14er Peak Rank #15/53

In the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak – featured on 14ers Maps 3 of 16 – is one of three 14ers visible from Denver (Pikes Peak and Mount Evans are the other two) and the northernmost 14er in Colorado. Despite its close proximity to Front Range cities and location within a national park, Longs Peak is a relatively challenging hike and should not be taken lightly.

Longs Peak from Dream Lake Trail

Longs Peak from the Dream Lake Trail, Photo Credit: By dmtilley, CC BY 3.0, Link

Stephen Harriman Long named the peak after himself upon sighting it during an early expedition to the area in 1820 – though he never attempted to climb it. The first recorded ascent of Longs Peak was completed by John Wesley Powell – a geologist and Civil War veteran who lost an arm at the Battle of Shiloh – along with his team of six men in 1868 on one of his expeditions to the Rocky Mountains. Exploration and surveys of the region continued in the subsequent years including the Hayden Survey in 1873, whose members lugged surveying equipment all over peaks in this region to gather geological and topographic data.

Longs Expedition Photo
Longs Expedition Photo

Rocky Mountain National Park was designated by Woodrow Wilson in 1915, and after more than 100 years of this protected status, the park – and Longs Peak – is as popular as ever with about 10,000 to 15,000 people climbing the peak each year. Unlike most of the peaks covered in this blog to date, there are no easy routes up Longs Peak.

Climbing up Longs Peak

Climbing up Longs Peak, by National Park Service

The standard route up Longs Peak begins at the Longs Peak Trailhead off CO Hwy 7, south of Estes Park along the East Longs Peak Trail. From the Ranger Station at the trailhead, the trail heads west climbing consistently uphill passing the Eugenia Mine trail after a half mile (keep left).  After another 2.6 miles, the trail meets the Chasm Lake turn-off before heading northwest for a mile before the junction with the North Longs Peak Trail.  At this point there are a few switchbacks and a 2 mile stretch to the Keyhole –  where the route becomes Class 3 (scrambling) for most of the remainder – and follow the route another half mile to the summit. This route is a one-way total of 6.7 miles with 4,850′ elevation gain.

The Keyhole along the East Longs Peak Trail

The Keyhole along the East Longs Peak Trail, by Benwildeboer at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Another longer approach to Longs Peak is from the North via the Bear Lake / Glacier Gorge / Sprague Lake section of Rocky Mountain National park along Bear Creek Road. From this part of the park, one can take either the Glacier Gorge trail (from Glacier Gorge Trailhead or Bear Lake Trailhead) 1.2 miles to the North Longs Peak Trail after which you hike 5.2 miles to meet up with the East Longs Peak Trail at 12,100′ elevation. Otherwise one can take the Boulder Brook Trail 2.2 miles from the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead (or nearby Sprague Lake) to the North Longs Peak Trail, where it is a 3.1 mile hike to to meet the East Longs Peak Trail.

View from Longs Peak summit

View from Longs Peak summit, by National Park Service

Longs Peak is a beautiful hike and many hikers aspire to climb it, but do not underestimate the challenge it brings: even a group of 10 special forces soldiers from Fort Carson had to be helicoptered off of the peak in 2016 due to some of them showing signs of altitude sickness. The mountain has claimed over 60 lives since becoming a national park a bit over 100 years ago. So as with any 14er: be prepared, know your limitations, watch the weather, drink plenty of water, and as always don’t forget your 14ers Maps. Longs Peak is one of two fourteeners featured on Outdoor Trail Maps Colorado 14ers Series Map 3 of 16.

Directions to Trailheads:

The main Longs Peak Trailhead is 8 miles south of Estes Park Colorado, just off CO Hwy 7 (South Saint Vrain Avenue) on the west side of the road off of Longs Peak Road.  Follow Longs Peak Road to a large parking lot and ranger station.

For the routes from the north, enter Rocky Mountain National Park through the main park entrances from Estes Park and follow Bear Lake Road to either the Bierstadt Lake, Glacier Gorge or Bear Lake Trailheads towards the end of the road.