Equally impressive, yet refreshingly underrated are the heroically humble 13ers. The Southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado harbor more than 600 of these lofty peaks rising to heights of 13,000 feet. Which is no slouch in the elevation department. Heck, only nine of 50 U.S. states contain peaks that rear up to that level. And whereas Colorado’s 14ers might make all the headlines, it’s the 13ers that quietly sneak under the radar (yet still above the clouds).
If you’re looking for true Colorado adventure with the added bonus—in many cases—of being less crowded than those sought-after 14ers, then Colorado’s 13ers serve up loads of scenery and adventure. So lace up those hiking boots and check out six of the finest Colorado 13ers to set your switchbacking sights upon.
Mount Meeker (13,911 feet)—Front Range
Mount Meeker(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) is not only very nearly a 14er—c’mon, we’re talking less than 1,000 feet here!—but it’s also topographically linked to one of the most famous such peaks in Colorado: Longs Peak, a 14,259-foot rooftop of Rocky Mountain National Park.
In fact, Meeker—separated from Longs by the big saddle called the Loft—is the second-highest peak in that legendary park. Heavily gouged on its north face, it’s plenty striking on its own terms. Paired with Longs and the surrounding Rocky Mountain scenery, it’s downright magisterial.
Those tackling Mount Meeker from the thronged Longs Peak Trailhead may find parking the biggest challenge of their outing—but that’s not to say that this is an easy walk in the (national) park. The approach is mainly Class 2, but the summit itself involves some Class 2 scrambling.
Squaretop Mountain (13,794 feet)—Front Range
Just across the road from Mount Bierstadt—one of the most visited 14ers in all of Colorado—lies the Squaretop Mountain Trail. Far less crowded yet arguably more beautiful than nearby Bierstadt, Squaretop Mountain(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) is an underrated gem hiding in plain sight.
The 7-mile round trip hike to its summit and back begins with a moderate ascent through alpine meadows, leading to a steeper climb up rocky slopes. As hikers ascend, they are rewarded with breathtaking vistas of surrounding peaks, shimmering lakes, and lush valleys. The final stretch involves scrambling over boulders to reach the summit, where panoramic views of the expansive landscape await.
Squaretop Mountain's uniquely shaped peak, coupled with its scenic grandeur, makes it a memorable hiking experience.
Horseshoe Mountain (13,898 feet)—Mosquito Range
Like most of the Mosquito Range, Horseshoe Mountain(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) is a gentle eminence of layered sedimentary rock, but it boasts immense grandeur courtesy of the yawning glacial gouge on its northeast face: the Horseshoe Cirque. Nabbing up-close looks at that huge amphitheater is reason enough to put this Colorado 13er on your to-do list. Add in the easy access and sprawling views, and opting for this peak becomes the ultimate no-brainer.
Multiple non-technical approaches are possible, but the standard hike up—some eight miles round-trip—is via the eastern side of the mountain out of Fourmile Creek Trailhead. Views from the summit stretch from the nearby Buffalo Peaks to Mount Elbert, Mount Harvard, the Mount of the Holy Cross, Pikes Peak, and Torreys Peak.
Notch Peak (13,237 feet)—Sawatch Range
Notch Peak(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), in the Holy Cross Wilderness, is a fine mountain in and of itself, overshadowed as it is by the numerous 14ers of the Sawatch Range—the highest range in all the Rockies, and host to Colorado’s three-loftiest summits.
But Notch is best known as a vantage. Its summit, north of the namesake notch, offers the preeminent view of one of the most iconic mountain faces in the Southern Rocky Mountains: the northeast face of the Mount of the Holy Cross, slashed by its cross-shaped couloir snowfield.
Trek up to those Mount of the Holy Cross front-row seats—and admire Notch Peak’s own virtues—with a Class 2 approach from Half Moon Pass.
Matterhorn Peak (13,590 feet)—San Juan Mountains
Matterhorn Peak(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre)’s named for its resemblance to the legit Matterhorn: that giant pointy fang (a 14er, to use North American parlance) in the Pennine Alps from which the generalized geomorphic term for a peak glacier-chiseled on all sides is derived.
To be fair, the San Juans’ Matterhorn Peak doesn’t look all that much like the Matterhorn of the Alps. You could argue that nearby Uncompahgre Peak, one of Colorado’s most beautiful summits, shares more with the true Matterhorn when it comes to elevation and commanding skyline presence.
But Colorado’s Matterhorn, set in the Uncompahgre Wilderness, happens to be a wonderful mountain, and those who hoof it up the Class 2/Class 3 ascent (the Matterhorn Creek Trailhead is a prime launchpad) have an incredible panorama to feast on. It includes the nearby 14ers of Uncompahgre Peak and Wetterhorn (also named for an Alpine prong) but also unspools far beyond: from the Sneffels Range all the way to Utah’s La Sal and Henry mountains bulging out of the Colorado Plateau.
The Rio Grande Pyramid (13,821 feet)—San Juan Mountains
This lonely horn in the depths of the 497,111-acre Weminuche Wilderness—the biggest wilderness area in Colorado, hosting the headwaters of the mighty Rio Grande—lures backpackers (and the hardiest day hikers) into the sublime heights of the east-central San Juan Mountains.
This superlative range, the largest single chain in the Rockies, is one of America’s greatest alpine blocks, with vast acreage above 10,000 feet. And the Rio Grande Pyramid(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) makes, alongside the extraordinary notch called the Window along its south flanks, one of the great scenic one-two punches in the Southern Rockies: a downright mythic-looking landscape swelling from more subdued, blocky, ridge-and-valley surrounds.
The Rio Grande Pyramid is the 97th-tallest peak in Colorado and among the more remote “Centennials” (the highest 100 Rocky Mountain State summits). A roughly 20-mile round-trip trek is required out of Thirtymile Campground to reach its far-flung, though non-technical, crown, which serves up killer views westward to the torn-up skyline of the Grenadiers and the Needles, and northward to the unmistakable tooth of Uncompahgre Peak.
Questing After Colorado’s Awesome 13ers
By all means, pursue the airy heights of Colorado’s magnificent 14ers. After all, it’s unquestionably a thrill to stand atop the roof of the Rockies, one of the world’s greatest mountain kingdoms.
But at the same time, don’t get tripped up by numbers: Remember that a mountain’s true worth isn’t ultimately measured in height, but by look, vibe, presence, geomorphic and ecological character, and a host of other less-tangible attributes. (Plus, of course, sundry singular experiences—freaky thunderstorms, elk-bugling serenades, the rise of a Blood Moon, an unforgettable life-changing sort of conversation—had thereon.)
That puts literally hundreds of nearly-as-airy, often delightfully under-the-radar 13,000-ish-foot Colorado peaks in your purview (let alone countless stubbier prominences with their own special magic). The above six are a mere sampling of the spectacular 13ers awaiting you in this grand mountainscape of a state, and rest assured elevational stats alone are the least of their appeal.