Where to enjoy via ferrata routes in Colorado

Morgan Tilton

Colorado is home to more than half of the country’s official via ferrata routes.

Via ferrata is Italian for iron path. A via ferrata involves hiking and climbing along an established route with metal holds and cables that are affixed to a vertical rock face, and the climber is clipped in for safety.

The activity is becoming wildly popular. Colorado was only home to five routes in 2018, and now 11 sanctioned via ferrata speckle mountains across the Centennial State.

The collection includes circuits in the Royal Gorge, Estes Park, Idaho Springs, Buena Vista, Ouray, Telluride, and Arapahoe Basin.

Writer Morgan Tilton climbing the Ouray Via Ferrata above the Uncompahgre River.Photo by photographer, videographer, drone pilot and digital (NFT) artist Eric Phillips.

What is a via ferrata?

The anchored features along a route can include rungs, steps, ladders, and bridges, which allow travelers to move through and see impassable terrain. There can be segments of hiking on singletrack between rock faces.

Some routes are guided only, while others are open to the public and self-guided.

The activity is easier and requires less technique than other forms of rock climbing like sport climbing, top roping, or bouldering.

What gear does a via ferrata climber use?

Via ferrata climbers use a via ferrata set: a certified lanyard system with two self-locking carabiners, which are clipped into the continuous cable system. The lanyard system is energy-absorbing versus static in the instance of a fall.

Weight limitations exist with a via ferrata set and are often approximately 265 pounds. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines or with your hired guide regarding the weight range of the lanyard system.

The climber also wears protective, grippy gloves and footwear, a climbing helmet, which is important protection in case there is rockfall, and a harness.

Writer Morgan Tilton traversing a cable bridge on the Ouray Via Ferrata.Photo by photographer, videographer, drone pilot and digital (NFT) artist Eric Phillips.

Where via ferrata were first built

One of the earliest known cable routes was built in 1843 in Austria among the Dachstein Mountains (not the glacier), according to the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation.

Later, via ferratas were developed to support the travel of troops through the high-altitude Dolomites in Austria and Italy during World War I.

After World War II, the historic European passages were restored for recreational enjoyment.

Writer Morgan Tilton climbing the Ouray Via Ferrata route with San Juan Mountains Guides Owner Nate Disser.Photo by photographer, videographer, drone pilot and digital (NFT) artist Eric Phillips.

Where via ferrata are located today

Today, the construction of modern via ferrata paths has burgeoned worldwide.

Italy is home to more than 400 routes and Austria has more than 550 iron paths. Altogether, approximately 2,000 via ferratas are located throughout the European Alps, according to Alpenventures UNGUIDED, a guide company based in Munich, Germany.

Close to 20 commercial via ferratas have been established in the United States including the inaugural route in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge.

These routes also exist:

Where to find established via ferrata routes across Colorado

Colorado’s mountains are home to most the nation’s via ferrata.

Routes exist at Captain Zipline in Salida and at Cave of the Winds Mountain Park in Manitou Springs but tours at those locations are temporarily closed at print.

Here are the via ferrata routes that you can visit across the state.

The Gold Mountain Via Ferrata opened in 2022 and interweaves historic mining relics.Photo by Travis Perkins of Ventana Media Collective

Gold Mountain Ranch Via Ferrata

Colorado’s newest via ferrata is a freshly established route on the easternmost mountain faces of Ouray.

The route weaves through the old Memphis mine site including the boarding house that burned down, 100-year-old blacksmith shop, and the portal to the mine.

  • Location: Ouray
  • Distance: 333 miles southwest of Denver
  • Season: Approximately May to October
  • Price: $195-$439 per person
  • Guide or Self-guided: Basecamp Ouray guide required
Climbers traversing the Telluride Via Ferrata facing town with Bridal Veil Falls behind them.Photo provided by Mountain Trip.

Telluride Via Ferrata

Climbers ascend to 500 feet above the valley floor on south-facing wall at the east end of Telluride's box canyon. The east-to-west route stretches across the cliff band from Ingram Creek to Marshall Creek. Climbers can look back at views of Bridal Veil Falls, the tallest free-falling waterfall in the state at 365 feet.

