Photo by  Robertbody

Photo by Robertbody

Often referred to as Mt Bierstadt, this mountain is a member of the Colorado 14ers club. Situated within the Front Range and a little over an hour’s drive west of Denver, it is one of the easiest and most accessible ascents to reach this state’s magic number – 14,000 ft (4,267 m).

Name: Mount Bierstadt
Height: 4,286 m (14,060 ft)
Location:  Front Range, Clear Creek County, Colorado, USA.
First Climbed: unknown
Climb Time: One day
Best Time to Climb: April to October, though possible year-round.

Introduction Mount Bierstadt.

Often referred to as Mt Bierstadt, this mountain is a member of the Colorado 14ers club. Situated within the Front Range and a little over an hour’s drive west of Denver, it is one of the easiest and most accessible ascents to reach this state’s magic number – 14,000 ft (4,267 m).

Part of an irregularly shaped massif, Mount Bierstadt offers a summit opportunity to anyone willing to hike steadily up and down for a half a day. While there are some more challenging routes, including ridge line routes to nearby high point of Mount Evans (4,348 m/ 14,264 ft), this mountain’s accessibility helps create its deserved popularity. 

Jump to Route & Hiking Guide

Yet because of the ease of the ascent, Mount Bierstadt’s history is more of a mystery than most. It is likely that some of the first ascents were inadvertently made by prospectors searching for gold rather than avid mountaineers, though definite accounts are near impossible to come by. 

However, early summiteers did leave clues on the mountain tops, as we’ll discover below.

From the summit of this Colorado 14er, you can gaze out over the wide, contoured expanse of the Rocky Mountains while just about spotting the beginning of the Great Plains far to the south-east. 

Mount Bierstadt is an American adventure for all and a mountain that features on many Colorado 14er adventurer’s must-summit lists. 

Bierstadt Landscape

History of Mount Bierstadt.

The name Mount Bierstadt comes from a famous American landscape painter of the late 19th Century, and was officially named after him in 1914.

In 1863, the painter, Albert Bierstadt, visited Mount Evans and, it is thought, also climbed another nearby peak. There is a belief that this may have actually been the first double ascent in the area. However, both his famous painting from the trip, ‘Storm in the Rocky Mountains’ (1866, now housed int he Brooklyn Museum), and his own written accounts of the trip are too ambiguous to confirm this. 

Bierstadt was also involved in the naming of other peaks in the area. Mount Evans was known as Mount Rosalie between 1865-1895, named after Rosalie Osborne. She was married to a famous explorer but, perhaps influenced by Beirstadt’s generosity in naming a mountain after her, she later married the painter. 

This name only lasted for thirty years though as, in 1895, the Colorado legislature named the peak after the territory’s second governor. The name Rosalie Peak was reinstated on another, smaller peak to the south-east (4,138 m/ 13,575 ft).

The local people, who pre-date the arrival of white Americans, were the widespread Ute Indians. Arriving in the Mount Bierstadt area around 500 years ago, several tribes populated the numerous valleys, hillsides and enclaves until the mid-19th Century, when gold was discovered on the mountain’s slopes. George Andrew Jackson’s discovery, on 7 January 1859, would change the area forever. 

The influx of miners and prospectors was instant and swift. Soon, Clear Creek County was a vibrant place, filled with settlers looking to make it rich. However, as is often the case, the cost for ‘progress’ was paid most strongly by the indigenous Native American population, and further reading on the recent history of Native Americans in Colorado shows the time since then has been a markedly brutal one.

Geography of Mount Bierstadt.


Mount Bierstadt is the second highest mountain in the irregularly-shaped massif known as the Chicago Range. This runs from Cañon City to the border with Wyoming in the north.

The massif’s high point is Mount Evans (4,348 m/ 14,264 ft), but has several other peaks: 

• Mount Spalding – 4,219 m (13,842 ft).
Grey Wolf Mountain – 4,146 m (13,602 ft).
Rogers Peak – 4,082 m (13,391 ft).
Mount Warren – 4,056 m (13,307 ft).

The massif is a sub-range of the Front Range, which lies predominantly to the east of the mountain. The Front Range is a north-south running chain of mountains that marks the border between the Great Plains to the east and the Rocky Mountains that sprawl across the space to its west.

Covering an area that stretches through the length of Colorado and beyond, the Front Range, and Chicago Range within it, are part of an extraordinary strip of elevated land. Views from any of the summits show mountains, ridges and high passes stretching off to the horizon. 

