Pikes Peak for Beginners

By Kyle Zinkula

The large, barren looking mountain jutting above the west of Colorado College’s campus is Pikes Peak. Pikes Peak is a popular mountain, offering vast opportunities for hiking, photography, biking, and more. It stretches to an elevation of 14,115 feet, making it one of Colorado’s 54 14ers.

The peak can seem daunting to Colorado Springs newcomers and may prove challenging to reach, especially for those without a car. Luckily, I’m here to provide the necessary information to help you motivate yourself to explore the mountain.

There are two popular routes for hiking the mountain: the Barr Trail and the Crags Trail. The Barr Trail begins in Manitou Springs. The trailhead is a 20-minute drive from campus. The Crags Trailhead requires an hour-long drive through Woodland Park to Divide, and then along county roads. The two routes, however, differ vastly in more respects than travel time alone. Considering the unique aspects of both trails in advance of your choice is a must. 

Before embarking on your journey, get to know your trail. The Barr Trail is approximately 13 miles with about 7,500 feet of elevation gain from start to finish. From start to finish, the trail stands as one of the longest 14er routes and is not for the faint of heart. The more beginner-friendly Crags Trail is a mere seven-and-a-half miles to the summit — a more achievable trek for someone new to hiking. Both routes follow well-defined trails and are easy to navigate. 

Knowing when to hike, what to expect, and what to bring are all crucial parts of having a fun and successful day on Pikes Peak. Due to the snowpack that forms in the winter, 14ers are typically hiked during the summer and early fall, but the conditions can vary depending on the year. A quick Google search will yield websites with each peak’s condition information.

Another important note comes from the summer weather. Afternoon thunderstorms are a very real hazard, and climbers are advised to be off the mountain by 1 p.m. Summiting Pikes, therefore requires an early start. For beginners, I would recommend hitting the Barr Trailhead by 2 a.m. and the Crags route by 5 a.m. Preparing for the weather and trail conditions are vital for a safe hike. 

Basic components to pack include at least two liters of water, a flashlight (as the hike will most likely begin in the dark), a raincoat, and plenty of snacks for the day. Bringing a camping stove and entire meals is unnecessary, but bring granola bars, fruit, and sandwiches. 

Just remember to plan ahead, know your boundaries, and have fun when embarking on your journey up Pikes Peak.

Photo by Daniel Sarché

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