Considering the moderate difficulty of the hike and the easy driving distance from Denver, Mount Bierstadt is all-around the most accessible 14er in Colorado. At only a 1.5-hour drive and a 3.5-mile hike on Class 1 and 2 terrain, almost anyone can make it high onto the slopes of this Front Range peak. Although there are multiple ways to reach the top, this guide covers only the Mount Bierstadt Trail, or West Slopes Route, which is the easiest and most popular.
Beginning from the parking area on Guanella Pass Road, the signed trail first meanders through willow bushes and crosses Scott Gomer Creek. Boardwalks have been constructed over some marshy areas, but the creek crossing only consists of stepping stones that may be covered by early season flows, making for wet boots.
The trail soon gets steeper, rockier, and wider as it switchbacks up the slopes. Rock stairs have been constructed in the steepest sections. Keep in mind that you are now hiking at more than 12,000 feet elevation, which explains the burning legs and shortness of breath. Stop as often as needed to rest, drink water, and take in the views. Along the way, keep an eye out for alpine wildlife like marmots, ptarmigans, and mountain goats.
The last part of the trail climbs the talus field guarding the summit. This is the Class 2 terrain that may require using your hands a bit. Some routes to the top are easier than others, so try to pick your way up the path of least resistance. Though this section is the toughest, it is relatively short. Up here you should be prepared for cold temperatures and high winds. Snowfields may be present all year long, though by midsummer they should be small and avoidable.
Once on top, pause to breathe the fresh air and drink in the vast scenery. Gain views of Mount Logan and more distant peaks to the south. To the west you can see sibling 14ers, Grays and Torreys peaks. A fantastic vista of the Front Range, including Long's Peak, spreads out to the north. Don't look to closely to the east or you will notice the frustrating sight of cars parked near the top of neighboring Mount Evans, visitors who skipped all the hard work you just did to reach 14,000 feet. But you are the one who has truly earned the reward of a summit.
Bierstadt is most commonly hiked in the summer. Though it can be done year round, Guanella Pass Road is closed in winter, so access is limited to skis and snowmobiles. Spring and fall are pleasant times to hike, but they may bring snowy conditions. On a clear day the peak is easy to sight and orient toward, but the trail can be hard to follow in the snow.
The one drawback to summer hiking is the threat of thunderstorms. These can pop up quickly and bring rain, hail, snow, and lightning, which is especially dangerous in this exposed, high-elevation terrain. Checking the weather forecast is definitely wise, but the safest strategy is to expect storms on any given afternoon in the summer. Plan on getting to the top and back down before noon. Expect three to seven hours for the round-trip hike, depending on your group's hiking speed.
Hiking Mount Bierstadt is one of the best ways to reach 14,000 feet in Colorado. The highly accessible, non-technical trek is a perfect introduction for anyone looking to bag more high peaks, and it makes a great destination for travelers looking for a bit of a challenge while visiting Colorado.