Mount Bierstadt is one of the most popular mountains to climb in Colorado. It is one of the famous fourteeners group, or 14ers to locals, a collection of Colorado mountains thus named because all of these 58 mountains exceed 14,000 feet. Although this hike is quite long, at about 7 miles round trip, it’s one of the easier 14ers to climb.
So if you’re looking to get the notch on your belt of having climbed one of the famous 14ers, but you’re looking for a more manageable hike, then this could be the ideal option for you. But exactly how long does it take to hike Mt Bierstadt?
There are a few factors that account for the length of time any hike will take you, including your physical fitness, and how much you have trained for the hike. And another factor is how many times you plan on stopping, enjoying the scenery, or taking a snap of your new favorite vista.
You may find yourself stopping a few times on the hike up Mt Bierstadt, especially to view the stunning variety of wildflowers that grow on this mountain. The hike takes in an expansive valley floor, scattered with wildflowers, especially in July and August. Download some of these useful hiking apps to learn more about the flora and fauna surrounding you on your hike.
You’re more than likely to stop multiple times to take pictures or take in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. As you’re heading off on this hike, you’ll start to see amazing views of the surrounding mountains, including other 14ers such as Grays Peak, Torreys Peak, and Mt Evans, and lush valleys beneath you. Depending on how many times you stop, and your level of physical fitness, this 7-mile round trip will take you on average about 5 hours.
It’s possible to make it up and back in three hours if you’re looking for a scenic work out close to Denver. But if you don’t want to rush yourself, we’d recommend starting this hike early, especially if you’re looking for a bit more solitude on your hike as it can be very popular.
Which is the best route to take to reach the summit and for more of a challenge?
Mount Bierstadt is so heavily trafficked for a couple of reasons. The first is its proximity to Denver, which is about a 1-hour 15-minute drive away. The second is because it’s known as a “starter” mountain for approaching the 14ers. It’s one of the easiest 14ers to climb, so many people start here. For more information about this collection of Colorado mountains, visit the website 14ers.com! With a 7 mile round trip and a 2850 foot elevation gain, this isn’t a walk in the park! Experienced climbers and hikers might find this hike to be an easy feat, but it can still offer a satisfying challenge to less experienced hikers.
The Mt Bierstadt hike starts off easy, from the most popular starting point Guanella Pass Road, dipping down from the parking lot into a marshy valley floor. A paved road takes you all the way from Denver to the parking area, so this is a very easy hike to access from the city. Here near the trailhead, you’ll pass the beautiful small crystalline lake, and then a creek. In the right months of the year, this is where it’s a great chance to get some wildflower viewing in.
This continues as you pass the tree line, through the lush mountainside, carpeted with wildflowers. The hike continues to take you through beautiful lush greenery until you emerge at the top of the forests: the higher you are, the more of the surrounding mountains you begin to see.
If you’re looking for an easier hike, you might want to stop here and head back. Beyond this point, the hike starts becoming a lot rockier and difficult, with more challenging terrain. This stretch of the hike is steeper and has many switchbacks, so even if you’re not turning back, you might want to take a break and catch your breath here, taking in the stunning views. As you get closer to the summit, the hike becomes more and more challenging, and you’ll need to scramble over budders and rocks to get to the top.
We would recommend taking some hiking gloves with you, to protect your hands from any sharp rocks, especially if you’re heading out on a day that has a chill in the air. And take note: afternoon thunderstorms are quite common in Colorado. Make sure you have checked the weather forecast before you head off and that you’ve come properly prepared with a raincoat in your backpack.
As you can see from our description, there’s a lot of necessary navigating of boulders and rocks in this hike. Climbing any of the 14ers is not an easy feat, they’re pretty big mountains after all! However, with the incline of the initial part of the hike, and the amazing scenery around you this easy stretch gives you a chance to enjoy, this is one of the easiest 14ers to tackle.
What’s the best route to take if I want an easier hike or to go with my family?
The rocky terrain and challenging climb, not to mention the elevation gain and potential altitude sickness, mean that climbing the whole mountain isn’t the best option for families. If you’ve been out hiking consistently with your family, and they are well experienced, then go ahead! But for families that are less experienced in hiking, or have young children, there are some other options for you to enjoy the beautiful Mt Bierstadt. This also applies if you have no experience of climbing mountains, or you haven’t trained enough to tackle the peak.
Firstly you could take our recommendation, and go on the easier, first stretch of the hike, through the lush greenery and flats, and then turn back before the terrain gets too rocky. This is a great option if you want to explore the area, still get a good hike in, but don’t want to brave the rocky summit of the mountain. This also gives your group the opportunity to split off, if one half wants to tackle the peak. This is a great option if you want a bit of a climb, and to see some views of the surrounding mountains.
However, the surrounding area of Mt Bierstadt is so stunning that you can still thoroughly enjoy a day out here without reaching the summit. The first mile of the trail is really the easiest, and shouldn’t be a challenge to any member of your group. Here you can explore a creek, through willows, and play around on the shores of two small breathtaking mountain lakes. But watch out if you’re taking your dog: dogs are allowed on leash on some parts of the Mt Bierstadt trail, but they have to be kept 100 feet from water sources at all times, meaning you can’t let your pup play in the lake!
