Mt. Bierstadt, located in Clear Creek County, Colorado, is one of fifty-three fourteeners in the state. It’s less than a two-hour drive from both Boulder and Denver, making it an easy day trip. If you’re looking for a challenging but doable hike, this is it.
During the summer and early fall, the talk of the town in Boulder, or Denver, or pretty much anywhere in the area, is how many fourteeners have you hiked? Once you break the proverbial “hiking” ice and climb your first fourteener it’s hard not to be lured in by the glory and challenge that is your second, twelfth, or even twentieth fourteener.
A fourteener is a mountain that gets its name by having a peak at an altitude of over 14,000 feet. They can range in their degree of difficulty and the number of all-too-frightening sheer rock faces. Though in comparison to its sister fourteeners, Mt. Bierstadt is relatively mild. Its peak sits at 14,060 feet and the trail gains just over 2,300 feet over the course of three miles when hiking along the Guanella Pass route.
We set out for the mountain on a Saturday in early fall, waking up before the crack of dawn. We had sandwiches, lots of water, and plenty of layers packed, arriving at the parking lot in front of the mountain by 6am.
The parking lot of a trail like this one is one of the most exciting places you can be at 6am. The sun has just risen. The light is catching the grassy meadow in front of the mountain cast in shadow at just the right angle.
There are usually only a handful of fellow hikers in the parking lot at that time of morning, especially if you go in the early fall. Without the slightest effort you are already part of “a group”, exchanging jokes and trading hiking stories while putting on your hiking boots and gloves. The excitement is palpable. As you continue along the trail you pass hikers going down, some going up, and some taking a break and a sip of water. Words of encouragement fly in all directions.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even do more than one in a day. Mt. Bierstadt sits next to its fellow fourteener, Mt. Evans. If you start early enough you can continue along the trail past Mt. Bierstadt and reach the peak of Mt. Evans, killing two birds with one hike.
Be sure to get there early. It is important to reach the peak and be on your way down by noon to avoid the potential threat of afternoon thunderstorms. The top of a 14,000 ft rocky peak and carrying metal hiking sticks is probably not one of the places you want to find yourself in the middle of a thunderstorm.
Be sure to bring plenty of layers and water. Some good quality hiking boots will serve you well, along with something to cover your ears, head, and hands. It can get pretty cold up there. While challenging (that’s the fun in it, right?), the hike is certainly doable. Just keep in mind its always best to be well prepared.
One little tip: bring some extra Tylenol or Advil with you. If you start to struggle with the altitude, it may help to increase blood flow. Considering you will be climbing over 2,300 feet to a peak of over 14,000 feet you will most likely feel the impact of the altitude. So give yourself plenty of time and go at the pace that is right for you.
It took us about 3 ½ hours to reach the summit. We arrived at the top around 9:30am, ate a few sandwiches (we certainly had earned it), took a few photos, and celebrated with our fellow hikers on the trail (some of which were the adorable, small furry kind).
We took our time on the way down and arrived back at the parking lot before noon. If you’re not too tired by the time you hit the car (and can handle being on the road heading not exactly straight for your warm comfy couch at home), stop by Georgetown, a small mountain town on the way back. There is a nice main street filled with shops and cafes. Here you can make a pitstop and grab a cup of coffee as you check out the town.
So here’s my suggestion to you. Go for it. You can do a fourteener. It is tough, but you can do it. Mt. Bierstadt is the perfect beginner version, and unlike some of the other fourteeners, you don’t even have to start the hike before sunup. You can bask in the gloriousness of the sunrise and the fresh morning air on your face. Oh, and you don’t have to worry, there are no sheer rock faces on this hike.
What: Mt. Bierstadt, your first fourteener
Where: Outside of Georgetown, Colorado
When To Go: Mid summer to early fall
Time It Takes: This is an all day affair. Don’t make plans for the evening unless it includes someone else making dinner.
What to Bring: Lots of layers, hats and gloves, water, hiking boots, snacks and/or sandwiches, Tylenol or Advil, some pump-up music for the car (and of course celebratory music for the ride home!)
What Else to Know:
- Always keep in mind the altitude, and be off the peak by noon.
- Stop for a coffee in Georgetown, CO on your way home.