Your Cart

Best Beginner Class 3 14ers in Colorado: Your Ultimate Guide to Peak Adventures

Photo by Darby Calvillo

Colorado is a dream destination for outdoor enthusiasts, boasting over 50 peaks that rise above 14,000 feet. These “14ers” offer a range of challenges for hikers, from simple trails to complex climbs. If you’re ready to take your hiking game up a notch and try your hand at Class 3 peaks, you’re in for an exhilarating experience. Here’s a guide to the best beginner Class 3 14ers in Colorado that offer the perfect blend of adventure and accessibility.

What is a Class 3 14er?

Before we dive into the list, let’s clarify what a Class 3 14er is. The classification system ranges from Class 1 to Class 5, with Class 1 being the easiest (well-maintained trails) and Class 5 being the most difficult (technical climbing requiring gear). Class 3 involves scrambling—using your hands for balance and climbing over rocks. It’s more challenging than a simple hike but doesn’t usually require technical climbing gear.

The Best Beginner Class 3 14ers in Colorado

1. Mount Sneffels (14,150 feet)

Location: San Juan Range
Trailhead: Yankee Boy Basin
Key Highlights: Spectacular views, beautiful wildflowers, and a rewarding summit.

Mount Sneffels is often touted as one of the most beautiful 14ers in Colorado. The climb starts at Yankee Boy Basin, offering a relatively short but steep ascent. Here’s a breakdown of the popular Lavender Col route, including the famous V-notch.

Route Description:

  • Yankee Boy Basin: The adventure begins at the Yankee Boy Basin trailhead, located at an elevation of around 12,000 feet. This high-altitude start reduces the overall elevation gain, making the climb more accessible.
  • Approach to Lavender Col: The trail is well-marked and follows a 4WD road before transitioning to a more rugged path. As you ascend, you’ll be treated to stunning views of alpine meadows and wildflowers. The trail gradually steepens as you approach Lavender Col, a saddle situated below the peak.
  • Scramble to the Summit: From Lavender Col, the route becomes more challenging, involving a scramble over loose rocks and scree. This is where you’ll encounter the Class 3 terrain. The scrambling is straightforward but requires careful footing and handholds.
  • The V-Notch: One of the defining features of the Mount Sneffels climb is the V-notch, a narrow gap in the rock that you must pass through near the summit. This section can be intimidating, but with the three points of contact rule, you can navigate it safely. Position yourself carefully, using your hands and feet to maintain balance as you climb through the notch.
  • Final Push: After the V-notch, the path to the summit is straightforward but still involves some scrambling. The views from the top are breathtaking, offering a panoramic vista of the San Juan Mountains.
2. Wetterhorn Peak (14,015 feet)

Location: San Juan Range
Trailhead: Matterhorn Creek
Key Highlights: Solid rock scrambling, beautiful scenery, and a fun climb.

Wetterhorn Peak is another excellent choice for beginners looking to tackle a Class 3 14er. The route to Wetterhorn is engaging and less crowded than some other popular peaks, making for a more serene climbing experience.

Route Description:

  • Matterhorn Creek Trailhead: Start your journey at the Matterhorn Creek trailhead. The initial part of the hike follows a well-maintained trail through scenic forests and meadows.
  • Approach to the Ridge: As you ascend, you’ll reach a basin with a clear view of Wetterhorn Peak. The trail becomes steeper as you approach the ridge, where the real fun begins.
  • Class 3 Scrambling: The ridge presents some exciting Class 3 scrambling over solid rock. This section is less loose than other peaks, which makes for a more enjoyable and secure climb. Pay attention to your hand and foot placements, and remember to use the three points of contact rule.
  • The Final Summit Push: The last segment involves climbing a series of rock steps, which are well-defined and offer good holds. The summit provides spectacular views of the surrounding San Juan Range.
3. Kelso Ridge on Torreys Peak (14,267 feet)

Location: Front Range
Trailhead: Grays Peak Trailhead (Stevens Gulch)
Key Highlights: Exhilarating ridge climb, proximity to Denver, and stunning views.

Kelso Ridge is a thrilling alternative route to the summit of Torreys Peak and is a great introduction to Class 3 climbing for beginners. This route offers a mix of hiking and scrambling, with some exposure that adds to the excitement without being overly technical.

Route Description:

  • Grays Peak Trailhead: Begin your adventure at the Grays Peak Trailhead in Stevens Gulch. Follow the main trail towards Grays and Torreys Peaks until you reach the fork for Kelso Ridge.
  • The Ridge: Once on the ridge, you’ll encounter a mix of hiking and scrambling. The route is marked by cairns and follows a well-defined path along the ridge. You’ll traverse rocky sections, using your hands for balance and climbing over boulders.
  • The Knife Edge: One of the most exhilarating parts of the climb is the Knife Edge, a narrow section of the ridge with significant exposure on either side. It looks intimidating, but it’s relatively short and straightforward if you take your time and use the three points of contact rule.
  • Final Ascent: After the Knife Edge, continue scrambling up solid rock to reach the summit of Torreys Peak. The views from the top are stunning, offering a panorama of the Front Range and beyond.

Tips for Climbing Class 3 14ers

  1. Start Early: Afternoon thunderstorms are common in Colorado. Aim to summit by noon and descend quickly.
  2. Check the Weather: Always check the forecast before heading out and be prepared to turn back if conditions worsen.
  3. Gear Up: Wear a helmet to protect against loose rock and carry the ten essentials (navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first-aid supplies, fire, repair kit and tools, nutrition, hydration, and emergency shelter).
  4. Hydrate and Fuel Up: Bring plenty of water and high-energy snacks to keep your energy levels up.
  5. Know Your Limits: If you’re not comfortable with the exposure or the scrambling, don’t push it. There’s no shame in turning back.

The Three Points of Contact Rule

When scrambling on Class 3 terrain, maintaining three points of contact is crucial for safety and stability. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. What is the Three Points of Contact Rule? The three points of contact rule means always having three of your four limbs (either two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand) in contact with the rock or surface. This rule minimizes the risk of slipping and maximizes your balance and stability.
  2. How to Apply the Rule?
    • Move Slowly and Deliberately: Take your time to place each hand and foot securely before moving the next limb.
    • Plan Your Moves: Look ahead and decide your next steps carefully, ensuring each point of contact is solid.
    • Maintain Low Center of Gravity: Keep your body close to the rock surface to improve balance and reduce strain on your limbs.
  3. Benefits of Three Points of Contact:
    • Increased Stability: Reduces the likelihood of losing balance or slipping.
    • Enhanced Safety: Provides a more secure grip, especially on loose or uneven terrain.
    • Better Control: Helps in maintaining a controlled and steady ascent or descent.

Final Thoughts

Tackling a Class 3 14er is a fantastic way to push your limits and enjoy the stunning landscapes Colorado has to offer. With proper preparation and a sense of adventure, you’ll be well on your way to conquering these peaks. Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination, so take your time, enjoy the views, and stay safe out there!