How to Hike a 14er

A Simple (but Complete!) Guide

So you’re going to hike a 14er? That’s music to my ears! This how to hike a 14er guide will help you plan and prepare so you have the best experience possible.

Hiking is one of my favorite pastimes. It’s adventure, fitness, and good-for-the-soul nature all rolled into one.

If you’re looking to get out and explore Colorado’s mountains, 14ers are a great option. Nothing beats the unobstructed view from the summit!

I have “bagged” over half of Colorado’s 14ers and I’ve learned many lessons along the way. Here are my best tips and tricks for how to hike a 14er!

Planning to hike a 14er

1. Pick your peak

This may seem obvious but until you’ve decided which 14er you’re going to hike, you won’t be able to complete some of the actions below.

Preparing to hike a 14er

2. Download the app

This app is my go-to resource for all things 14ers. 

It has route maps, pictures, and recent trip reports where you can find answers to questions like “Is there still snow on the trail?” or “How washed out is the road to the trailhead?”

To download the app, click here.

3. Download your route information

Once you’ve selected your peak and downloaded the app, it’s time to download the information specific to your route. This will allow you to access the route description and pictures offline if you lose service on the mountain.

To download the route information:

  1. Open the App
  2. Select your peak
  3. Scroll down to routes and select your route
  4. Scroll to the bottom and select “Save Maps / Images for Offline”
  5. Once the images have saved, you’ll get a “Download Complete!” message
  6. Go back to the list of routes, and confirm there is a green dot indicating the photos have been downloaded for offline use
  7. You’re all set!

4. Get a 14er Summit sign

I’ve hiked 37 (and counting) of Colorado’s 58 fourteeners and if I’ve learned one thing during my adventures, it’s that no summit picture is complete without an elevation sign!

I’ve created a beautiful collection of Colorado 14er Summit Signs for all 58 peaks. Every sign is stylized with stunning font pairings to fit the mountain’s personality.

Use these signs to make your summit photo extra special and document proof of your hard-earned accomplishment!

Get your signs here!

5. Check the weather

Check the weather multiple times as the Colorado weather can change very quickly. At a minimum, review the forecast 1-2 days before your hike, the night before, and the morning of.

In particular, look for lightning in the forecast and note what time it’s expected to start. In the mountains, lightning storms are common in the early afternoon and the peak of the tallest mountain in the area is not a safe place to be when they roll in.

Even if the weather forecast is clear, start hiking early and be prepared for a storm.

6. Pack

Over my years of hiking 14ers, I have tweaked and refined what I now believe to be the perfect packing list, including what to wear!

To read all about what to pack or to download the free checklist, check out my Complete 14ers Packing List.

7. human things





It’s very important to do these four things before hiking a 14er.

Ideally you want to be doing these well for a few days leading up to the hike, especially hydrating if you live at a lower elevation.

At a minimum, in addition to hydrating, make sure to eat a nutritious dinner and get adequate sleep the night before a 14er. 

Depending on whether you’re camping or getting up extra early for the drive, the adequate sleep portion can be tricky. If possible, get extra sleep two nights before to help compensate.

the day of your 14er hike

8. start early

Starting early is one of the most important keys to successfully summiting a 14er. With afternoon lighting storms likely, you need to allow yourself enough time to summit and make your way well back down to safety before the storms start. 

To determine what time to start, I look at the elevation gain for the route. For every 1000 ft of elevation gain, I estimate an hour of hiking up (a little less for class 1 and a little more for class 3 and 4). 

I consider myself a fairly quick paced hiker, so if you are new to hiking, it’s better to err on the side of caution and start earlier than you think you need to.

On average, I start hiking around 4 or 5 am. If the route is more than 8 miles or the forecast showed thunderstorms starting before 1 pm, I’ll start even earlier. Better safe than sorry!

9. Is the sun out yet?

No, it’s 4 in the morning! 

Good, you started early. Now put your sunscreen on anyways! 

Nothing burns your skin faster than being this close to the sun. Put your sunscreen on early and often. Even if the air feels cold, you may still be getting burned.

I found that if I don’t put sunscreen on right away, by the time I notice I’m already burnt. Don’t be like me.

10. Eat breakfast

As you hike to higher elevations, you may lose your appetite, but it’s very important you continue to give your body fuel.

As a preventive measure, try to eat at least a bar as early as you can stomach it. Bobo’s are my favorite! I find the Lemon Poppyseed flavor particularly easy to stomach at 4 in the morning.

If you’re driving up in the morning, another trick is to make yourself a coffee with some extra fat and protein that you can drink on the drive up. Checkout my Collagen Latte Recipe, my pre-14er ritual!

11. Hydrate

Staying hydrated is one of the best ways to avoid altitude sickness. Especially if you’ve just arrived from a lower elevation. Start hydrating early and often!

Tip: If drinking water just makes you pee every 20 minutes, add some electrolytes like these Nuun tablets or a sprinkle of salt to help with water retention.

12. Follow the route pictures

Pull up your route pictures right away and take a look at the first few. This will give you an idea of what landmarks to be looking for. 

On class 1 and 2 peaks, the trails will be pretty obvious but with class 3 and 4, route finding can get tricky so it’s a good idea to have the next few turns fresh in your head.

13. Pace yourself

Hiking a 14er is a marathon, not a sprint.

While you want to be aware of the clock, don’t rush yourself too much in the beginning. You started early so you should have time.

On some trails, the beginning part is some of the steepest terrain and you don’t want to burn yourself out.

Go at a pace that is (mostly) comfortable.

14. Take breaks

Even after living in Colorado for 10+ years, I’m still susceptible to altitude sickness.

In addition to staying hydrated, I’ve found the best way to combat this is to take breaks.

If a stretch of trail really gets your heart pumping, rest for a few minutes to allow your heart rate to come down.

This helps your body acclimate and while it may seem counterintuitive, I’ve found it helps me reach the top faster as it allows me to stay energized and maintain a fairly consistent pace while hiking.

Also keep in mind that as you hike higher, the air becomes thinner. You’ll likely need more frequent breaks as you get closer to the summit.

15. Hydrate & refuel

Even if you don’t feel hungry or thirsty, keep giving your body those calories and that water! You’re working HARD and you need fuel and water to replenish.

I prefer to use a water bladder with a hose so that I can easily drink while hiking, but break times are also great for water and snacks.

16. Enjoy the view!

In today’s society we’re often so eager to reach our destinations that we neglect taking time to enjoy the views along the way. 

If you find a great spot, pause. 

Take a deep breath. 

Really soak it in.

How to Hike a 14er | Dani's Drive
Baby Dani on her first 14er, Mt. Huron

There’s nothing quite like these mountain views and you’ve worked so hard to get here.

Are you into photography? Grab some photos!

You never know when it may start raining so I always recommend getting your pictures on the way up!

17. On the summit

Celebrate! You did it! *insert victory dance*

There’s no such thing as an easy 14er so be proud of your accomplishment!

If the sky is still clear, you can hang around on the summit as long as you want. Take some pictures, eat a snack, soak in the view, and make some new friends. 

Just keep an eye on those clouds and if anything looks ominous, start making your way back down. Give yourself adequate time to get back below tree level because the weather can change quickly.

18. The descent

You’re in the home stretch now!

Follow the same guidelines as the way up–hydrate, refuel, take breaks, pace yourself. 

If you brought your trekking poles, they can be nice on the way down to reduce the impact on your joints.

Once you reach your car, congratulate yourself for a successful adventure!

What other questions do you have about hiking 14ers? Drop them in the comments below!

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