Top 10 Ridge Scrambles in Colorado That Are Exhilarating

By Jackie Florman

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Upon returning to Boulder, Colorado, this August, I immediately longed for the exposed ridges and exciting scrambling characteristic of the granite peaks of my home in the eastern Sierra Nevada. I set out on a mission to find the best scrambles that Colorado offers to stretch my alpine scrambling season into September and bag some Colorado summits. I searched high and low, digging deep through internet beta, guidebooks, and CalTopo maps in search of exposed ridges, fun scrambling routes, and beautiful summits. I spent hours on Mountain Project, asking friends for route advice, and downloading Gaia maps. I tried to visit as many ranges in Colorado as possible to explore as many regions of the state as possible. Ultimately, I managed to scramble in the Sangre de Cristo, the Gore, the Sawatch, the Tenmile, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Indian Peaks, and more. 

I capped off the month of September with eighteen summits and a whole lot of thoughts about the best Colorado scrambling routes. 

My climbing partner on the beautiful ridge of the Grand Traverse.

I relied heavily on Dave Cooper’s book, Colorado Scrambles: Climbs Beyond the Beaten Path, to select my scrambles and plan my routes. I cannot recommend this book more highly to anyone hoping to try hiking and scrambling some more obscure Colorado peaks. While some of the routes listed in this book are classic fourteener scrambles, the majority of routes are off the beaten path, and absolutely wonderful. The guidebook offers many excellent beginner scrambles across the state, as well as several advanced routes. 

I used a combination of CalTopo and Gaia GPS to map out my routes. CalTopo is my go-to online mapping software. It is free to use, with a paid option for those looking for more features. It has many mountaineering routes already on it, and includes layers such as slope-angle shading to visualize how steep different mountain slopes are. Gaia GPS is also an awesome free or paid application, with many crowd-sourced routes available. I was able to find some of the scrambling routes listed below with a quick search on Gaia, and was then able to follow along on a GPS track with my smartphone. Gaia also has many helpful layers, such as a cell phone coverage layer for each cellular carrier. I highly recommend downloading or drawing out a route track to follow on your phone or GPS device before attempting any of these scrambles. 

View of the crux section of the Tenmile Ridge scramble.

I provide a general route description, my opinions and experience on the route, and resources to plan your trip, but you should certainly do more research before going into the mountains to try any of these scrambles.

It should be noted that scrambling is dangerous, and 4th and 5th class routes should only be attempted by experienced scramblers with good route-finding and climbing skills. 3rd class routes are generally a good place to begin, but can still include difficult route finding and climbing. Here is an outline of how difficulty ratings for scrambling routes work from 14ers.com. Additionally, here is a more in-depth description of what difficulty ratings for scrambling routes mean, from Sierra Trading Post. 

All of these scrambles have components of off-trail travel and exposed terrain on alpine rock – sometimes of variable quality. All holds should be tested by the user, and technical climbing gear should be employed if the user feels that rock protection is necessary for their safe completion of the route. Additionally, helmets should be worn at all times on these scrambles: rockfall is a major hazard when scrambling in mountains. 

Here are my favorite scrambles in Colorado: 

1. Best Sidewalk in the Sky: The Grand Traverse between North and West Traverse Peaks (4th class) 

The Gore Range is a magical range that runs between Silverthorne and Vail. It is largely uncrowded, expansive, and full of sharp, beautiful peaks. It is often overlooked because there are no fourteeners in the range – but this should not deter you from visiting this gorgeous part of Colorado. The Grand Traverse is an infrequently scrambled route, but it was one of my absolute favorites from this Fall! I would highly recommend using Cooper’s book for this one (and for other Gore Range scramble ideas!), because the online beta is quite limited on this one. The route travels cross country from the end of the Bighorn trail, ascending North Traverse Peak, traversing a beautiful ridgeline with several sections of “sidewalk in the sky” features, and then tagging West Traverse Peak. There are a few somewhat tricky 4th class downclimbs on this route, so this one is recommended only for experienced scramblers with good route-finding skills. After doing this route, I am dreaming about returning to the Gore for more running, hiking, and scrambling! 

