The Decalibron Loop is a moderately trafficked hike near Alma, Colorado, which is only about 20 minutes from Breckenridge and 2 hours from Denver and Colorado Springs. This hike is a popular destination for hikers looking to summit 14ers, since there’s three 14ers on this loop. What is a 14er exactly? They’re summits that surpass 14,000 feet in elevation, and Colorado has 58 of them! For a complete guide on hiking 14ers, read our write-up on 14 Tips for Hiking a 14er.
The name ‘Decalibron’ is short hand for the names of the four 14ers on the loop: Mounts Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross, followed by the ending of ‘marathon‘. It’s only 10 minutes down the road from the increasingly popular Quandary Peak, which is considered a great ‘easy’ 14er hike for beginners. No 14ers are easy, but why summit one 14er when you can summit three? The distance of both hikes is similar enough, and we actually found the Decalibron Loop to be easier than Quandary Peak!
But if there’s four 14ers in the name, then why is this hike listed as THREE 14ers? At this point in time, Mount Bross is closed to the public, and therefore you cannot summit its peak. You must take the Bross bypass, which is clearly marked on trail by signs. Why is this? Well, Mount Bross is private property, and past hikers didn’t take proper care of it. Plus, allowing the public on private land puts responsibility on the land owner, who is currently working with the Forest Service on a solution for his discrepancies. While it’s cool to be able to summit four 14ers in one hike, summiting three will have to do for the time being. Please respect private property and do not summit Bross at this time. Ignoring signs can put this trail at risk of being permanently closed!
2023 UPDATE: There is current discussion of three of the four 14ers on this hike possibly being closed to hikers this year. Please thoroughly research before hiking to make sure the trail is open, and don’t trespass on private property. You can read a news story about it here.
From Breckenridge, leave town going south on Highway 9 towards Hoosier Pass. Go over the pass and down into the town of Alma, approximately 16 miles from Breckenridge. Once in town, take a right turn onto Buckskin Street / County Road 8. Continue for about 5.5 miles, and you will get to the parking area. Cars and sedans can make it most of the way to the trailhead, but towards the end of the road you’ll find it may get a little too difficult. SUVs and 4×4 vehicles with clearance will be able to make it all the way to the trailhead parking, although parking space is limited so you may end up parking on the road either way. Park either in the parking area or along the road nearby, getting as close to the trailhead as possible so you’re not adding significant mileage to your hike.
There is a fee to park here, so make sure you use the self-service booth to pay and put the ticket in your window. This is one of the few places we’ve ever been that we always see parking enforcement present and giving out tickets. The fee goes directly to maintenance of the area and bathrooms, so do your part and just pay for parking.
You can camp overnight in designated campsites, which are very limited and first come first serve. This is a beautiful campground but you should always have a backup in case spots are full.
The trailhead is located on the northeast corner of the parking area and is marked by a large display about the area and the hike. Continue to the right of the sign and cross the outlet of Kite Lake, which is a beautiful alpine lake located right there at the parking area and campground. Pretty soon you’ll see the split in the trail and you must choose to hike either clockwise (left) or counter-clockwise (right). While there’s no right or wrong answer, we chose to hike clockwise. Please note that the hardest part of this hike is the descent from Bross (clockwise), which is very steep and rocky. Grades in this section surpass 60%, making is difficult and slippery. Your decision for clockwise vs. counter-clockwise should depend on if you want to descend (clockwise) or ascend (counter-clockwise) this portion.
Going clockwise, the first summit is Mt. Democrat, with an elevation of 14,155 feet. While the ascent is difficult, the switchbacks help a lot and it’s over quick. The switchbacks continue up until you reach the saddle between Democrat and Cameron (approx. 13,380 ft), at which point you’ll turn left to continue to Democrat. There is a false summit, but don’t let it get your hopes down because that means you’re super close to the real summit! Continue along the ridgeline and you’ll be there before you know it. Because the hike starts at such a high elevation (12,000 feet), this section seems quick and easy compared to other strenuous hikes we’ve done. Enjoy a few moments at the summit, then continue back the way you came down to the saddle again. If you want to only summit the one 14er, Mt. Democrat would be a great ‘easy’ one since the trail up and down is so short.
From the saddle, continue straight (right would take you back to the trailhead) and go uphill to the next summit, Mt. Cameron, which sits at 14,238. This ascent is rocky, and a little more difficult since there’s very few switchbacks to break up the elevation gain. There are several false summits, but you’ll know when you finally make it to the real one. To continue on, just keep going straight on the trail and descend into the saddle between Cameron and Lincoln.
View from Mount Cameron looking north
Continue straight on the trail and you’ll see Mt Lincoln straight in front of you. This saddle is flatter, with less elevation change than between Democrat and Cameron. The terrain looks like you’re on Mars, which is an awesome perspective because looking up at these peaks from the road below makes them seem so small. But once you’re up there, everything is so massive. Continue across this other-worldly expanse and summit Lincoln. There is a portion here that was one of the more exposed parts of the hike, but it’s short and easily doable.
This summit was our favorite of the three, with the best views in all directions in our opinion. One of our favorite hikes, Wheeler Lake, is in the valley to your left, and you get a birds eye view of the gulch and Montgomery Reservoir. You can see Hoosier Pass way below to the northeast, and there’s endless peaks for what feels like hundreds of miles. You can even see the neighboring 14er Quandary just two peaks away.
As you descend, keep an eye out for ascending hikers who have the right of way. Because of the exposure on this section, you would need to find a good place to yield if needed. Once you’re past the more exposed part, the terrain opens back up again. Descend to the saddle between Cameron and Lincoln.
Mount Bross Bypass
From the saddle, there’s a split in the trail where you should cut left to continue towards Bross. This section had the coolest tiny alpine plants, like little aliens that you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world. Continue on this trail until you start seeing signs for private property and the Bross bypass. The trail will cut down to the right, where you’ll follow it around the edge of Bross. It will start to descend pretty steeply, and soon enough you’ll encounter the hardest part of the hike. You’ll know you’re there when there’s a strong cut to the left around 13,338 feet in elevation. It’s so steep that butt sliding with hands on the ground is much more effective than hiking poles. Once you get down this section, the trail slowly flattens out until you return back to the trailhead after summiting three 14ers!
Overall, we really enjoyed this hike and being able to summit multiple 14ers in one go. My knees liked the variation between uphill and downhill instead of going all uphill and all downhill like most 14er hikes. Our only dislike was the Bross closure, as well as the descent from Bross that was a very frustrating end to a long hike. Otherwise the views were amazing and we usually recommend this hike over other local 14ers like Quandary and Huron.
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