While people and guidebooks often refer to Mt. Bierstadt as the “easiest” Fourteener, I would actually categorize it as the “closest” both in proximity to town and with it’s approximately 4 mile trail to the summit. It’s really no easier than a couple other of Colorado’s 54 peaks above 14,000 feet, quite similar actually in both distance and difficulty, and I really don’t think any 14’er should be called easy.
What Makes It Great
That said, it is really easy to get to from Denver, you’re somewhat within eyesight of a road the whole time, and it’s frequently climbed, all adding to its safety factor. Anything can happen up there though, and climbing high alpine peaks, no matter how easy you might perceive it to be on occasion, is always fraught with managed risk. Don’t go unprepared, be very familiar with weather patterns and temperatures, have the right footwear, plenty of food and water, first aid, be in good physical fitness, and sure, it’s easy.
People have been known to run this peak, using sturdy trail running shoes, and that’s certainly within reach, especially after you’ve climbed it once.
Like all 14’ers, the route finding can get a little tricky, once you are in the upper boulder field, and there’s even some hands-and-feet scrambling at the very end. You’ll read in guidebooks and online that the bottom stretch through the willow marsh is a real bear. And it can be, depending on how much snow they’ve had, but there’s a boardwalk through most of it, and hopefully you’ll find the trail stamped out enough that you don’t get lost. That can waste a lot of time and and put your summit attempt in jeopardy. Stay on the trail to avoid damaging the tundra.
On the summit, there’s simply awesome views. It affords you a look at the back side and knife ridge off the back of Mt. Evans...an advanced route sometimes accessed from Bierstadt. You’ll have plenty of wildflower and wildlife viewing up here.
If you are in town visiting, a drive up to Mt. Evans the day before your climb will allow you to easily acclimatize and check the weather and your gear at 14,000 feet.
Weekends will of course get crowded here, due to the reasons stated above, but mid-week and off-season climbing should be good, and there’s quite a bit of free parking at the trailhead (on the east side of the road). The high peak bagging season is pretty short, and limited due to thunderstorms, which can turn an easy hike dangerous and epic in a New York minute.
Who is Going to Love It
If you have the time and motivation, checking a 14’er off your bucket list, and starting with Mt. Bierstadt, is a great idea. Coloradoan’s love their 14’ers and you’ll meet some interesting folks pursuing this great passion.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Head west on I-70 and exit after about 40 minutes at the town of Georgetown, one of the original gold mining towns developed at the turn of the century. Follow the main road through town and it pretty much deadends at County Road 381 and turns to dirt, where you’ll wind your way up above 10,000 feet, past the Guanella Pass campground, and on to Guanella Pass at 11,700 feet above sea level.