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Beginning to plan for first trip in CO

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Beginning to plan for first trip in CO

Postby sherby » Wed Oct 26, 2011 7:56 am

Hi, I've been hiking for over a year in the north-east, going over all the 4k' peaks and I'm now beginning to plan a first 3-weeks trip in Colorado.

I have a first set of questions, thanks in advance for any help / suggestion / comment.

1) if you have the choice, which month would you choose (and why) between June, July, August and September.

2) i like to read books and "Colorado's Fourteeners, 3rd Ed" from Roach, G. seems to be best one available ?

3) after some google search and reading on different forums, it seems difficult (and very costly) to rent a specific 4wd vehicle in Denver, maybe some specialized company are a better alternative than enterprise/hertz/etc. ? (I will be flying from Burlington, VT)

4) What do you use for maps ? A combination of the National Geographics and Topos ?

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Re: Beginning to plan for first trip in CO

Postby SurfNTurf » Wed Oct 26, 2011 8:02 am

sherby wrote:
1) if you have the choice, which month would you choose (and why) between June, July, August and September.

2) i like to read books and "Colorado's Fourteeners, 3rd Ed" from Roach, G. seems to be best one available ?

3) after some google search and reading on different forums, it seems difficult (and very costly) to rent a specific 4wd vehicle in Denver, maybe some specialized company are a better alternative than enterprise/hertz/etc. ? (I will be flying from Burlington, VT)

4) What do you use for maps ? A combination of the National Geographics and Topos ?


1. That depends. Do you want snow? If you want to use an ice ax and crampons, June is your best bet. The snow usually lingers into July. September is great because there's typically no snow and the threat of afternoon thunderstorms has decreased. If you ask me, early September is the best time for summer-condition hiking in Colorado.

2. Yes, it's fantastic, but...it's more of a guidebook. I couldn't imagine "reading" it from cover-to-cover like a novel. It's great coffee table material. For a more entertaining read, check out Halfway to Heaven.

3. No idea. I just started being able to rent cars this year. :lol:

4. National Geographic Trails Illustrated.
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Re: Beginning to plan for first trip in CO

Postby gonzalj » Wed Oct 26, 2011 8:07 am

sherby wrote:Hi, I've been hiking for over a year in the north-east, going over all the 4k' peaks and I'm now beginning to plan a first 3-weeks trip in Colorado.

I have a first set of questions, thanks in advance for any help / suggestion / comment.

1) if you have the choice, which month would you choose (and why) between June, July, August and September.

2) i like to read books and "Colorado's Fourteeners, 3rd Ed" from Roach, G. seems to be best one available ?

3) after some google search and reading on different forums, it seems difficult (and very costly) to rent a specific 4wd vehicle in Denver, maybe some specialized company are a better alternative than enterprise/hertz/etc. ? (I will be flying from Burlington, VT)

4) What do you use for maps ? A combination of the National Geographics and Topos ?


Well, here's my opinion on your questions:

1) In terms of months September would be my 1st choice (specifically the 2nd half of september as usually the 2nd half of the month till the beginning of October has absolutely georgeous weather and incredibly beautiful fall colors. My 2nd choice would be June as usually monsoon season hasn't hit, so afternoon thunderstorms (while still possible) are less likely compared to July & August.

2) In terms of books, you got the right one and other than that, just spend time on this website and you'll be good to go.

3) In terms of car, a 4wd would be useful as numerous 14er TH's are 4wd roads, but at the least I would say something with ground clearance like a truck, SUV or something like a subaru forestor. If the budget only fits a small economy car, then I'm sure you can also try to coordinate rides & hikes with people on this site.

4) All the maps I have are either national geographic maps, sky terrain trail maps or latitude 40 maps. The latitude 40 & sky terrain are a little more detailed compared to national geographic, but the nat geo's are good enough (especially when you can download specific route description instructions from this website as well as detailed info to get to whatever different TH's you want to get to).

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Re: Beginning to plan for first trip in CO

Postby msmith7361 » Wed Oct 26, 2011 8:16 am

1) September has beautiful weather that is a bit more "stable" than July/August. You might get a "colder" day here and there, but it's high country and to be expected anyway. Another benefit of September are numerous beerfests (Colorado microbrews)
2) Yes
3) I've always had great lucky with priceline. The last time we went to BWI I got a car for $10 a day. I'd recommend trying that with a 4WD-specified vehicle. Once you find out which rental company it is, I would call and confirm the type of vehicle. Alternatively, as gonzalj said, you could probably shareride pretty easily (June/July/August would probably be easier than September).
4) Between Roach's book and this website, you shouldn't have to purchase much. Honestly, as soon as you land at DIA, I would drive to REI and check out their extensive map section (and other gear). You'd probably have to stop there anyway to pick up camp fuel anyway.

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Re: Beginning to plan for first trip in CO

Postby peter303 » Wed Oct 26, 2011 8:25 am

The core low-ice low-snow period is July 1 to late August.
Afternoon thunderstorms from late May to mid-September. Do all you peak bagging in the morning; hiking and driving in the PM.
I dislike the late sunrises in the autumn.

