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The Ultimate Adventure Guide to Hiking a 14er

39.5501° N, 105.7821° W

Hiking trail in the high mountains of Colorado.



If you have ever looked into hiking around the western half of the United States then you might have already come across the term 14er (or fourteener). This interesting term is especially common in the state of Colorado, where you can find a couple dozen mountains classified as being a "14er."

But what is a 14er exactly, and more importantly, what do you need to know about hiking one?

In this in-depth adventure guide, we cover everything you need to know about hiking a 14er - including how to find the right mountain for you (especially if you have never summited a large mountain before), what gear to bring with you along the trail, when the best time to hike in the mountains actually is and finally, a few great 14ers to consider hiking yourself.


In the most basic terms, a 14er is a mountain that sits at at least 14,000 feet or 4,267 meters in elevation. Presently, there are 96 mountains in the whole United States that receive this designation. The state of Colorado has the most with 53, while Alaska comes in second with 29. Interestingly, all 96 14ers are west of the Mississippi River.

The most famous 14ers in the United States are Denali in Alaska (the highest peak in North America), Mount Whitney in California (the highest peak in the contiguous USA), Mount Elbert (in Colorado), Mount Rainier (in Washington) and Longs Peak (also in Colorado).

➳ Explore this interactive map of all 53 14ers in Colorado.


Tree Line: this is the edge of the habitat at which trees can actually grow, either because of cold temperatures, extreme snowpack or lack of moisture. Overall, most trails up to the top of a 14er are past tree line. In Colorado, tree line is usually around an elevation of 11,500 feet, while in California tree line is around an elevation of 11,000 feet. But in Alaska the tree line is only at 2,000 feet of elevation. This is because of its much more northerly latitude.

Alpine: this term describes the landscape above tree line. Usually, alpine landscapes are quite barren and devoid of any large plant-like trees. The alpine environment is usually quite fragile and should be explored with care.

Summitting: this is the action of reaching the top or summit of a mountain. In the case of 14ers, summitting means you hike to the very top of the mountain. One way you will know you have "summitted" is when you see either a sign, flag or hiking log at the top.





\\ Picking Your First 14er | Where to Start

There are so many options when it comes to picking what 14er you want to hike. In fact, there are nearly 100 mountains within the United States that are classified as 14ers. While it might seem a bit overwhelming at first to decide which 14er to summit, in the end, there are a few things to consider that will help you narrow down the field.

Firstly, where do you want to hike. This might seem like a no brainer but it actually will help you narrow down the number of mountains significantly. While there might be nearly 100 14ers to choose from, depending on what state you are planning to hike it means the numbers shrink considerably. Below are the number of 14ers in each state.


Secondly, you need to decide how technical you want the trail to be. While all 14ers are around the same height, not all of them are created equally. Some routes simply require hiking on a single-track trail all the way to the top, while others require you to climb across a steep knife's edge. And still others require some serious climbing and snow skills.

Knowing your own hiking skill level will greatly help you decide what kind of 14er you want to attempt to summit. Similarly, this is also one of the most important things to consider in order to stay safe while hiking a 14er for nothing leads to more accidents than being too far outside of your comfort zone.

Finally, one of the last things you need to consider when picking what 14er you want to do is the overall logistics. While figuring out where to hike and what kind of trail you want to spend hours hiking on is definitely important, it is also important to figure out the basic logistics - including how you will actually get to the mountain (is a 4x4 required), what kind of services are nearby (how much preparation do you need to do ahead of time), and what gear you actually need for the hike.

While there are almost a hundred 14ers to choose from, these three points should definitely help you narrow down your search. Just remember, one of the most important things when deciding what mountain to hike is to know your own fitness and skill levels. While we are all for pushing yourself and breaking through your comfort zone, it is also important to remember that hiking a 14er is a challenge no matter what mountain you choose. And if you are totally outside of your skill level you will likely be putting yourself and your hiking partners in unnecessary danger.

\\ What to Pack For Hiking a 14er

One of the most important things to think about when planning your first hike up a 14er is what gear you are going to bring with you on the trail. For not being prepared with the right stuff - including food, water, and clothing - can 100% make or break your hike up the mountain.

