. By this time, I was starting to “feel” my legs a little, but overall felt really good and energetic. I’d heard about how “this” or “that” part of the trail is the hardest, but frankly, I felt none of it was all that hard.

The most challenging part of the hike began when we (finally!) got above tree line. What was a relatively straight line became a series of switchbacks. Strictly speaking, these last 3 miles toward the summit are not actually very difficult compared to the other 14ers I’d done; the difficulty lies in the fact that I’d already hiked 9+ miles by this point. I was looking forward to breaking the tree line though, for a change of view! Sadly, for wildlife, I saw exactly 1 chipmunk and 2 ravens. “Evidence” of bigger animals was around, though.

Even though much of the horizon was still covered by thick, low-lying clouds, we had a nice view of Lake Moraine and Mt. Garfield to the southeast, and occasionally one of the reservoirs to the north. Higher clouds drifted in and out as well, making for some cool, foggy shrouds over the higher peaks. These last few miles is when it was nice being part of an organized event: the check points became more frequent, and the volunteers and medical personnel waiting there were very encouraging.

Finally we hit the famed 16 Golden Stairs (that is, 16 switchbacks) and made the summit. People were waiting there to shake our hands, take our pictures, and give us medals and most importantly—FOOD! It was a bit emotional, especially with brain injury survivors there to thank us. It’s just an incredible experience and I recommend it to anyone.

What you need to know:
  • To get back to the trailhead, you have three options. 1) Hike back down. 2) Take the cog railway. 3) Have a friend with a car meet you at the top. (My group had shuttle vans.)
  • Is it hard? Depends on your fitness level. Some people (with 4% body fat) were running the entire thing up and down, while others were cramping up pretty badly. I am a half-marathoner and frequent hiker, and I did not think this trail is difficult. I feel my fitness level was the difference between having fun and please-god-let-it-be-over.
  • This route is not as scenic as the Pikes Peak Toll Road (or some other Front Range 14ers). For me, the fun of this trail is in the challenge it presents.
  • Barr Camp is a common turn-around point. And if the weather is severe, TURN AROUND! Never, ever hike in lightning storms or blinding snow. The mountain isn’t going anywhere.
  • Hydrate well, carb load, and rest at least two days before the hike. This will save you on the trail!
  • If you’ve done this trail and have tips to share, leave a comment!
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