One of Colorado's biggest claims to fame — literally — is its 54 fourteeners: peaks that rise more than 14,000 feet above sea level. These sky-scraping mountains make us the tallest state in the nation and lure hikers and photographers anxious for that amazing photo and bragging rights for summiting their heights.
Pikes Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park's Longs Peak, Mount Evans, the Maroon Bells and Mount Sneffels are five of Colorado's most popular and most photographed mountains. And they're so beautiful, even the novice photographer will look like a pro.
1. Maroon Bells (pictured)
It’s said that the Maroon Bells (actually, two peaks: Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak) are the most photographed peaks in Colorado, and when you see them, you’ll understand why. With a reflective lake to cast back their beauty and a crystalline blue sky to frame their edges, the pyramid-like peaks of these sister mountains are a photographer’s dream. The naked faces of these often snow-dusted behemoths stand in contrast to the lush greenery of conifers and brillieant wildflowers that grow in their shadows.
Hikers and bikers can access to a moderate 1.5-mile trail that rings the lake and provides many areas to stop and snap a shot. If you want to give your legs a break, a shuttle will take you to the peaks as well.
Location: From Glenwood Springs, travel southeast on Highway 82.
2. Pikes Peak
At 14,117 feet, Pikes Peak is a monolithic monument named for explorer Zebulon Pike, whose travels left an indelible mark on the psyche of the American people. While Pike himself was never able to reach its summit, he was the first documented pioneer to try. Infused with historic significance, a picture of this mountain is more than just a shot of scenery — it’s a glimpse into Colorado’s identity.
If you have an adventurous spirit, drive the rugged Pikes Peak Highway to get your shot. The road up is paved for only seven miles, then abruptly transitions into dirt and gravel. It has more than 150 turns that traverse the mountain face, each one providing a vista worth photographing. If you prefer a different approach to the top, take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, the highest of its kind in the world.
Location: Take Highway 24 west out of Colorado Springs.
3. Longs Peak
The centerpiece of Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak regally stands at 14,255 feet. This odd-shaped peak juts up like an eroded box displaying both sharp corners and flat faces, including a flat summit. Thanks to these geometric angles, light and shadow compete throughout the day, providing dramatic contrasts and breathtaking photographs.
Longs Peak takes its name from an explorer of the area, Major Stephen H. Long. In 1820, his group explored the Colorado territory’s newly defined northern boundary. Their party only witnessed this peak from afar, but even at a distance they found the largest mountain on the horizon fit to bear the name of their respected leader. When you encounter this Longs Peak, you’ll see why they were inspired to do so.
4. Mount Evans
There are few places in the world that you can motor over a mountain more than 14,000-feet high. In fact, at 14,260 feet, the route over Mount Evans leads you along the highest paved road in the United States. The road is closed and impassible due to snow from Labor Day to Memorial Day, but once it opens, bring your camera and be prepared for some of the most magnificent views you've seen. From the pinnacle of Mount Evans, views of the surrounding ranges and valleys capture the sheer greatness of the Rocky Mountains themselves.
5. Mount Sneffels
Mount Sneffels juts out of the earth like a mythical peak. High-alpine trees abruptly give way at timberline allowing the naked face of the 14,150-foot peak to loom over the landscape. This mountain sits in the extremely rugged Mount Sneffels Wilderness Area. If you’re able, grab your camera and take the time to explore on foot the pristine wilderness that surrounds this peak.
There are no roads to this mountain, so set up your tripod on Dallas Divide Pass on Highway 62, just outside of Ridgway.
Location: From Telluride, travel along Highway 145 north, to the junction of Highway 62. Turn onto Highway 62 toward Dallas Divide Pass.