Hiking a 14er with a kid can be a great experience—or a horrible one.
One key to making it a great experience is picking the right 14er to climb. You don’t want to take your kid up Crestone Needle or Capitol Peak. Each 14er route can be classified with a difficulty level.
Typically there are 5 classes as followed:
- Class 1: Usually a well-marked trail. No route finding is necessary and you pretty much can walk the thing.
- Class 2: This varies from a semi-worn trail to no trail at all. Trail surface might be steep and slick with things like loose dirt or scree. Route finding might be necessary and scrambling (using your hands) might be required at times, but you’re still mostly on your feet.
- Class 3: Scrambling is expected. This gets steeper so descending will require you to face the rock, rather than face outward.
- Class 4: This is basically climbing, usually without a rope, but using one doesn't hurt. A fall might be lethal so you’re really getting into dangerous territory here.
- Class 5: This is technical climbing with a rope.
I don’t think it needs be said, but I’d stay away from class 4 and 5 routes with kids, and I probably wouldn’t chance it with class 3 unless they are more experienced teenagers with some climbing experience.
That leaves you with class 1 or 2 routes to choose from, but luckily, there are quite a few “easier” 14ers that can provide this. Here are a few popular ones:
- Grays Peak
- Torreys Peak
- Handies Peak
- Mount Sherman
- Mount Democrat
- Mount Bross
- Mount Lincoln
- Quandary Peak
- Mount Bierstadt
- Mount Elbert
- Mount Massive
- Mount Antero
- Pikes Peak
- San Luis Peak
- La Plata Peak
Before we get to the top 5, here are a few more tips for climbing 14ers with kids:
#1 Keep the hike on the kids' terms
Make sure they want to go, don’t force it. This means letting them go at their own pace. You’ll need to find that balance between pushing them and encouraging them (because they’ll likely want to quit at some point) and realizing that they’ve really had too much and need to turn back. It requires your wisdom to know if you’re pushing them too much or if they need to be pushed. Have a policy in place before hand that you won’t carry them so that they know they’ll have to get back to the car on their own.
#2 You carry most of the supplies (food, clothing etc.)
They likely don’t need to be weighed-down. The hike itself will be challenging enough as it is with just their body. The younger the child is the more this holds true. Also, it’s your responsibility to make sure they drink enough.
#3 Camp or stay near the mountain the night before
For example, if you’re going to hike Quandary Peak it would be wise to stay at a bed and breakfast in Breckenridge or camp nearby so that in the morning you can get on the mountain early. Otherwise you have a long drive from the front-range just to get to the mountain. This all takes energy and a 14er is tough enough without getting up at 3:30 am to drive for a few hours.
Below is my list of the Top 5 14ers to hike with kids.
This is entirely subjective, but just my own opinion and that of others I’ve gathered. Other peaks not on this list are great, but since this is a top 5 list, only 5 make the cut. As always, please do your own research, and make sure you get a good guidebook before attempting any of these, especially with a child.
This is a great gentle peak. It also offers a scenic drive. It’s basically short and not too steep (relative to other 14ers). Located near Denver.
#4 Handies Peak
This was my first peak as a kid and it’s location is near Lake City, a four- hour drive from Colorado Springs. It’s a hike of 5.5 miles round-trip and 2,500 feet of climbing. The top of Handies Peak has one of the most beautiful views of any 14er.
#3 Grays and Torreys Peak
Ok, the top 5 is really a top 6! Grays Peak and Torreys Peak have great trails the entire way. Pleasant switch-backs and an easy ridge that connects the two make this a great chance for your kid to climb two 14ers in one day.
#2 Mount Antero
This kid friendly mountain near Buena Vista is good if you have an SUV that can get you to 12,000 feet on the jeep road. The kids can then hike on ATV trails for a good portion of the 7-mile trip.
One of the closest 14ers to Colorado Springs, is the #1, best peak to take your kid on. The trail climbs 2,100 feet and is 5.25 miles round-trip. It’s like a giant anthill!
Again, please consult a guide-book before attempting any of these!
Also, go to www.toppeak.com and pick your kid out a 14er souvenir to commemorate your kid’s first 14er!
Which 14er is Best for Taking a Kid? This podcast episode tries to answer that for you.
Subscribe to the 14ers Podcast on itunes HERE
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