12,000 ft Summit County Hikes
Summit Counties top five hikes at 12,000 feet
It’s funny how unimpressive “12,000 feet” can sound in a land full of 13ers and 14ers. But don’t be fooled. They may be more accessible, but nothing about hiking Summit’s “12ers” is easy or unworthy. In fact, you will probably see fewer people on these peaks than on most of the bigger ones.
You know when you drive through Eisenhower Tunnel heading west and you emerge to see a giant round peak directly in front of you? That’s Buffalo. Thanks to its central location—on the southern tip of the Gore Range, towering above Silverthorne and Frisco and adjacent to Interstate 70—Buffalo is one of the most visible peaks in Colorado. And it makes for a fun hike, with sprawling views in every direction. Start at the Ryan Gulch Road trailhead and follow the trail up the forested flanks onto a scree field that leads to the broad, humpback summit. You gain 3,000 feet in less than three miles, so give your calves a pep talk before you start.
Peak 1 and Tenmile Peak
One of Summit County’s classic images is the northern Tenmile Range skyline, highlighted by Peak 1 and Tenmile Peak (also known as Peak 2), which look like twin pyramids above Frisco. It is almost as easy—and much more satisfying—to hike them both as it is to hike just one. Park at the Mt. Royal Trailhead at the southern end of 2nd Avenue in Frisco and get ready for a steep ascent to the Royal saddle (if you ever needed to bail because breakfast wasn’t sitting right, Mt. Royal provides a 1,300-foot alternative to the roughly 4,000 feet of climbing it takes to reach the two summits). From the Royal saddle continue south past Mt. Victoria, a subpeak, and around the west side of Peak 1 just below the top. You do a little scrambling here, but nothing too tough. From the summit, traverse the narrow ridge south to Tenmile Peak then return the way you came.
Sometimes nondescript mountains offer the best opportunity to tune out the world and focus simply on being there. That has always rung true for me with Ptarmigan, a signature hike on the east side of Silverthorne that meanders through aspen and pine forests to a stunning view across the lower Blue River valley toward the jagged Gore Range. Because Ptarmigan’s summit sits just inside a wilderness boundary—the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness boundary, no less—you can get there only on foot or horseback. Despite the mellow trail, you still climb 3,450 feet and cover 10.8 miles round-trip.
Independence, the wide-open alpine face visible just east of Keystone’s developed ski runs, provides an uncrowded summit option for locals and resort guests. It is most efficient to start from the top of the River Run gondola (elevation 11,641 feet) and head southeast on a trail that hugs the forested ridge. Eventually you continue above tree line and trend east-northeast toward a saddle between Independence and Keystone Peak. Bear left (north) here and follow the ridge to Independence’s summit.
Behold the highest point at one of the highest ski resorts in America. To reach the summit of Breckenridge’s Peak 8, start at its base village, which can be reached via the free gondola from town. You can follow one of the many switchbacking trails or service roads that stem from the base, or you can put chin to chest and hike straight up the fall line, which is better for wildflower viewing. Ascend Imperial Ridge from the top of Horseshoe Bowl and steel yourself for the breathtaking—in more ways than one—last 150 feet to the top.