Longs Peak, which dominates the horizon throughout northern Colorado, is
Rocky Mountain National Park's most famous landmark. The peak tops out at
14,259 feet above sea level, making it the northernmost 14,000 foot peak in
the American Rockies. Thousands of hikers attempt to reach its lofty summit
each summer via the Keyhole Route, while many climbers venture to the
world-famous East Face and its many climbing routes.



One-way distance: 7.5 miles from Longs Peak Trailhead to the summit
Starting elevation: 9400 feet - Summit elevation 14,259 feet - Net change 4,859 feet

The Keyhole Route is the only approach that offers a non-technical route to the summit of
Longs Peak, but the route has dangerous ice and snow levels throughout most or all of the
year. Therefore, the Keyhole Route generally remains technical except for a small time
window each summer, as detailed by the following statement from the National Park Service:

"Every year, from approximately Sept. 15 to July 15, the upper part of Longs Peak
accumulates significant snow and ice. When this occurs, the Keyhole Route becomes
a technical climb requiring crampons, ice axe, helmet, and most of all -mountaineering
experience- in order to complete the ascent safely. The peak is not closed. Technical
merely demotes a change in conditions which should be regarded accordingly by
mountaineers, hikers, and climbers. Failure to heed this warning has resulted in injury
and death for some hikers and climbers."

The date of designation of the route as non-technical varies considerably each year, depending
largely on spring snowfall levels and summer temperatures. In some years, the route remains
designated as technical throughout the summer, but a mid-July opening of the route is more typical.

When the route becomes non-technical, a large number of hikers use the trail and certain areas
of the route can become quite crowded. Starting the hike well before sunrise and avoiding
weekends can help hikers minimize the exposure to crowds.

A climber returns from The Trough (top center of photo) toward The Keyhole:
Note the snow level in The Trough - route was rated technical at time of photo

Longs Peak has captivated onlookers for centuries, and its fame as a hiking destination began in the 1860's. The first documented climb was by a team led by John Wesley Powell in 1868, although evidence proves Native Americans had been climbing the peak for some time prior to that date. Since Powell's first climb, numerous new routes were established, including the popular Keyhole and North Face routes, and many technical climbing routes on the imposing and challenging East Face.

In the 1973, as part of an effort to remove unnatural structures from the natural environment of Rocky Mountain National Park, the Park Service removed the cable route from the North Face. With the removal of the cables, the North Face again became a true climbing route, and the Keyhole Route on the East Longs Peak Trail was left as the only route to the summit not requiring technical expertise and equipment year-round. Today, because of the peak's continued popularity, several hundred people a day may attempt to reach the summit via the Keyhole Route when it designated as non-technical.


The Longs Peak Trailhead is located off of Colorado Highway 7, about 9 miles south of Estes Park and 2 miles north of the village of Meeker Park. Look for the large brown sign pointing to the "Longs Peak Area" off of Highway 7, and turn west here on to a paved road. Follow the road west just over a mile to the parking area at the Longs Peak Trailhead, a left-hand turn where the road splits at the campground entrance. This parking area fills quickly in the summer, and even arriving early in the morning may not guarantee a spot in the parking lot. Roadside parking, although restricted to certain areas, is available north and east of the trailhead for overflow traffic. There is currently no fee charged for access to the Longs Peak Trailhead or parking. The parking area is not available for overnight parking, except for backcountry hikers who have reservations at sites along the trail.


There are numerous hotel and bed-and-breakfast locations throughout the Estes Park and Allenspark region. For campers, the Longs Peak Campground is a tent-only campground open in summer months, within a quarter-mile drive of the trailhead. It is first-come, first-serve only (no reservations accepted) and is in high demand in the summer. Backcountry campsites are also an option for hikers.

Three backcountry campsites are available along the East Longs Peak Trail, and anyone interested in using these sites must register through the Rocky Mountain National Park Backcountry Office. Sites may fill up months in advance. These sites, along with the one-way distance from the trailhead, are:

Boulderfield (9 sites), elevation 12,760', 6.0 miles
Battle Mountain (1 site), elevation 11,000', 2.8 miles
Goblins Forest (6 sites), elevation 10,120', 1.2 miles

Battle Mountain is a group site for groups of 8-12 people only. Boulderfield and Goblins Forest sites are individual sites for 1-7 people each.

Backcountry camping is only permitted in designated campsites in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Camping at the Boulder Field
Granite Pass
Chasm Lake Trail Junction
4.2 miles from the trailhead, 12,080' elevation
3.5 miles from the trailhead, 11,540' elevation
Boulder Field
The Keyhole
5.9 miles from the trailhead, 12,760' elevation
6.2 miles from the trailhead, 13,150' elevation

Preparation is the key to a successful hike. Success depends on fitness, as well as having food,
water, clothing and other essentials. The Keyhole Route is a long and challenging hike, and reaches

elevations which can put tremendous physical strain on hikers. It is advisable to spend several days
at high elevation to acclimate before attempting this route, as well as preparing with several
shorter hikes prior to an attempt on Longs Peak.

Most of the trail is above timberline, where hikers have no shelter from weather conditions along the
trail. Weather can cause hypothermia, violent lightning, and other fatal hazards at any time on the
route, even on days when the weather appears to be favorable. It is common for air temperatures to drop 10-20 degrees because of the elevation change alone, as well as a much more significant and potientially dangerous drop in temperature if poor weather strikes. Hikers should also start their
hike well before sunrise to be off of the summit before afternoon thunderstorm activity is most likely.

Several areas beyond the Keyhole cross ledges or narrow paths that have some exposure to potentially
fatal drops. When the route is designated non-technical, climbing equipment is not required in
normal conditions, but hikers should be aware that these exposures exist along the route. The most exposed areas are the ledges just beyond The Keyhole, The Narrows past The Trough, and The Homestretch just below the summit.
North Face (From Storm Peak)
East Face (From Chasm Lake)
East Face (From Camel Ridge)
Northwest side (from Bear Lake)
Longs and nearby peaks (aerial photo)
West Face (From Frozen Lake)
East Face (From Chasm Lake Trail)
East and North Faces (From Boulder Field)
South side (From Wild Basin)

Click here for a trip report to Chasm Lake and Storm Peak.

Click here for a trip report to The Keyhole and Mount Lady Washington.

Click here for a trip report of a camping trip to the Boulderfield campsite.

Click here for the Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park page

Climbers starting up the North Face, June 2005
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