In praise of Colorado 13ers

Westcliffe, CO: 14ers are a point of pride in Colorado, for better and for worse. These 14,000+ peaks set the state apart, and nearly every resident can tell you how many they’ve hiked. The most difficult peaks call for serious mountaineering skills, but even relatively accessible 14ers require lung-busting climbs. It's Colorado credibility. 

But as the state’s population grows, these peaks are getting loved to death. There are only 54 to 58 14ers (depending on who you ask), meaning all aspiring peakbaggers direct their attention to the same limited number of trails. On weekends, crowds can turn access roads into traffic jams and campsites into festival grounds, That’s why several 14ers–like Mt. Bierstadt, Crestone Needle and Humboldt Peak—ended up on our list of Leave No Trace Hot Spots for 2018. The impacts are severe.

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But there is a way to disperse your impacts on these beautiful mountains. While everyone is focused on the 14ers, why not celebrate the neighboring 13ers – lesser in altitude, but equal in adventure – instead?

Take, for example, Square Top. It shares the same parking lot as Mt. Bierstadt, but has only a quarter of the users. Most hikers visit the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Southcentral Colorado for the area’s ten 14ers. But the range has 86 13ers too. These lower peaks are just as magnificent and, since they’re out of the statewide spotlight, they’re significantly less crowded, too. Plus, with nearly 600 13ers across Colorado, you’ll have even more peaks to summit and more climbs to boast about.

If you’re looking for a sense of achievement with a greater dose of solitude on your next Colorado mountain hike, help minimize trail impacts by setting your sights a little lower… 1,000 feet lower.

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Leave No Trace's Joe Besl and Joe Creaghead are part of the 2018 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Eagles Nest Outfitters, Deuter, Thule, Taxa, and Klean Kanteen.