The massif will have formed, as with many of these mountains, during an orogenic period that began around 70 million years ago. For more information on this process, have a read of our account of Pikes Peak geology

Further back in time from this more recent orogeny, this area would have been part of the Uncompahgre highlands (around 300 million years ago). Under the massive forces that followed, generated by continental plates colliding and being pulled apart, this landscape changed completely, becoming the granite-filled, contoured place it is today. 

Wildlife of Mount Bierstadt.


Trees lining the lower slopes of Mount Bierstadt are typical of the central Rocky Mountains. Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, aspen and lodgepole pine can all be found in the area between 1,700-2,900 m (5,600-9,500 ft) known as the montane zone. 

Also present at these elevations are Kinnikinnick big sage, a shrub that is burned in the ritual known as ‘smudging’. Juniper, also found at these heights, is also used for this purpose too, a ritual found in Native American traditions among others.

In the subalpine zone, up to the tree line at 3,350 m (11,000 ft), there are several dramatic changes in inhabitants, as only the hardiest of plants can survive from this height up.

White fir, Engelmann spruce and bristlecone pine replace the trees found lower down, while blueberry bushes, cinquefoil and wood’s rose replace the ground dwellers.

Higher still, above 3,350 m (11,000 ft) in the alpine zone, only low-lying plants and grasses can survive. Willow is the largest of them, while grasses such as alpine blue grass, alpine timothy and the wheat-like pyrenean sedge can be found underfoot from spring through autumn.


Rocky Mountain elk have the largest antlers of all elk sub-species. While residing for much of the year at higher elevations in the sub-alpine ecosystem, in the Autumn they come to lower elevations for their mating, or ‘rutting’, season. At this time, the males’ antlers, which have been covered with a protective and nourishing velvet skin until now, are revealed for all to gaze at in fear or wonder.

A common sight in this area are bighorn sheep. They live high up above the tree line and can be seen scaling near vertical cliffs. They are distinguishable from the mountain goats also found here by their large, spiral-shaped horns. They also live at lower levels than the mountain goats, who are some of the highest living inhabitants on the mountain.

Smaller inhabitants, usually absent while they hibernate through winter, include yellow-bellied marmots, pika and the snowshoe hare.

Many birds populate this mountain. The highest inhabitants are the white-tailed ptarmigan, also known as the snow quail. These birds are members of the grouse family and are perfectly dressed whatever the season, with white plumage in the winter and brown in the summer.

Lower down are the noisy, if elusive, woodpeckers as well as the less trustworthily-named brown creepers. However, the creeper is just a small songbird with a white chest and certainly nothing to be suspicious of!

Less frequent visitors are Moose, which weigh up to 700 kg (1,500 lbs). They are usually found in the Mount Bierstadt area in Autumn only. Yet don’t be fooled by their size – they can run up to 56 km/h (35 mph) and can hold their breath while swimming for up to 30 seconds. 

First Ascent of Mount Bierstadt.

Like many of the 14ers, the exact time and date of the first ascent, and the identity of those virgin summiteers, is unclear. Many peaks in this club were probably first climbed by prospecting miners, hoping to strike gold (or some sort of precious mineral) on the slopes. 

Many of these prospecting trips happened in the mid- to late 1800s. Given Mount Bierstadt’s invitingly scalable slopes, this mountain was probably climbed relatively early on in this period. The prospect holes (where miners drilled a little way into the rock to discover if treasure lurked inside) high up on its slopes all but confirm this narrative.

But this dismisses the local Native Americans, who are very likely to have climbed this mountain long before the miners arrived. Unfortunately, the ease with which this mountain is climbed makes accurately locating its first ascent near impossible.

However, we do know that it was the first mountain in the area, alongside Quandary Peak (4,348 m/ ft, found in the Tensile Range), to be successfully climbed on skis. This was achieved in 1934, though the identity of the skiers has also been seemingly lost to the slow melt of time.

Climbing guide to Mount Bierstadt. 

There are several routes up this mountain, and not all of them are simple walk ups. While most popular in the summer, most routes are at least partially accessible year-round. This mountain is often used by experienced hikers for conditioning climbs for tougher Colorado 14ers and for winter ascent training.

The simplest ascent is the standard or West Slopes route

A 9.6 km (6-mile) round-trip gaining 728 m (2,390 ft) this route is primarily graded at class I, with some sections at class II. (Note that some accounts state the length as being up to 12.5 km/ 7.8 miles). 

This grading means there might be a small amount of scrambling, but otherwise this is a straight-forward walk up. You should allow around half a day to complete this route.