I've seen pre-prepared 14er toposets for 14ers at Colorado sports stores like REI. You could even tear up a guidebook like Roach's and take the pages for that dayhike. His topo maps are too small to really be useful. The newest edition has some GPS waypoints. If you stick to Roach's "classic trailheads", they will in most cases by well-marked and full of people on the weekends. I almost never look at my maps on one of those hikes. You need map skills for the more offbeat stuff.

A good fraction of the 14ers have "2WD drive access". These range from paved roads to the standard trailheads (like Yale), to good graded forest roads (like Harvard) to marginal forest roads (like Democrat). Others have 2WD stopping points and extra one to four hours of hiking over the 4WD parts. Some of the marginal forest roads might be considered prohibited "off road" in some rental contracts. A high-clearance 4WD is more convenient if you can afford it. You could camp most nights and take a motel "luxury break" now and then and put more dollars toward a better vehicle.

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Re: Beginning to plan for first trip in CO

Postby Steve Gio » Wed Oct 26, 2011 3:15 pm

Hey before you come out, grab me a rack of Long Trail Ale. \:D/ I lived in Burlington for 5 years before moving out here on 05. Did more mountain biking then hiking when I was there though.

As for your questions it depends on what you are looking for. Peak bagging or just backpacking or combo? My vote for time frame would be mid July thru early August. The scenery will be booming with all the colors. Thunderstorms will be possible but you're from VT, you've got rain gear. If you are looking for some awesome backpacking trips accessible by 2wd car let me know.

Enjoy the trip planning

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Re: Beginning to plan for first trip in CO

Postby sherby » Wed Oct 26, 2011 6:19 pm

Steve Gio wrote:Hey before you come out, grab me a rack of Long Trail Ale. \:D/ I lived in Burlington for 5 years before moving out here on 05. Did more mountain biking then hiking when I was there though.

As for your questions it depends on what you are looking for. Peak bagging or just backpacking or combo? My vote for time frame would be mid July thru early August. The scenery will be booming with all the colors. Thunderstorms will be possible but you're from VT, you've got rain gear. If you are looking for some awesome backpacking trips accessible by 2wd car let me know.

Enjoy the trip planning


Actually I'm from Québec, but I do enjoy New England beer after a long hike and not only plane tickets are cheaper in VT, but crossing land customs is usually a lot easier than the ones at the airport.

For this first time in Colorado, the goal will be to visit a couple peaks from the different ranges to really get hooked and come back to finish them all :D

We do plan to camp most of nights, I'll surely have many questions about camping later, I've heard that in some areas, reservations are needed months in advance...
Last edited by sherby on Wed Oct 26, 2011 8:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Beginning to plan for first trip in CO

Postby speth » Wed Oct 26, 2011 7:14 pm

This might be a dumb question given the website you're asking for advice on, but... Are you specifically looking to climb/hike 14ers? There are a lot of other places to see and you might consider your alternatives (or 'additions', I guess), especially if this is your absolute first time coming to Colorado.
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Re: Beginning to plan for first trip in CO

Postby ChrisinAZ » Wed Oct 26, 2011 7:30 pm

1. I feel like August and early September generally presents the "easiest" time to do 14ers...you'll still likely have to contend with some afternoon thunderstorms, but that's the time of year you'll have the fewest snow worries on more difficult routes. Later September raises the risk of new snowfall, with earlier in the summer likely having snow that's still around from winter/spring. Your call, really...

2. Can't recommend much in terms of general-purpose books on Colorado's peaks, though I'm sure there's plenty out there. The first and last parts of Roach's guidebook are definitely worth a read, though...

3. Can't help out much here either, though I'd recommend something that has high clearance, and not necessarily 4WD. Even having the former will serve you pretty well for many, if not most 14er approaches, and depending on your skill and comfort level it could get you up some easy 4WD roads. Alternatively, do what others have mentioned (passenger car, and arrange to meet up with others with better vehicles).

4. My preferred mapping site is Acme Mapper. Just change to the topo setting, screen capture with your Print Screen button, and you can save/print whatever maps you want! It won't do driving directions though.

I wouldn't worry all that much about camping--barring a few exceptions like the Boulderfield on Longs, you should have little problem finding a campsite on most 14ers (and even less in less-frequented areas!). Make sure you know the regulations heading in, though; places like Capitol Lake, Chicago Basin, etc. do have rules and restrictions you should be aware of before you arrive there. Are you planning to do only 14ers, or throw in some lower peaks and non-peak destinations as well? And what is your general skill level on rock and/or snow? That'd probably give us a good idea of some peaks from the various ranges we all could recommend. :)

From a fellow Easterner--enjoy your time out here!
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Re: Beginning to plan for first trip in CO

Postby Wish I lived in CO » Thu Oct 27, 2011 9:22 am

RE: Question #3 on the rental cars:

I've flown to Colorado the last 4 summers for normally a 9 day trip each time, so I can give some ideas anyway. In trying to hold the cost of the trip down, I decided early on to do a lot of "car" camping and skip the motels / hotels whenever possible; but to "splurge" on a 4WD SUV.

