There are 53 14ers in Colorado (some say 58, depending on how it’s measured), and every single one involves significant elevation gain and the potential to encounter dangerous weather hazards such as thunderstorms, snow (even in the summer), and highly unstable terrain. Asking which peaks are the easiest is hard to answer because any mountain that takes you to over 14,000 ft will be a challenging physical endeavor. That said, we’ll admit there’s nothing quite like standing on the summit of a Colorado 14er, surrounded by panoramic views of breathtaking beauty.
The eight 14ers close to Aspen are North Maroon, Maroon, Pyramid, Capitol, Castle, Conundrum, Snowmass, and La Plata. The further you drive from Aspen, the more 14ers you’ll be able to access. Hiking a 14er close to Aspen is an achievable challenge, but because a number of the closest 14ers are extremely difficult and even dangerous (the crumbling rock atop the Maroon Bells isn’t for the faint of heart), we’ll also recommend a few 14ers that require a slightly longer drive from town.
Hiking a 14er in Colorado
Colorado’s 14ers are rated by class; classes range in difficulty from Class 1 (straightforward day hikes without special equipment requirements) to Class 4 (longer climbs, or climbs requiring technical gear such as ropes and harnesses). Most Colorado 14ers are considered Class 2, so you can expect some scrambling here and there.
While terrain challenges determine the class rating of a 14er, the distance of a hike also matters when you’re choosing a 14er to attack. Some Class 1 hikes are easy but incredibly long (Pikes Peak is 24 miles of round trip hiking), meaning they may be more difficult, especially for those who are unfit or non-acclimated to altitude.
Colorado 14er Difficulty Ratings
• Class 1: A standard walk or hike on a trail.
• Class 2: May require some off-trail hiking or hiking over talus or scree. May involve easy rock scrambling.
• Class 3: Prepare for significant rock scrambling, as well as more hiking off-trail.
• Class 4: Technical climbing skills may come in helpful for steep, exposed terrain. Ropes and/or harnesses may be helpful.
• Class 5: Technical rock climbing gear and additional safety precautions are necessary. Deadly exposure risks can be expected.
Hiking a 14er Near Aspen
Aspen is nestled near the Elk Mountains, close to eight of the 14ers; however, the 14ers near Aspen are also some of the most dangerous due to ample loose, rotten rock along objectively difficult routes. In fact, these collectively could be considered the hardest to climb in the state. We suggest waiting to climb the eight 14ers closest to Aspen until you have built up your 14er experience and until you've acquired technical climbing skills.
There are, however, several doable 14ers near (if not nearest to) Aspen that you may want to attempt.
Hiking Mount Massive
Mount Massive has more area sitting above 14,000 feet than any other mountain in the lower 48 states. To begin the 7.4-mile hike up Mount Massive (the second tallest 14er in the state), you’ll drive about an hour and 40 minutes (60 miles) from Aspen towards Leadville, and head up the East Slopes trail. The trail is easy to follow, and while you’ll get quite the workout while ascending 4,500 feet, most hikers find the effort manageable. It’s a great choice for an introductory 14er relatively near the Aspen area.
The East Slopes trail is the standard route to the summit. A long hike through the forest leads you to a gentle ascent up the East Ridge. You’ll eventually need to pick your way through some talus fields before reaching the summit. Mt. Massive has four distinct summits which rise above 14,000 feet, and this route allows you to summit three of them while also enjoying the exposure of a mile-long ridge above 14,000 feet.
The shorter Southwest Slopes route is just 6.5 miles one-way and requires 600 feet less elevation gain, but this route is more difficult: there’s much steeper terrain and a more difficult-to-find trail, which is why we don’t recommend it as an “easy” 14er route.
Hiking Mount Elbert
Mount Elbert is Colorado’s tallest summit, and it’s also the tallest mountain in the Rockies. It’s a 9–11 mile round trip, Class 1 hike along a well-defined trail, so it tends to be popular and well-trafficked. This is another 14er that requires a decent drive from Aspen to summit; you’ll drive a little over an hour over Independence Pass towards Twin Lakes to get to the trailhead.
You can shave 4 miles (and 800 vertical feet) off the approach if your vehicle can make it up a moderate 4WD road to the upper trailhead. We recommend the gentle East Ridge Route up Mount Elbert because it’s both straightforward and easily attainable.
Hiking Missouri Mountain
Missouri Mountain is a third doable 14er that’s easily driveable from Aspen — you’ll again head south along Independence Pass towards Leadville. You’ll begin at Missouri Gulch and top out at 14,067 feet, to experience one of the most dramatic peaks around.
This 14er is considered to be an intermediate hike, as you’ll cover 5–6 miles and gain 4,500 vertical feet from the trailhead to the summit while ascending through Missouri Gulch. We estimate about eight hours to complete the round trip hike; it’s a long but enjoyable day trip.
As you near the summit, you’ll want to take your time and be especially careful. The final tenth of a mile requires careful handholds and footing as you drop 20 feet off the ridge through a small chimney. Use hiking poles if you can, hug the wall, and make sure to find stable handholds. The last steps to the summit will fully expose you to the steep, unstable west slope. It’s a slanted trail with a steep pitch and loose gravel. You can enjoy some fun minor scrambling along the summit ridge once you arrive.
Hiking La Plata Peak
La Plata can be accessed by heading south from Aspen on Independence Pass. The drive is shorter than the above 14ers — a mere 45 minutes — and the La Plata trailhead is directly off of Highway 82.
The ascent of La Plata begins with a simple climb up a series of switchbacks past some lovely wooded sections and the stunning La Plata Gulch. As you climb higher, the route finally leads to La Plata's Northwest Ridge over a number of talus fields, so be prepared for some rock jumping, though you won't have exposure to worry about. The trail isn’t always easy to follow, but once you reach the ridge, the final approach to the peak is simple. The summit of La Plata provides breathtaking views of the whole Elk Range, as well as the Sawatch and Mosquito Ranges.
Hiking Castle and Conundrum Peaks
Castle and Conundrum are two 14ers near Aspen that share much of the same route. Neither hike is objectively easy, but compared to the difficulty of other 14ers near Aspen, they’re both doable if you don’t mind some rock scrambling.
Castle Peak is a 14er that’s extremely close to Aspen, but it’s further down this list because it’s far from the easiest. While not as exposed or potentially deadly as the Maroon Bells, hiking Castle still comes with risk — the long-distance is tiring, and you’ll be mentally and physically challenged by plenty of scrambling on loose, rotten rock.
To get to the combined trailhead, drive up a jeep road at the end of the Castle Creek Valley. Take your vehicle as far as it will go up the road; low-clearance vehicles won’t go far, but high-clearance 4WD vehicles may be able to make it all the way up to 12,800 feet before parking. The further you’re able to drive, the shorter the hike will be.
Head across steep rocks and snow until you reach upper Montezuma Basin, where you can try to cross the semi-permanent snowfield to reach the saddle between Castle and Conundrum Peaks. If you prefer to avoid the snow, you can choose to hike up a more straightforward trail to Castle’s northeast ridge, accessed earlier in the route. Conundrum Peak is just a short distance from Castle Peak, but it’s more difficult. You’ll need to scramble up some loose gullies, so head protection is often advised.
Where to Stay Before Hiking an Easy Aspen 14er
We promise you'll feel calm and comfortable lounging in one of our Aspen vacation rentals while preparing to hike one or more of the 14ers near Aspen. Recharge and share memories of the day's hiking highlights while recharging so that you’re ready for your next summit. Contact Alpine Property to secure your vacation rental base camp, and get ready for some memorable peak bagging!