3 Secret Summit Hikes in the Front Range

Looking west from the summit of Cone Mountain.
Looking west from the summit of Cone Mountain. James Dziezynski
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James Dziezynski is the author of two best-selling Colorado guidebooks and a Senior Editor at RootsRated.

Colorado has plenty of lonely mountains. Many of them sit in isolation, void of trails, visited only by herds of wandering mountain goats. In some cases, they are rightfully introverted: perhaps they sit on privately held land or require a skin-shredding bushwhack to reach their summits. But others are much more accommodating—and simply overlooked. These three summits are perfect for hikers looking for a new perspective in the Front Range—and they are all relatively easy to navigate, despite a lack of formal trails. Away from crowds, these peaks are perfect day hikes for a weekend adventure.

Cone Mountain - 12,224’

The curious rock boundary on the western side of seldom-visited Cone Mountain.
The curious rock boundary on the western side of seldom-visited Cone Mountain. James Dziezynski

6 - 8 miles RT (depending on optional summits) 4 - 6 hours Class 2 - Accessed off Berthoud Pass

A visit to Cone Mountain includes the opportunity to grab two unnamed (UN) summits: UN 12,800 feet and UN 12,845 feet. Cone Mountain itself is an interesting little peak with a mysterious rock boundary zagging up its western slopes.

Being your hike at the large, paved parking area at the top of Berthoud Pass. This accommodating lot features a warming hut with restrooms, so you can take care of any personal needs before you start hiking. When ready, head up and east along the Mount Flora Trail. The remains of the Berthoud Ski Area along with a collection of communication buildings sit atop Colorado Mines Peak, a 12,497’ mountain that is only a 0.5-mile detour from the Mount Flora Trail. Follow the Mount Flora Trail 1.5 miles to the dramatic saddle between Colorado Mines Peak and UN 12,800 (which sure looks like a “real” mountain from this vantage). To the east, humble Cone Mountain can finally be seen. From the saddle, get off trail and drop into the grassy basin, where tiny Blue Lake sparkles on sunny days.

Because you are hiking down to the summit of Cone Mountain, stay to the right and low on the flanks of UN 12,845 for the path of least resistance. Avoiding the boulder fields is a good idea for now. At about 2.4 miles, you will reach the saddle between Cone and UN 12,845. An easy walk up to the summit awaits, though take notice of the strange rock boundary on the way up. From here, either retrace your steps or, for a more exciting day, hit the ridge directly up to UN 12,845. This off-trail walk is one mile from the summit of Cone and has some steep, non-exposed sections with a little bit of boulder hopping. If you choose this route, UN 12,845 will be the highest point of your hike. A half mile farther west will bring you to UN 12,800 and back to the Mount Flora Trail. Mileage will vary, but for this three peak loop, it will be roughly 7.7 miles.

Mount Epworth - 11,843’

Mount Epworth as seen from the Corona townsite. 
    James Dziezynski.
Mount Epworth as seen from the Corona townsite. James Dziezynski.

8.2 miles RT 4 - 6 hours Class 2+ (light scrambling required) - Accessed from Moffat Tunnel Road

A visit to Mount Epworth isn’t just a chance to ascend an unexpectedly beautiful and scenic peak, it also revisits the mining and railroad ruins on Rollins Pass, as well as the burned down remains of the ghost town of Corona. Astoundingly, the just off the western side of the top of Rollins Pass was a hotel at 11,600’ that stayed open in the winter—in the early 1900s! The hotel featured a garage where the coal-powered trains could avoid the snow, which had the unfortunate effect of filling the buildings with smoke and dust. This marvel of engineering was indeed cost prohibitive and eventually the railway and hotel were removed, though you can still see the foundations and some of the ruins (along with informational signs).

To start this hike, drive nine miles up historic Moffat Road, up to Rollins Pass from of the town of Rollinsville. The road is considered a 4x4 road, though vehicles like Subaru Outbacks and Honda CRVs will be able to reach the parking area at Yankee Doodle Lake without any problem. (I’ve even seen a Crown Victoria in the parking lot, proof that a carefully driven car can make it up, but this isn’t recommended!) There is a large parking area at Yankee Doodle Lake, though SUVs and 4x4s can push on another 0.6 miles up the road and turn right up a legitimately rocky, but passable, road to Jenny Lake. This is a fantastic area for autumn car camping (it can get crowded in the summer). Begin your hike here.

From the north side of the lake, follow an improvised trail back up to the winding Moffat Road and eventually to the closed Needle Eye Tunnel. Hike up and over the tunnel (where you’ll see some elaborate rock shelters) and return to Moffat Road on the other side. Despite being a road, this is an incredibly scenic hike and there are few crowds. Continue along to the townsite of Corona, where another parking lot (accessed from Winter Park) has some informational signs—about 2.7 miles from the start of your hike. To the southwest, the modest cone of Mount Epworth awaits. From Rollins Pass, the hike is about 1.3 miles off-trail. Scrambling to the summit is easy, though off trail. The views from the top are better than one might expect: sweeping western vistas of the Vasquez Range, the shimmering surface of Corona Lake, and the gradual return of forests below timberline make for great photo opportunities

Finishing the day with a hike back to Jenny Lake. 
    James Dziezynski
Finishing the day with a hike back to Jenny Lake. James Dziezynski

Return the way you came or take the option to walk along the high ridge and cliffs back to the eastern section of the Moffat Road.

Mount Parnassus - 13,579’

Working up the slopes to the summit of Mount Parnassus. 
    James Dziezynski
Working up the slopes to the summit of Mount Parnassus. James Dziezynski

6.4 miles RT 4 - 6 hours Class 2 - Accessed from Herman Gulch

This hike begins from the wildly popular Herman Gulch Trailhead, but don’t let the crowded parking lot fool you. Mount Parnassus sees only a few visitors, even on busy summer weekends. A few hundred feet from start of this hike, the trail will split left for Herman Gulch and right for Watrous Gulch. Take the right and follow the Watrous Gulch Trail about two miles into the gorgeous Watrous Gulch Basin. From here, you can follow the trail until it fades out on the northern side of the basin and walk up the slopes between Parnassus and 12,940-foot Woods Mountain. A more direct option is to leave the Watrous Gulch Trail as the western slopes of Parnassus open up and follow the ghost forest of dead trees to the top—this option is steep, but not nearly as steep as it looks from the trail.

Hiking through the ghost forest on Mount Parnassus. 
    James Dziezynski
Hiking through the ghost forest on Mount Parnassus. James Dziezynski

Besides Parnassus, hikers can link up to 13,647-foot Bard Peak (a mile to the east), the aforementioned Woods Mountain, or for an excellent all-day outing, hike over to UN 12,805 (also known informally as Mount Machebeuf) and connect the emergent trail to Jones Pass, then back over and down the Herman Gulch Trail (about 10 miles round-trip). Of course, if you’re looking for an out and back, simply return via the saddle between Parnassus and Woods and follow the creeks back to the Watrous Gulch Trail.

Looking west into Herman Gulch just off the summit of Woods Mountain. 
    James Dziezynski
Looking west into Herman Gulch just off the summit of Woods Mountain. James Dziezynski

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