Depending on which TH's you want to access a 4WD is actually a necessity. Since you'll be there for 3 weeks, it seems you'll be, hopefully, trying several mountains. Thus, I'd recommend the 4WD. Others had a great point though, ride sharing from a lower 2WD access point up to the 4WD TH is usually fairly easy and everybody is pretty friendly that way. Of course if you start early, midweek, and on a less popular mountain running into someone may be more difficult. But that aside if you go the 2WD route, I'd plan on doing your homework well ahead of time and identify which mountains these are and keep most of your climbs to these, and maybe trying hitching only a few of the 4WD's to minimize your dependance on catching a random ride up to the TH. Of course 2WD certainly is cheaper to rent and gas and you can't ignore that in your decision.

However, there are some other major advantages to having the SUV. The first is the ability to truly "car" camp - i.e. sleep in the back of the SUV which avoids setting up / taking down tents in the rain, etc. Unless you are going with your spouse / significant other, I'd plan on only room for one sleeping though. Next, be SURE to bring a blow up mattress, trust me on this it is so worth it, especially for a 3 week trip. However, this is all a moot point is you plan to use lodging, which is perfectly fine if you're OK with the cost. Check with others on this for general summer availability, not sure how easy it is to find last minute vacancy. A last word on the car camping, I've found the Sawatch and Sangres pretty good to find places to camp - either at the TH, or on the way to the TH, or I've even found a free campground. Generally you are allowed to camp for free in forest service lands (anywhere that looks good on the side of a forest service dirt road). Half moon road near Elbert and the road to Shavano are both great for this. One exception so far, Sneffels last year I arrived in the area in the dark only to find "no camping" posted everywhere and the only obvious campground not sure how to register in the dark so wound up finding a place in town fortunately.

Second major advantage to the SUV is it'll be a lot easier to carry 3 weeks of gear!

Cost: I found that the Durango airport had significantly cheaper rates than DIA. However for a 3 week trip, skip the airport rental and look for one in town, it'll be much cheaper and worth it for a 3 week trip. Look around and book early for the best deal. Check ahead, but you should be able to cancel auto reservations if you find a better second deal. However, maybe like I said above, skip the airport, really, as in drive from out east. Maybe buy an SUV and drive out, or rent one from a friend, or take your car if going the 2WD route. Or if flying even buy one on craigslist or something and pick it up when you get there and then sell after on a no reserve ebay sell - the loss you take on the short sale may not be nearly as bad on renting for 3 weeks, so maybe be creative for a 3 week trip.

Have a great trip.
I look up to the mountains - does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! Psalm 121:1-2

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Re: Beginning to plan for first trip in CO

Postby sherby » Thu Oct 27, 2011 5:04 pm

ChrisinAZ wrote:4. My preferred mapping site is Acme Mapper. Just change to the topo setting, screen capture with your Print Screen button, and you can save/print whatever maps you want! It won't do driving directions though.

[...] Are you planning to do only 14ers, or throw in some lower peaks and non-peak destinations as well? And what is your general skill level on rock and/or snow? That'd probably give us a good idea of some peaks from the various ranges we all could recommend. :)



Yeah, it's a great free tool to get topos. Of course I'll probably throw in a couple of lower peaks, but I'm not planning "non-wilderness" destinations, except an evening or two in a good restaurant/brewery.

I may be interested in nice areas to visit for "rest" days.

We don't have much class 3+ routes in the north-east, so experience is minimum but giving it a try is one of the goal of the trip.

Wish I lived in CO wrote:
Cost: I found that the Durango airport had significantly cheaper rates than DIA. However for a 3 week trip, skip the airport rental and look for one in town, it'll be much cheaper and worth it for a 3 week trip. Look around and book early for the best deal. Check ahead, but you should be able to cancel auto reservations if you find a better second deal. However, maybe like I said above, skip the airport, really, as in drive from out east. Maybe buy an SUV and drive out, or rent one from a friend, or take your car if going the 2WD route. Or if flying even buy one on craigslist or something and pick it up when you get there and then sell after on a no reserve ebay sell - the loss you take on the short sale may not be nearly as bad on renting for 3 weeks, so maybe be creative for a 3 week trip.


Thank you for all the info, but as a foreigner, I'm not sure the buy/sell option is a very good idea. I'll definitly look outside of DIA.

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Re: Beginning to plan for first trip in CO

Postby MuchosPixels » Fri Oct 28, 2011 12:51 am

This year there was a LOT of snow up till at least june in most areas so it was pretty sloppy (wet) and it was a wet summer (rain) throughout pretty much august. So, I would choose mid-SEPT. to mid-OCT as the best time. Yes there might be a tad of snow in places (microspikes suffice) but mostly it should be very dry with long stretches of stable weather (and pleasant temps). October brings the threat of snow and windy weather.

I hiked Pikes Peak in spring and it was WICKED windy, 30-60+mph, and while there was snow, it actually helped me move faster in a lot of places since walking on consolidated snow is much faster than boulder hopping. However, trailfinding is much trickier and you need to carry a lot more gear.

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