Red Mountain is a peak just outside of Breckenridge, Colorado, that tops out around 13,240. Despite its location near bustling Breckenridge, Red Mountain is such a lightly trafficked trail that there isn’t actually a trail, making this one of the most difficult hikes we’ve ever done. While All Trails shows this “trail” on the map, it’s more of a guide as to the best place to cross Pennsylvania Creek and their suggested route to summit the 13er, but you won’t find any hint of a trail on this route. You should really know how to plan a hike before attempting this one
The difficulty is also increased by the extreme amount of elevation gain in such a short distance – about 2,500 feet in elevation gain in only 3 miles. Any alpine hike comes with elevation gain and loss, that’s just part of hiking in the mountains, but this hike was straight uphill the entire way, with very little relief or mercy.
It’s because of these factors that I would only recommend this hike to extremely experienced hikers who are in fit shape. You must also have basic navigational skills to keep track of where you are and where you are going. We highly recommend a GPS so you can use it to get back to your car efficiently instead of wasting miles if you end up going in the wrong direction. Maybe consider another hiking trail in Breckenridge.
While difficult, this hike is also extremely rewarding. If you are in good shape and able to navigate, this hike is a great, secluded option that has beautiful alpine wildflowers and amazing views in every direction.
From Breckenridge, take Highway 9 South for about 3.5 miles and take a left onto Blue River Road. Take the third right onto Royal then follow the curve before taking another right onto Coronet. This road curves around and you’ll see a large sign for the start of the trail and dirt road. If you have a 2-wheel drive vehicle, this is where you should park and continue on foot up the dirt road. This will add about 1 mile each way to your hike, since this distance is not accounted for in All Trails. Our stock 4Runner had no issues taking on the dirt road, so we were able to drive up to the trail head. As long as you have 4WD/AWD and decent clearance, you should be fine. That being said, there is no trail head marker, so track your progress in the All Trails app as you’re driving. The road continues on for a while past the suggested parking point, so don’t just follow the road blindly. We did this and ended up having to turn around and backtrack. There’s no parking area, so we just pulled off the road and parked in the grass, finding the flattest spot we could find.
Hiking Red Mountain
Once parked, you will almost immediately cross Pennsylvania Creek. The approximate location on All Trails is the best place to cross, and this was confirmed by a long-time local who has hiked this many times. We are just barely past peak flow, so we found it necessary to take our boots off and cross barefoot in order to get across the creek. Once you’re on the other side of the creek, you will start your trek uphill through the trees. We were able to stay close to the suggested route by going uphill and slightly left. This portion of the hike goes through a pine forest which seems to be affected by a fire a long time ago. There’s new growth but also some leftover evidence of burns on some of the trees.
You will reach a point where you come to an opening on the ridge line, which is where you should take a left and start going up the natural ridge line. The tress will be getting thinner, allowing you to have a better view of where you should be going. You will continue straight for a while, then the ridge will curve to the right. From here, you can pretty much see your route – just continue along the ridge lines all the way up. In this portion of the hike, there’s plentiful alpine wildflowers, mosses, and lichens. Since there’s no trail, it’s difficult to not step on flowers, but try your best to Leave No Trace.
It gets rockier the higher you go, but there’ still grass and flowers until the last 1/4 mile or so. I liked walking on the rocks better, but Derek liked the soft grass. Once you reach the final ascent, it’s all rocks but they are small enough to be considered Class 1 so they are easily passable. You’ll know once you’re at the peak and you’ll be able to enjoy 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains. To your west is the 10 mile range, which features a ton of popular hikes such as Blue Lakes, McCullough Gulch, Quandary Peak, The Decalibron Loop and Mohawk Lakes, as well as Breckenridge Ski Resort. From the summit of Red Mountain, you get to see a view of these peaks and valleys in a way few people have seen them before. It’s a really cool perspective.
To return to your vehicle, we recommend just re-tracing your steps and taking the same path down. We tried a slightly different route that ended up being more difficult. While that’s our experience, part of the fun of not following a trail is blazing your own so decide which route you want to take back and stick with it! While normally the way down takes half the time, this hike was actually about the same. Since the grade is so steep, we really had to take our time and watch the knees, meaning it was baby steps all the way down. Though more time consuming than normal, the downhill portion was still easier than going uphill. The important thing is to keep track of where you are and make sure you stay on route back to your vehicle. Not paying attention to this can add distance to your hike if you miscalculate where you should end up.
- As with any high-altitude hike, start early so you can be finished early. About 2/3rd of this hike is above treeline, so you need a clear day with no chance of rain or thunderstorms.
- Pack lots of water AND drink it! Because you’re at altitude and it’s chilly and windy, you may need to remind yourself to drink, even though you may not feel thirsty. We each packed 2 liters and drank most of it, but were still dehydrated by the end of the day.
- You can summit this peak from Hoosier Pass and Hoosier Ridge, but we didn’t know this until later. It might be worth looking into!
- Wear layers. The uphill incline makes you really hot and sweaty, but once you’re above treeline, the wind picks up and the sweat really starts to evaporate, leaving you cold. Pack a sweater and a rain jacket/wind breaker to keep you protected from getting too cold.
- Bring a GPS and use it. Having our GPS recording made a huge difference in efficiently getting back to our car. We checked it regularly on the way down to make sure we were going in the right direction and made it back to our car without adding any more distance than necessary.
- Use All Trails Pro to download the map. We didn’t have Pro until this summer, but we love having the option to download the trail map and track our progress along it. This is even more helpful on a hike like this one where there’s no trail to follow.
- Leave no Trace. Though more difficult to accomplish on this hike, it’s still important to practice the seven Leave no Trace principles so you can tread as lightly as possible on this fragile alpine environment. Pack it in, pack it out!