Bucket Reserve List: Colorado Rocky Mountains

The Colorado Rockies (Not to be confused with these guys)

The San Juan Mountains By John Fowler from Placitas, NM, USA

Region: US Rocky Mountains. Colorado, obviously, but could be expanded to include parts of eastern Utah too

Logistical Difficulty: Moderate; in some cases, fairly easy

Hiking Difficulty: Moderately High

Degree of Risk: Moderately High

Estimated time required (including travel and logistics): Realistically a week; could be done in less.

Why did we NOT include this sooner? The consensus opinion is that the further north you go in the Rockies, the better it gets. But the immense and beautiful ranges of Colorado, which include more than half of the highest peaks in the US, simply can’t be ignored. But be warned; elevation is a MUCH more serious challenge here than in the Northern Rockies or even the Alps. There are no low lying valleys here, only high and higher; a backpacking trip in the Colorado Rockies means days of walking near or above 10,000 feet.

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of our top ten hiking parks in the US.

Why Hike Here?

  • Even though highest individual mountains are not located here, this is the highest complete range of mountains in North America
  • Many 14,000 foot summits (53 if you go by the Colorado standards)
  • Miles upon mile of above timberline hiking
  • Much more accessible than Montana and Wyoming
  • More wildlife than in most comparable mountain ranges
  • Stunning high meadows, broad aspen parks
  • Autumn is a golden spectacle here
  • VERY remote areas — in many places no human habitation for miles
  • Some consider the San Juan Mountains to be the the finest in the US
  • The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and Colorado Trail
  • With the possible exception of Washington state, Colorado has the finest hiking community in the US. Lot’s of die-hard dirt-bags here.

But First Consider…

  • Elevation is a significant factor here
  • Some backpacking routes never go below 10,000 feet
  • Interior sections of the Rockies are extremely remote
  • Might be difficult to even contact the outside world, let alone get help
  • Trails can go for miles with almost complete exposure
  • Afternoon thunderstorms almost certain in summer
  • Beware the capricious and unforgiving weather of the Colorado Rockies
  • Bears and mountain lions present but attacks are rare
  • Refuges, huts not common in the US
  • Long distance hiking here means a heavy pack and bear canister
  • Short (July-September) hiking season
  • Mining, ski slopes, development have adversely impacted many areas
  • Many popular trails, particularly those within driving distance of the I-25 corridor, are VERY crowded
  • Finding water can be difficult in some arid areas

(We don’t really want to list this among the negatives for hiking because quite frankly we’re not sure it is one, but it bears mentioning nonetheless…Central Colorado’s National Park units are eclipsed by the ones further north in the same range, on both sides of the border. Rocky Mountain NP is great, certainly…but its not quite Glacier or Grand Teton or Banff.)

Iconic Long’s Peak, card carrying member of the Fourteener Club

Hikes that we have done here:

Emerald Lakes

Deer Mountain

Garden of the Gods

Hikes that we want to do here:

Maroon Bells/Four Passes Loop*


*On the Reserve BucketList!

I want THAT in my bucket