The most basic gear you will need to have with you for the hike are proper shoes (comfortable hiking boots are best), a backpack that can carry enough food and water (more on that below), a warm jacket and a wind breaker (the weather at the top is usually quite rough), sunscreen, and a headlamp.

When packing for a 14er, you will want to focus on bringing gear that can withstand long hours on the trail, no matter what type of conditions you might come across. This includes wearing shoes that you can hike 10+ miles in and not get terrible blisters, clothing that is breathable but also warm, and a backpack that carries all of the food you need but is still comfortable after 3 hours of going straight uphill.

You will also want to pay attention to the trail beta when deciding what kind of gear you need to bring. For example, if the mountain includes a lot of scrambling across sometimes loose rock then a climbing helmet is a good idea. Or if the trail is known to be snowy almost year-round, then consider packing a set of gaiters or wearing long pants. Knowing ahead of time what kind of conditions you might be facing is a great way to ensure you are comfortable on the trail.

► You can find our full Hiking a 14er Gear List below.



Salty foods are especially great when hiking since you will likely be sweating quite a bit. Some great salty snacks to bring with you on the trail are pretzels, trail mix or GORP, nuts and seeds, and crackers. Besides packing plenty of salty foods, you will also want a healthy mix of sweets (this will help keep your blood sugar up). We like to pack a couple of pieces of fresh fruit (oranges are great) and dried fruit, some gummies (candy included), peanut butter and chocolate granola bars.

We also like to bring some sort of "victory" food for the summit. This can include a victory bagel sandwich (very tasty) or just a simple chocolate candy bar.


Besides having plenty of snacks with you for the hike, you will also want to make sure you have enough liquids to get you through the whole day. Obviously, you will want to have plenty of water - a good rule of thumb is 1 liter of water for every 2 or so hours of hiking - but you will also want something that has a bit of electrolytes or sodium, especially if hiking in the middle of the summer.

We like to pack little electrolyte packets for the trail, or just have an electrolyte drink already pre-made before starting the hike. Our go-to are the Mio Sport electrolyte squirts since they are easy to carry on the trail, there is a lot less plastic involved and they last quite a long time.

💬 INSIDER TIP: if you are planning to hike somewhere that has a fair amount of running water then consider bringing a water filter with you. This will allow you to carry less water from the start and also ensure that you always have plenty of water while hiking. See our recommended water filter below.

Sunny summer day in the high mountains of Colorado.

\\ Figuring out the Logistics of Hiking a 14er

Once you decide on what 14er you are going to hike it is time to start figuring out the necessary logistics - namely where you are going to sleep the night before and after the hike and how you are going to get to the trailhead.


For the most part, many of the more well-known 14ers will have at least a couple of lodging options nearby. For example, many of Colorado's popular 14ers are near the towns of Leadville, Buena Vista, Aspen or Silverton - all of which have plenty of motels and hotels to choose from.

Now, if you don't feel like staying in a hotel or motel, or you just want to be even closer to the trailhead, then your best option for sleeping is to simply camp (either in a tent or in your car). For the most part, all of the 14ers will have either an established campground nearby or be located in National Forest or BLM land - meaning you can camp pretty much anywhere.

► You can learn more about free camping and boondocking in our Ultimate Guide to Free Camping in the USA.


Besides figuring out where you are going to sleep, you also need to decide how you are actually going to reach the start of the hike. While some trailheads are really easy to get to, some of the more remote14ers will require driving some rougher roads and maybe even a vehicle with 4-wheel drive.

When deciding on which 14er to hike, make sure you read the full beta on getting to the trailhead beforehand because nothing is going to ruin your day like getting your car stuck on the way to the trailhead.

💬 INSIDER TIP: if you aren't comfortable driving rougher dirt roads during the day definitely don't take them on in the early morning when it is still really dark (starting early is one of the keys safety tips when hiking a 14er). Therefore we suggest picking a trailhead that is easy to reach no matter the type of car - especially if this is your first 14er. Some great ones in Colorado specifically are Longs Peak, Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Elbert, Pikes Peak and Mt. Evans.

\\ Picking Your Date | The Best Time to Hike a 14er

While you can technically hike a 14er year-round, by far the most popular time of the year is between the months of May and September.

