Pikes Peak is one of the most famous fourteeners in Colorado, rising to an elevation of 14,115 feet, 8,000 feet above the surrounding plateau. The Ute people that occupied the area for thousands of years before European colonization revered Tava, meaning “sun,” as the creator of their people. The peak was discovered by European explorers in the 1700s and named for Zebulon Pike, who led numerous expeditions under Thomas Jefferson into new American territories. His failed attempt to summit the peak in 1806 is well known.
These days the summit of Pikes Peak is one of the best-developed summits in Colorado, and getting there is a fine example of the free market. Many will find the summit by car, taking the most convenient Pikes Peak Toll Road for 17 miles to the top of Pikes Peak. Those who prefer to build character have the Crags Route: nearly 13 miles and 4,000 vertical feet of muscle-burning, gut-busting elevation gain.
Hard work has its merits. The trail begins at 10,000 feet at the Crags Trailhead and winds for 2 miles through aspen and pine forest. The forest begins to open up after 2 miles, and hikers hit treeline after 3 miles. The views from here on out are among the best in the southern Front Range, and hikers will have them the rest of the way to the summit. Colorado Springs, Cheyenne Mountain, reservoirs along the Pikes Peak Toll Road, and views beyond to the peaks of the Front Range are abundant. Keep an eye out, as well, for the alpine flora and fauna, like the fairy primrose, bighorn sheep, and yellow-bellied marmots. The well-maintained dirt trail parallels the Pikes Peak Toll Road and traverses the Devils Playground, so-named for the way that Colorado’s notorious afternoon lightning jumps from rock to rock. The end of the trail requires a scramble up a talus slope, where the trail dissolves into the large rocks—the path here is marked by cairns, cobbled together in 2009 by Friends of the Peak, which regularly maintains the Crags Route.
At the top, settle in for more spectacular views, bring binoculars for a closer look, and enjoy some refreshments at the Summit House.
Generally speaking, start long day hikes in Colorado early in the morning. The Crags Route takes seven to nine hours, but it can take as long as 11 hours depending on speed and physical fitness.