For more information and trip reports: 

Exploring the Rockies: Grand Traverse Trip Report 

Summit Post: Grand Traverse Trip Report 

2. Best Beginning Scrambling Route: Kelso Ridge on Torreys Peak (3rd class)

The Kelso Ridge on Torreys Peak is an excellent way to avoid the crowds on one of Colorado’s busiest Front Range fourteeners. The route is class 3, making it a good introduction to scrambling in the alpine – though it should still be taken seriously, with rockfall hazard always a risk in the mountains. The Kelso Ridge is a classic ridge scramble with many options to upgrade or downgrade the difficulty by staying true to the ridge or navigating around crux sections. There is even a fun, little knife-edge section (class 3) to make things a bit more exciting! Social trails wind around the ridge, making navigation easier than on many of the routes listed below. When in doubt, go up! Upon reaching the summit of Torreys Peak, I descended to the saddle, power-hiked up the trail to Grays Peak, and ran back down to my car. It is always a good day when you can tag two fourteeners in a day! 

For more information and trip reports: 

14ers.com: Kelso Ridge Beta 

Miss Adventure Pants: Kelso Ridge Trip Report 

3. The Longest Ridge: Ellingwood Ridge on La Plata Peak (3rd-4th class)

The Ellingwood Ridge on La Plata peak is an absolute Sawatch Range classic. This ridge is crazy long, with two miles of scrambling along the crest. The difficulty can be kept to 3rd class, though doing so requires very careful route-finding. It is easy to end up in 4th-5th class terrain if staying true to the ridge on this route. When I did this one, I spent only 50% of my time on the ridge proper, and often traversed around difficult sections. The rock quality was not stellar, but most of the sections with less-than-ideal rock quality were relatively easy. This route has splendid views, interesting scrambling, and a leg-burning talus climb to the summit of La Plata at the end. I ran down much of the standard route La Plata trail to return to my car. 

For more information and trip reports: 

14ers.com: Ellingwood Ridge Beta 

Mountain Project: Ellingwood Ridge Beta 

4. Best Beginner Fourteener Traverse: Sawtooth Ridge between Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans (3rd class) 

Photo Credit: Luke Sheffer

I completed the Sawtooth Ridge last fall, and was surprised at the quality of this Front Range ridge. It’s a perfect introduction to alpine ridge traverses for those who are hoping to start hiking and scrambling connecting ridges in the mountains, but don’t know where to begin. At true 3rd class, this route has good exposure, and astonishing views. While the ridge looks rather improbable from the top of Mount Bierstadt, it is an achievable goal for a new scrambler. There are several use trails along this route, making navigation relatively easy in comparison to many of these scrambles. 

For more information and trip reports: 

14ers.com: Sawtooth Ridge Beta 

The Virtual Sherpa: Sawtooth Ridge Trip Report

5. Best Exposure: Little Bear to Blanca Traverse (with an optional trip to Ellingwood Point) (5th class) 

Photo Credit: Sydney Ciechanowicz

It’s no secret that the Sangre de Cristo range has the best scrambling in Colorado. Sharp, jagged peaks, wonderfully solid rock, and several fourteeners make it a worthy spot for any scrambler to explore. The Little Bear to Blanca Traverse is my absolute favorite in Colorado, but it should be taken very seriously. Nearly a mile of knife-edge ridge just below 14,000 feet, 5th class moves, and high exposure means that this ridge is exciting, but certainly should be reserved for only the most experienced scramblers. I found the rock to be very solid for an alpine scramble, and the ridge is simply astonishing! I also tagged Ellingwood Point when I was out there, requiring a few extra miles and some 3rd class scrambling to the summit if you would like to tag three fourteeners in a day. I completed this route as an overnight trip, hiking in and camping at Lake Como.

For more information and trip reports: 

The Virtual Sherpa: Little Bear to Blanca Trip Report 

Mountain Project: Little Bear to Blanca Beta 

6. Best Right-off-i70 Route: Tenmile Range Traverse (4th class) 

The Tenmile Range spans Frisco to Breckenridge (and beyond!). It is a wild, little range that can be seen from the I-70 corridor. There are many ways to do the Tenmile Range traverse, depending on your ability to car shuttle, and willingness to hike a long mileage day. I did the Cooper version of the traverse, which is significantly abridged in comparison to the full traverse, but includes all of the scrambling sections along the route and does not require a car shuttle. This version goes up the East Ridge of Tenmile Peak, along the ridge via Peaks 3 through 5, and drops down onto the Colorado Trail to return to the car. You can also do all of the peaks (Mount Royal to Peak 10) with a car shuttle between Frisco and Breckenridge. On this ridge scramble, I found the rock quality to be mediocre at best, but the views, exposure, and route to be excellent. It also will net you more peaks in a day than is possible for most in other ranges.The crux section– “the Dragon” can be circumvented with careful route finding along the sides of the ridge. I went over it and found it very exciting! 