But with that being said, it is important to note that during the early weeks of summer (and especially the last couple of weeks of May) you will still likely have to deal with a bit of snow, especially when you reach the area above tree line. If you don't mind hiking through some snow while on your way up to the summit, then the early summer might be a great time to hike since it is usually less busy.

Similarly, during the last few weeks of summer (namely during the month of September) you might have to hike in slightly colder temperatures, especially during the early hours of the morning before the sun starts to rise. But just like during the early weeks of summer, you will likely find the trails much less busy.

Overall, we would suggest hiking in the middle of summer (July and August) for the best all-around weather. While this time of year is definitely the most popular time for hiking a 14er, you will be rewarded with comfortable temperatures (even in the early morning), nice sunny days and likely drier trail conditions.

💬 INSIDER TIP: if you want to hike a 14er during the busy season, but don't want to deal with crowds of people, then consider heading out on a weekday. On the weekends, the more popular trailheads have been known to fill up really quickly.

Dawn light on Mount Shasta, a 14er in California.




1 | Wake Up Early

One of the most important things to know about hiking a 14er is that you need to get up nice and early in order to have the best chance of summiting and the best chance of completing the hike with optimal weather. During the main hiking season in the USA (May to September) afternoon thunderstorms are quite common. And these storms can be very dangerous if you are above tree line and especially if you are out in the open on a high mountain top.

The recommended hiking start time for most 14er summit attempts is between 2 AM and 3 AM depending on the length of the trail and your overall fitness levels. Plus, by starting this early, you will likely be done with the hike and off the trail by around noon or 2 PM at the latest. Meaning there will be plenty of time for post-hike activities, like scarfing down a whole pizza or watching a movie.

💬 INSIDER TIP: it can be quite cold in the morning when you start hiking, so make sure to layer up your clothes. We especially like wearing a puffy, since it helps keep you warm but also packs down really tightly.

2 | Know the Signs of Bad Weather

One of the biggest reasons you need to start hiking early in the morning is to avoid any possible bad weather. Luckily, because you are so high up and often out in the open (especially once you pass tree line), you can easily get an idea of the weather systems around you. A clear sign of a developing storm are clouds that start to billow/puff up and grow vertically. When hiking up the mountain, make sure to regularly check your surroundings to see if any storm systems are forming nearby.

Other important steps to take to mitigate any danger from these afternoon thunderstorms is to make sure you are checking the weather forecast before hitting the trail (at least a couple of days out) and to make sure you have proper rain gear with you. If a storm does pop up while you are hiking, immediately head back down the mountain to lower elevations (below tree line is safest). Remember: no matter how close you are to the summit, it is never worth risking your life if a storm blows in.

Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.

3 | Know the Signs of Altitude Sickness

By far one of the biggest dangers of hiking a 14er is dealing with the high elevation and the much smaller amount of oxygen. This set up can lead hikers - no matter their fitness level - to start to feel quite sick. This is known as altitude sickness or mountain sickness.

In basic terms, altitude sickness is a set of symptoms that can occur when you walk, hike or climb to a higher elevation/altitude too quickly. Altitude sickness is especially common for people who live at lower elevations (like along the coast) who then travel up to higher elevations to recreate.

There are actually three different types (or levels) of altitude sickness: acute mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE). The first, AMS, is the least dangerous and also the most common, while the other two - HAPE and HACE - can be quite dangerous and even life threatening in certain situations.

Altitude sickness is quite common when hiking a 14er, especially for people who are coming up into the mountains from much lower elevations. Some of the best ways to counteract altitude sickness are to drink plenty of water, start out slowly in order to acclimate, and get plenty of sleep.

When out hiking your 14er, if you start to feel any symptoms of altitude sickness - especially a headache, dizziness or shortness of breath - slow down, drink plenty of water, eat a salty snack and, if your symptoms don't start to go away, even consider heading back down.


The most common symptoms of altitude sickness are headache, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, problems with sleep and loss of appetite. More severe symptoms that may occur - especially in the case of HAPE and HACE - are trouble walking and loss of coordination, a severe headache that doesn't get better after the use of medication, confusion, a tightness in your chest and a cough that produces a white frothy substance.