If you’re looking to make a weekend of it, there are many camping options available for you around Mt Bierstadt, and all around Colorado. For a list of some of the best camping spots in Colorado, take a look at this useful article. There are many camping sites on either side of the Guanella pass, but all are managed by the US Forest and Wilderness Areas. This means that a fee is required, and there are no options for dispersed or primitive camping. Remember to research different camping regulations or visit the recreation.gov site to find the campsite that’s perfect for your family or group.
What else could contribute to the length of my hike?
All of the 14ers are evidently stunningly tall mountains. One thing that could contribute to your hike being longer than expected, in what can happen when you adjust to the change in altitude. Sometimes this could lead you to being short of breath, or if you’re unfortunate, altitude sickness. This is a factor that needs to be considered while planning any mountain hike, as it can mean you take more breaks or slow down. But don’t worry, it can affect anyone, even pro athletes.
Climbing these famous Colorado mountains leads to stunning views, but when you go higher, the air thins. This is because your body is failing to cope with the smaller amount of oxygen intake, and thus the lack of oxygen to the body. Everybody’s body is different, and everybody reacts differently to external factors. Make sure you listen to your body, don’t push yourself, and take it easy if you need to. Some people experience a headache when they’ve got altitude sickness; some feel really weak and have marked fatigue.
But don’t worry. Altitude sickness, if you experience it, usually goes away when your body acclimatizes, adapting to your higher position. And there are a few things you can do to try and ward off altitude sickness. Make sure you’re well-hydrated along your hike, and especially if you start to feel tired. Doctors recommend eating a diet full of carbohydrates when you’re at high altitude, so consider bringing some appropriate snacks with you. And if you’re feeling any of the symptoms, let someone know, and don’t push yourself!
What if I wanted to make my hike a little bit longer?
If you’re more of an experienced hiker, or you’re looking for a more challenging hike, then there’s no need to stop at the summit of Mt Bierstadt. A popular option is to continue along a ridge, to the nearby Mount Evans. This ridge is known as the Sawtooth. Although this is only an intermediate level climb, it has a rugged, adventurous feel. The Sawtooth is the jagged ridge joining these two mountains in the Front Range of central Colorado: it gets its name from the three points along the arête which resemble the teeth of a saw.
This environment is perfect for adventure seekers, and you’ll be able to catch some great shots of you reaching over these dramatic rock formations to impress your friends. Make sure you’re fully prepared for the challenging hike and have bought appropriate kit and shoes. The northeast end of the Sawtooth joins onto the shoulder of Mount Spalding, from here you can take a slightly less dramatic ridge to the southeast, and admire the views atop Mount Evans.
To completely make the most of this natural habitat, many visitors choose to make a detour from the hike down to Abyss Lake. Abyss Lake is a stunning clear blue lake in between multiple peaks, itself over 12,000 feet above sea level. It occupies the bottom of the valley which separates Bierstadt and Mount Evans, nestled in a high glacial cirque. Here many people choose to rest and take in the surroundings, or fish in the lake. In the winter, you can also get involved with some winter sports in the area, like cross country skiing. So if you’re looking to extend your hike, there are a lot of things to do between these peaks.
What should I prepare for my hike up Mt. Bierstadt?
As we’ve mentioned, it’s worth taking some provisions with you on this hike, especially some food or snacks in case you get hungry, or are suffering from altitude sickness. If you’re planning on continuing your hike to Mount Evans and visiting the Abyss Lake, this can be an 18-mile round hike so make sure you set off early. You might even want to consider packing a picnic, to enjoy and absorb the scenic surrounding of Abyss Lake before turning back.
Also if you’re thinking of continuing your hike over to Mount Evans, along the Sawtooth, make sure you’re wearing appropriate footwear. We would recommend wearing some sticky rubber approach shoes, which are very popular on alpine rock routes. They allow you the flexibility to put your toes into crevices and navigate the rugged rocky terrain of the mountain, but also give you enough grip for walking on the flats before you scale to the summit.
Although all of the routes we have covered are clearly marked, we would recommend doing sufficient research into your route before you head off. Even though this hike is quite heavily trafficked, it’s always worth bringing with you a map and compass, just in case. If you want to be extra protected, take a look here at some recommendations for essential survival gear for hiking.
It’s also necessary to check the weather forecast before you set off on your hike, and make sure you’re fully prepared for any eventuality. As we’ve mentioned, Colorado can be prone to afternoon thunderstorms, so you’ll need to make sure you’ve packed a rain jacket. Make sure you pay attention to the weather while on your hike and watch for rainclouds in the distance, or storms in the distance. The weather on Mount Evans and Mt Bierstadt can change very rapidly, so preparation is key.
So, exactly how long does it take to hike Mt Bierstadt? The answer is: there’s no exact answer! It takes roughly 5 hours on average to hike up to the peak of Mt Bierstadt and back again. However, some people manage to do it in 3 hours. And many visitors, as we have described, decide to really make a day of it and get the most out of these beautiful surroundings. They continue their hike along mountain ridges to different peaks and mountain lakes.
For the adventure seekers who extend their hike, it can take them as long as they like depending on how much they stop, but they would be very wise to leave early in the morning, to make the most of the daylight. A hike that takes in three peaks and a lake, at over 18 miles, is quite a feat for a day hike. And your hiking time doesn’t just depend on which route you choose to take either. It also depends on your level of fitness, and how well you have trained for the hike. Make sure you’re fit enough to tackle this difficult hike, and that you’re got the right kit with you.
Bonus tip: Watch this useful video for more information about safety on the 14ers!