Longs Peak is the only (“14er”) peak above 14,000 feet located with Rocky Mountain National Park. Standing tall at 14,259 feet, it is Colorado’s 15th highest summit. If you want to summit this burly peak, you’ll need information on the route, how to hike in high altitude, the gear you’ll need, and the logistics you’ll need to plan in advance.
Use the information below as a guide for hiking Longs Peak! With proper training and preparation, a hike to the Longs Peak summit is worth all the effort. The rewarding feeling you’ll get at the top is something pictures can’t capture. What’s more, the panoramic views you’ll find at the Longs Peak summit are truly iconic. Your eyes will see far out, stretching to the great plains of eastern Colorado, the glaciers of the Front Range, the 13,000-foot-plus Indian Peaks to the south, and the headwaters of the Colorado River to the west.
There are many routes to get to the Longs Peak summit, but the Keyhole Route is the most popular. The route was named “Keyhole” for its passage through the the keyhole, a break in the peak’s rocky ridges. Technical gear is not necessary to climb this route during the summer, but gloves (and a helmet as an extra precaution) is recommended. While most of the way up is a trail, it quickly turns from boulder hopping to Class 3 rock scrambling. Past the keyhole and along the ridge, the route can be somewhat treacherous. Know that the scrambling, the long approach, the weather, and the high altitude bring an added risk when attempting a summit of Longs Peak.
Distance: 15 miles roundtrip (East Long’s Peak Trailhead)
Elevation: 5,000 feet+ (Starting at 9,400 feet, summit at 14,259 feet)
How long: 12 hours (at least), a 2-3am “alpine start” time is common
The weather in the mountains are constantly changing, and it’s important to be up-to-date on the conditions before you hike Longs Peak. Rocky Mountain National Park has Longs Peak hiking conditions frequently updated on the website during the season (starting in May). The prime months to hike Longs Peak is from mid-July to September. However, even during summer, the day can start out as sunny and blue skies, and by the afternoon, thunder, rain, or snow could come over the pass!
The trail itself starts out on a maintained trail through pine forests, then up steep switchbacks. The real challenging bits of the hike with a steeper ascent shows up around 6 miles in when you hit the Boulder Field. The Boulder Field stretch requires a slower pace to boulder-hop and scramble up the rocks. Once you reach the Keyhole, you’re a mile out from the summit, but you still have a dangerous, exposed sections to go full of slippery shale along the ledges, the trough, and the narrows. You’ll need 3 points of contact at all times, and gloves really come in handy at this point. Once you’ve reached the summit, you can release your hands from gripping the slippery granite and enjoy a relatively flat area to walk around and enjoy the accomplishment.
The National Park has put together a more in-depth description of the Keyhole Route that can be found here, as well as a video with even more visuals and information.
While an epic feat, Longs Peak is not a great “first 14er” to check off your bucket list. Proper training is required for this hike, or “climb.” This includes hiking trails of a similar elevation gain, but also hiking in high altitude. Dehydration is very common, and altitude sickness can happen to anyone. Check out our video on hiking in high altitude for more tips and information.
Unlike other access points in Rocky Mountain National Park, there are no entrance fees or day permits required to access this area. The trailhead does fill up fast though, so show up early! A week-day hike is a better time to go for less crowds.
The East Longs Peak Trail does have a ranger station with a small campground of 26 sites. Camping is first-come, first-served and tents only and costs $26/night.
There are a few designated campsites in the Boulder Field area (5.5 miles up the trail closer to the summit) but they go fast. You should contact the park to obtain a backcountry permit and reserve a spot at least a month in advance of your hike.
Did you know that only 50 percent of people that attempt to summit Longs Peak make it to the top? This has to do with bad weather, late starts, and underestimating the challenge of the hike. A nearby hike with views of Longs Peak is the Chasm Lake Trail. This trail is a much more achievable day hike than Longs Peak. The Chasm Lake Trail begins from the Longs Peak Trailhead at 9,405 feet, and climbs around 2,500 feet to Chasm Lake at 11,823 feet. At your final destination, Chasm Lake ripples with the spurts of wind and Longs Peaks’ monolithic granite stretches 14,259 feet tall into the sky. This may be the most epic picnic spot in the national park if the weather doesn’t turn on you. The infamous, exposed “Diamond Wall” may even have climbers on the face that you can watch working their way up as you snack and stare at the giant peaks before you.
This 8.5 miles out-and-back trail will have you back at the parking lot in 4-5 hours. Start early as the parking lot fills up quick.