These symptoms often occur within half a day (12 hours) to 24 hours after reaching higher elevations. While they might be bad at first, most altitude sickness symptoms do subside after a couple of days. If the symptoms persist longer or get worse, you may need to get some altitude sickness medication or head down to a lower elevation.

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: one of the best ways to help with altitude sickness is to drink plenty of fluids. Water and electrolytes can really help you feel better at higher elevations. Though of course a sure-fire way to feel better is to either spend extra time acclimating before heading out on any big hikes (like a 14er) or heading back down to lower elevations.

➳ You can learn more about altitude sickness, including more information on treatment, here.

Person hiking up a mountain trail in the alpine.

4 | Leave No Trace Practices While Hiking a 14er

While Leave No Trace Principles are important to follow and adhere to no matter the activity, they are especially important when hiking a 14er, for the landscape you will be mostly adventuring in (the alpine or alpine tundra) is very fragile and easily disturbed.


| Carry snacks that don't require much extra plastic. For example, bring food that you can either store in a reusable plastic bag (like pretzels or trail mix) or food that doesn't need to be stored in plastic at all (like oranges and apples). Similarly, pack a large plastic bag to use as a trash bag. By limiting the amount of plastic you bring with you on the trail, you are limiting the likelihood of accidentally littering.

| Always stay on the established trail while hiking. This is an important Leave No Trace Principle to remember - not just when hiking a 14er but no matter what activity you are partaking in. The only time sticking to the trail is not as important is when you are hiking up a scree field where a trail might not always be possible or if you are hiking over thick layers of snow.

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: when hiking uphill, remember to never cut switchbacks. These shortcuts can cause serious erosion problems that have long-term effects on the landscape.

| Dispose of your waste properly. In this case, waste refers to anything that could possibly pollute the mountains. For example, trash, food, human waste, and even lost outdoor gear are considered waste. Obviously, one of the best ways to dispose of your waste is to simply pack it all out with you. This includes human waste (this is where wag bags come in handy). Finally, if you see any waste along the trail - especially trash - be a good steward and pick it up and pack it out with you as well.

| Leave what you find behind; including, rocks, wildflowers, historical objects (this is especially common to come across in Colorado) and any other wilderness object. While it might not seem like a big deal, in the end, if everyone felt that way it could cause serious damage to the environment.

| Finally, be considerate of your fellow hikers along the trail. This means allowing people going uphill to have the right of way, stepping aside and letting faster hikers pass you, using headphones if listening to music (no speakers please) and being helpful and friendly to everyone you meet along the way.

➳ You can find more Leave No Trace Principles in this handy article.

\\ Hiking a 14er Checklist: What to Bring on the Trail

Below are a few important pieces of gear to pack with you when planning to hike a 14er. We have also added links to specific items we like to use while out adventuring.


You will want to wear shoes that can handle all kinds of varying terrain: from steep rocky scree fields to slick river crossings to just miles upon miles of trail pounding. These boots by Vasque seem to be a jack of all trades and therefore should be able to handle whatever the mountain throws at you. Recommended hiking boot.


These socks can easily go from hitting the trails to hanging out at camp due to their moisture-wicking properties and slightly elastic stretch. Plus, they are made partially of recycled materials - meaning they are good for you and the planet.


No matter the month you are planning to hike in, you will likely want to wear a nice lightweight long-sleeved shirt on the trail. This one by Backcountry works great as your base layer for it is lightweight and breathable enough for hot sunny days, but also insulated enough to be great during the first few miles in the dark. Recommended long sleeve shirt.


This lightweight fleece jacket is the perfect top layer for the first couple of miles of hiking in the early morning hours. Plus, it has a hood for when the sun does start to poke out (woo sun protection) as well as a handy front pocket to store essential items like your phone, snacks, headlamp and sunscreen. Recommended hiking jacket.

Dusk in the mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park


While a nice cozy jacket will help keep you warm in the early morning chill, a windbreaker will keep you comfortable once you actually reach the summit. We would say 90% of the 14ers we have climbed have been incredibly windy at the top, to the point where we spent just enough time getting a photo or two and looking out over the landscape before quickly hiking back down to a more sheltered spot. This windbreaker by Cotopaxi can easily be stuffed in your backpack until the summit push and then thrown on when the wind really starts to pick up. Recommended windbreaker.