For more information and trip reports: 

Sky Blue Overland: Tenmile Traverse (Abridged Traverse) Trip Report SummitPost: Tenmile Range (Full Traverse) Beta 

SummitPost: Tenmile Range (Full Traverse) Beta

7. A Front Range Staple: South-North Arapaho Traverse (4th class)

The Arapaho Traverse is the classic traverse of the Indian Peaks Wilderness area, and easily accessible within an hour and a half of Boulder. To be totally honest, I did not get to do this traverse due to weather, but I did get to scope it out from the summit of South Arapaho during a sixty mile per hour windstorm, and it looked awesome. South Arapaho alone is a worthy class 2 hike, but doing the traverse to North Arapaho will surely add some excitement and fun scrambling. The majority of the traverse is class 2-3, with a class 4 crux section to add a little bit of spice to the adventure. 

For more information and trip reports: 

Summit Post: Arapaho Peaks Traverse Beta 

Sky Blue Overland: Arapaho Peaks Traverse Trip Report 

8. Off the Beaten Path: North Ridge on Fool’s Peak (3rd class) 

Deep in the Holy Cross Wilderness area lies Fool’s Peak, an unassuming 12,953 foot tall mountain with truly excellent 3rd class scrambling on good rock and exhilarating exposure. This route is in the northern Sawatch, and it has a very different feel than the high peaks of the southern section of this range. While the north ridge looks intimidating from afar, the route does not exceed class 3, making it a good route for a beginning scrambler. I was shocked by how good the rock quality was on this off-the-beaten-path peak. Route-finding is moderate, with one section in which locating a ledge is paramount to keeping the route at third class. This peak is excellent for getting away from the crowds, and enjoying a less-visited region of the Colorado mountains. 

For more information and trip reports: 

Summit Post: Fools’s Peak North Ridge Beta 

The Virtual Sherpa: Fools’s Peak North Ridge Trip Report 

9. Best Knife Edge: Northeast Ridge of Capitol Peak (4th class) 

No list of the best Colorado scrambles could truly be complete without the astounding Capitol Peak, jewel of the Elk Range. This fourteener was not part of my September peakfest, but it remains one of my favorites in Colorado due to the stunning views, great exposure along the infamous “knife-edge.” I completed this one as an overnight backpacking trip, in part to spend more time in this stunningly beautiful area, but the peak could be done in one very long day. While the knife edge is very solid rock, much of the rest of the route is quite loose, and caution should be exercised while scrambling the looser sections. It is known as one of the most difficult fourteeners in Colorado for good reason, but can certainly be achieved by an experienced scrambler. I found route finding to be quite easy on this peak, as it is highly trafficked with many social trails along the ridge. 

For more information and trip reports:

14ers.com: Capitol Peak Northeast Ridge Beta 

Mountainous Words: Capitol Peak Trip Report 

10.The Rocky Mountain Jewel: The Keyhole Route on Longs Peak (3rd class)

Photo Credit: Hailey Kellackey

The queen of Rocky Mountain National Park, Long’s Peak rises high above the rest of the Front Range. The Keyhole route is the easiest route up Longs, but it offers a great day of scrambling. Downsides: it does get incredibly crowded, the rock is polished from high-use, and the rockfall hazard from parties climbing above is high. The route itself, however, is well-defined with bulls-eyes painted on the rocks intermittently, and boasts excellent granite scrambling at 14,000 feet. I descended this route as a part of a larger scramble, the Glacier Gorge Traverse, which summits between seven and eleven peaks in the Glacier Gorge cirque of Rocky Mountain National Park, depending on how it is completed. I would not recommend that one unless you are an endurance athlete and climber looking for a major long-distance challenge. The Keyhole route, however, is a fun adventure day with incredible views, and should be on everyone’s Colorado scrambling list. 

For more information and trip reports: 

14ers.com: Keyhole Route Beta 

Hiking Project: Keyhole Route Beta 

Happy scrambling!

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