The Guanella Pass trailhead (3,557 m/ 11,670 ft) to the west of the mountain is the starting point. This can be reached easily by car along the Guanella Pass road, which runs from north to south. Two car parks are found at the trailhead). 

From the trailhead, begin by descending the well constructed path into the willow flats below the mountain. A landmark is Scott Gomer Creek, the route’s low point, from where you begin to gently climb. (It is unclear whether or not the creek is crossed via a bridge or whether you should pack some plastic bags to keep your feet dry!)

As the trail begins to climb, and you pass out of the tree line, you’ll arrive at switchbacks that slowly rise up the west slopes of Mount Bierstadt. These take you all the way to the shoulder of the South Summit (also known as the false summit at 4,200 m/ 13,780 ft). 

The ridge line north will lead you easily to the summit proper. 

To descend either retrace your steps, or alternatively, continue along Sawtooth ridge to ascend Mount Evans. This is around 2.2 km (1.4 miles) east of Mount Bierstadt and is rated at class III, offering something more of a challenge. 

For a long day’s walking, you can even attempt to collect Mount Bierstadt, Mount Evans and Mount Spalding one after the other as they are all part to the same massif and joined by ridge lines.

For a little more of a challenging adventure, try the South Ridge route. 

Approaching from the south-west, this 10 km (13-mile) return trip is a full day’s hiking. Though technically not really a challenge, this hike is more strenuous than the West Slopes route, and requires some path finding too.

From the Scott Gomer trailhead (2,926 m/ 9,600 ft), take the Abyss Lake trail (handily labelled no 602) for 5.5 km (3.5 miles) through woodland until the intersection with trail no 605. At this point leave the trail and head north-east, in the direction of the ridge line up above. 

Here is the path finding section where you hike through low brush and woodland until you emerge 1.5 km (1 mile) later on top of the ridge at 3,627 m (11,900 ft).

Now follow the ridge up to your left. First you’ll reach the South Summit and here you join the West Slopes route. Stay on this to reach the summit proper, where you’ll stand having gained 1,360 m (4,460 ft)

For yet more of a challenge, try the East Ridge route. This is a full-day adventure and will require some climbing (Class III).

Begin at the small car park found on the switchbacks along the saddle between Mount Evans and Epaulet Mountain (4,122m/ 13,523 ft) to Mount Bierstadt’s east. Descend along the saddle until a path down a gully towards Abyss Lake becomes clear. Follow this north around the top of the lake (staying as high on the boulders as possible).

Climb the steep slopes to the East Ridge of Mount Bierstadt, north-west (to the left) of the cliff. Once up, the route then simply follows this ridge to the summit, but en route are the two climbing challenges. 

They are two towers, the first of which is traversed while the second must be climbed over. While not hugely technical, they do pose a climbing challenge that is otherwise absent on the mountain. 

Information on Hiking around Mount Bierstadt.

With the Rocky Mountains stretching away to the north, west and south, the Front Range running north and south and the Chicago Range spiralling around Mount Bierstadt, there are no shortages of treks to be found in addition to the simple summit hikes.

Several peaks in the area have the option of (almost) driving to the summit. Mount Evans is one such peak, where you can drive up switchbacks to within half a kilometre of the summit.

But a more interesting prospect is to descend into the Abyss Lake gully and ascend Mount Evans via its steep western slopes. These are only a scramble, but will reward you for your efforts with the highest viewpoint on the massif. If you’ve parked nearby, it also saves you the descent, which we all know is the hardest part of any hike!

More hiking options are found to the east. The easy accessibility from population centres, and a greater variety of terrains, has led to more trails being established. 

For a gentle walk, particularly recommended for flower-lovers in spring, head to the Meyer Ranch Open Space hikes. These wind through meadows and lower woodland along trails such as Sunny Aspen trail and Owl’s Perch trail. These give an indication that the scenery and wildlife, rather than the hiking challenge, are the focus. 

To the north-east is Colorado’s less well-known Golden Gate State Park. This include a number of hikes through the intriguingly named Forgotten Valley, though we hope you won’t be! 

Many trails are lined with traditional wilderness cabins, often relics of the gold rush era. With an assortment of designated half-day hikes through coniferous forest, grassland and passed mountain lakes, this is another area of no more than moderately challenging hiking, but far more than mediocre scenery. 

With backcountry camping available across much of the area (check details of specific permit requirements with individual park areas), you can easily create longer, multi-day hikes through the wide wilderness area surrounding Mount Bierstadt.