Summit Pikes Peak from the Crags
Meghann Maurer, January 18, 2012
With its close proximity to the city of Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak (14,110 ft.), one of Colorado’s 53 fourteeners, offers an abundance of accessible terrain for your next adventure. This peak, however, is unlike any others you will come across in Colorado, as you can reach the summit on foot, bike, cog railway, and even car. In addition to the panoramic views on top, you will find a large parking lot and the Summit House (open 8AM-8PM), filled with a gift shop, cafe and lots of people. For the hardcore among you, an ascent on foot or bike will feel particularly rewarding when you arrive and view the crowd who came by motorized means.
Although the Barr Trail is undoubtedly the most popular route, the northwest slope access from the Crags is shorter (13.25 miles round-trip with a 4,300 ft. elevation gain), easier for day trips, and equally beautiful.
When to go
Late June through September are optimal months to endeavor up the mountain. However, don’t be fooled, snow always seems to come early in the Rockies. The earlier or later you head up, the more likely you will encounter snow. I summited mid-September and encountered freezing temperatures, severe wind chill and several inches of snow the further I got up the mountain.
If you are feeling particularly adventurous, the Crags/Devil’s Playground route is perfect for a night summit to see the sunrise. Check sunrise times for your trip beforehand and gauge how long it might take you to hike the ~6.7 miles up. Don’t forget to account for your rest stops. My group left the trailhead at 11:45 PM and made it to the top around 6:00 AM. Hiking at night can be hard, make sure you bring plenty of water, food, extra layers of clothing and batteries for your headlamp. It is also smart to bring along supplies in the event you get lost and need to spend the night.
The beginning of the trail is fairly gradual and well-trodden. If you are hiking at night, make sure you pay close attention to the split in the trail about .5 miles in. Veer right on to trail 664A to Devil’s Playground. If you mistakenly go left, a sign marked “Crags – 1.5 miles” will appear just beyond this junction. Turn around and go back. Though this path to the Crags is beautiful, it will get you nowhere near the summit of Pikes. From here, the climb will become increasingly steeper. Ascend past tree line and over the saddle (12,750 ft.). From the top of the saddle, the light on the summit of Pikes will become visible. Although the distance looks daunting, the remaining 3 miles of climbing becomes gradual until the very last pitch up to the summit. If you are lucky enough to have snow on the ground and a bright moon out, save your headlamp batteries and take advantage of the natural light and reflection off the snow.
Once at Devil’s Playground (marked by a sign), the trail crosses the highway and follows it on the east side. Pay attention to the cairns that mark the route. It is particularly easy to lose sight of the trail on rocks and especially in the dark with snow. If you make it up before the sun, views of the Front Range city lights of Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo are spectacular. Watch the sunrise curled up in your sleeping bag and then begin your journey down in a whole new light.
From Colorado Springs, take US 24 West to the town of Divide. Turn south onto US 67 and continue for about four miles. Take a left onto CO Rd 62 (dirt road). Pass the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp on the right and continue up the road until you reach the Crags Campground Trailhead and parking lot.
- Consult this step-by-step report of the route for additional information.
- Alternatively, the summit of Pikes Peak can be accessed from the Barr Trail (a 7,815 ft. elevation gain over 13.32 miles) starting in Manitou Springs. Consider splitting your trip into two days and staying at the Barr Camp on the way up.
- If you enjoy running marathons and climbing mountains, the Pikes Peak Marathon is an annual event held in August, perfect for pushing your mental and physical endurance to the max.
- The Pikes Peak Cog Railway and the Pikes Peak Highway are optional non-hiking routes, though considerably less adventurous. The highway doesn’t typically open until 7:30AM.