Depending on the time of year, you will likely gravitate more towards wearing either full-length hiking pants or a set of lightweight active shorts. We tend to veer more towards wearing pants while hiking unless it is absolutely scorching out. These pants, also by Backcountry, are durable enough for all kinds of rock scrambling, while also being comfortable enough to wear even when the temperature starts to pick up. Recommended hiking pants here.


Because much of the hiking will be done above tree line where there is no shade to speak of, you will want to make sure you bring a nice comfortable sun hat. This wide brim one by Fjallraven is lightweight and wicking, meaning it will keep your head cool all day long. Recommended sun hat.


While a sun hat definitely helps protect you from the suns harmful rays, it is still important to give your skin that extra bit of protection - especially your shoulders, feet and hands. These sunscreens not only protect you against the sun but they are also environmentally safe.

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the sun is incredibly strong in the mountains, especially at higher elevations (like 14,000+ feet). Remember to reapply sunscreen during the entire hike.


A handy headlamp is a true adventure necessity - especially when the adventure requires you to begin at 2 AM. We tend to have about 5 headlamps scattered around our van just in case we lose one or the batteries die (which somehow happens quite often...). This one by Petzl is a personal favorite because it is affordable and it has a long-lasting battery.


By far one of the most important items in your hiking repertoire is going to be your backpack. Because you will be carrying this bag all day on the trail - including up and down some often steep and sketchy sections - you will want to make sure it is comfortable. This bag by Mystery Ranch holds 32 liters of gear, while still having plenty of straps to allow it to fit perfectly to your body. Plus, its unique zipper set-up makes reaching all of your snacks nice and easy. Recommended backpack.


One of the best ways to cut back on your hiking load is to bring along a water filter. This super easy one by Grayl combines a water filter inside an actual water bottle - meaning less gear to carry and less time actually filtering. A true win-win. Recommended water filter.


This is one of those items that you don't realize you need until it is too late. Luckily, this lightweight pack comes with (almost) everything you could need if an accident does unfortunately occur on the trail. Recommended hiking first aid kit.


We personally have never been the type of hikers to use trekking poles but we have friends who absolutely swear by them. This set by Black Diamond can handle all kinds of terrain, are super lightweight and pack down small enough to be stored easily on the side of your backpack. Recommended trekking poles.

Pink light on a 14,000 foot peak.

\\ 6 Awesome 14ers to Hike in the USA

Below are a few of the more famous 14ersto hike around the USA. This list includes the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States as well as two active volcanoes. You will notice that we did not include Denali - the tallest peak in North America - that is because while it is indeed a 14er (it is actually 20,310 feet tall) it is so technical that it should really only be done with a guiding service.


One of the most popular 14ers to hike in the USA is easily Longs Peak, located in Rocky Mountain National Park. This photogenic mountain is clearly visible from the Front Range of Colorado - including from popular towns like Fort Collins and Denver.

The most common route up to the top (known as the Keyhole Route) is 14.8 miles long (out-and-back), with just over 5,000 feet of elevation gain (you top out at 14,259 feet). Because this hike is so long and steep, it is suggested that you start hiking at around 2 AM. To reach the mountain, either camp in the campground at the base (or up at the backcountry sites on the mountain), or in the nearby town of Estes Park.

💬 INSIDER TIP: we have hiked Longs Peak a handful of times and each experience was slightly different. Overall, we would suggest starting early to beat the afternoon thunderstorms and to beat the crowds. You can read more about hiking Longs Peak and the greater Rocky Mountain National Park area in this in-depth adventure travel guide.


While this is the tallest mountain in all of Colorado - a state with the most 14ers in the country - it is also one of the easiest 14ers to hike. That is mostly due to the fact that you start the hike at around 10,000 feet (near the town of Leadville, which is the highest incorporated town in all of North America). There are a couple of hiking route options for reaching the summit: there is the Black Cloud Trail (a personal favorite) which is around 11 miles round-trip and super beautiful and quiet, the South Mountain Trail which is around 10 miles round-trip and the Mount Elbert Loop (14.5 miles round-trip), which has you do the steepest bit of climbing in the first five miles and then it is a much easier hike to the top and then back down. This final route is the most popular trail up to the top of the mountain.

Mount Elbert - which sits at 14,440 feet or 4401 meters - is located within a stunning area of Colorado that has many other 14,000-foot mountains. In fact, from the summit you can easily see Mount Massive, Mount Belford, La Plata Peak and even Mount Harvard - all of which are also 14ers.

► You can explore more stunning off the beaten path Colorado mountain towns like Leadville in this in-depth travel guide.


If you are interested in crossing off as many 14ers as possible then this 7-mile loop should be near the top of your hiking list. Why? Because in one day you can conquer not one, but FOUR 14ers along this popular trail.

The Decalibron Loop actually stands for Mt. Democrat, Mt. Cameron, Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Bross, four different 14ers located in one specific area. Furthermore, the trailhead is only 2 hours from Denver - meaning it would be possible to do the full hike and not camp or stay the night nearby (though the nearby Kite Lake Campground is absolutely gorgeous).

➳ You can find more information on the full loop hike here.


No 14er list is complete without mentioning the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States (this excludes all Alaska peaks). Mount Whitney is by far one of the most popular hikes in the state of California - so much so that avid hikers often mark their calendars months in advance in hopes of securing a hiking permit for the summit (we have personally tried multiple times and have never gotten lucky).

This iconic mountain, which stands at 14,505 feet or 4,421 meters tall, affords you some absolutely stunning views of the nearby mountains, forests and deserts (namely the Mojave) nearby. While there are a couple of routes up the mountain, by far the most popular hiking trail is the aptly named Mount Whitney Trail. This route measures 22 miles in length (round-trip) and includes over 6,000 feet in elevation gain. While it is possible to do the whole trail in one day, many hikers instead choose to backpack the route and spend one night camping along the trail.


While Mount Whitney might be the most famous 14er in the state of California it is definitely not the only one. If you are looking to avoid crowds, then consider taking on Mount Shasta, which is located in northern California near the town of Redding (and Lassen National Park). Again, while there are multiple routes up to the summit of the mountain, by far the most common trail hikers choose to do is the Avalanche Gulch route.

This trail is just over 10 miles round-trip, though due to the difficult trail conditions (i.e. there really isn't a trail but more of a steep climb up a sandy, scree field) it takes a lot longer to summit than most other 14ers. But man if you have the willpower and the stamina to summit the mountain (which is actually a volcano) you will be rewarded with absolutely stunning views of the nearby area.

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: even though the hike is not very long, most hikers choose to split the day into two and camp down at the base. This is the way we did the hike and cannot recommend it enough. You can learn more about camping and backpacking in the Shasta area here.

► Explore more beautiful hiking trails in the northern part of California in this in-depth adventure guide covering 4 off the beaten path backpacking routes in California.


As one of only two 14ers in the beautiful state of Washington (the other is its neighbor Liberty Cap), it is quite likely that if you have ever looked at summitting a mountain in this northwest state then Mount Rainier has been near the top of the list.

Just like Mount Shasta, Mount Rainier (or Tahoma/Tacoma) is also part of the Cascade Mountain Range and an active volcano (other mountains that fit this description are Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens). But unlike Shasta, Rainier takes multiple days to actually summit (often 3). Similarly, while there is sometimes snow on Shasta, on Rainier, you need to be prepared for climbing across icy glaciers and have the skills and knowledge to deal with crevasses (including rescues).

Mt. Rainier - though stunning, iconic and beautiful - is dangerous and should therefore only be attempted by people with the necessary high alpine skills and toolsets.

➳ You can read more about summitting Mt. Rainier here.


Hiking a 14er seems to be a bucket list item for many outdoor enthusiasts, especially hikers looking to push their limits and reach some incredible heights. Hopefully, this in-depth adventure guide covers everything you need to know about hiking a 14er, including how to pick the best mountain, what kind of planning you need to do beforehand and what to bring with you along the trail.

If you have any further questions about hiking a 14er, then please feel free to leave us a comment below or reach out to us directly.

Happy adventuring!






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