Compared to other routes statewide, this route has unique risk management element given there are exposed sections without cables during the approach hike to the primary traverse, which has a cable.

Climber and mountaineer Chuck Kroger designed and constructed the majority of the via ferrata. Albeit rouge-built, the climbing route is now officially legal, reports the Telluride Tourism Board.

To help the route remain maintained, preserved, and open to the public, donations can be made to the Telluride Via Ferrata Sustainability Fund.

  • Location: Telluride
  • Distance: 362 miles southwest of Denver
  • Season: May to October
  • Price: Free
  • Guide or Self-guided: Self-guided (certified guide recommended for first-time visitors; reach out to Mountain Trip regarding guide services)
Climbers on the Mount Evans Via Ferrata.Provided by Arkansas Valley Adventures (AVA)

Arkansas Valley Adventures Mount Evans Via Ferrata

This via ferrata route is among the closest to Downtown Denver. Located in Idaho Springs, the route overlooks Chicago Creek.

The experience also includes ziplining, 70-foot rappel, and a 50-foot free fall.

  • Location: Idaho Springs
  • Distance: 33 miles west of Denver
  • Season: March to November
  • Price: $119-$129 per person
  • Guide or Self-guided: Guide required through Arkansas Valley Adventures
Climbers on the Granite Via Ferrata.Provided by Arkansas Valley Adventures (AVA)

Granite Via Ferrata

Arkansas Valley Adventures also operates the Granite Via Ferrata tour. Compared to the sister route, this option features more exposure and adrenaline.

The adventure starts with two ziplines to access the iron path along a granite cliff face. There are multiple suspended bridges and a rappel.

Climbers enjoy views of the Mosquito and Sawatch Ranges and the Arkansas River.

  • Location: Buena Vista
  • Distance: 130 miles southwest of Denver
  • Season: April to September
  • Price: $119-$129 per person
  • Guide or Self-guided: Guide required through Arkansas Valley Adventures

Arapahoe Basin Via Ferrata

First opened in summer 2021, this via ferrata is among the state’s newest additions.

The route is also the highest-reaching North America based on the elevation reached. Climbers top out on 13,050-foot Arapahoe Basin after climbing 800 feet up the East Wall.

  • Location: Arapahoe Basin Ski Area
  • Distance: 64 miles from Denver
  • Season: June through September
  • Price: $155-$250 per person
  • Guide or Self-guided: Guide required through Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

Ouray Via Ferrata

The Ouray Via Ferrata starts on the south end of Uncompaghre Gorge. The original Downstream Route is 1-mile long with 450 feet of ascent and descent. In 2022, a second option, called the Upstream Route, was added.

This nonprofit-managed via ferrata is among the country’s most unique. It’s the first established route that is both free to the public and adheres to the safety standards of the ASTM International and the European Committee for Standardization.

The course starts at a 35-foot-long Cable Bridge over the Uncompaghre River. Toward the end, climbers walk one-by-one up the first-ever via ferrata ascending ladder in North America, called Skyladder: a 75-foot-long series of steps secured by four cables. Alternatively, climbers can exit via the Sky Climb, a challenging 300-foot steep ascent.

To help support the community via ferrata, reach out or donate to the Friends of the Ouray Via Ferrata nonprofit organization.

  • Location: Ouray
  • Distance: 333 miles southwest of Denver
  • Season: May 6 to October 31; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
  • Price: Free
  • Guide or Self-guided: Self-guided (certified guide recommended for first-time visitors; contact San Juan Mountains Guides or Basecamp Ouray regarding guide services)
Climbers enjoying the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park Via Ferrata.Photo provided by Royal Gorge Bridge & Park.

Royal Gorge Via Ferrata

The Royal Gorge Bridge was constructed in the steep canyon of the Arkansas River in 1929, and the whitewater is one of Colorado’s most iconic rafting destinations.

Adding to the area’s activities is the via ferrata at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, 14 miles west of Cañon City.

Participants hike down switchbacks to reach the via ferrata then ascend back up the canyon utilizing the installed rungs and cables.

  • Location: Cañon City
  • Distance: 129 miles south of Denver
  • Season: Year-round
  • Price: $140-$170 per person
  • Guide or Self-guided: Royal Gorge Bridge and Park guide required
A group of climbers on the Kent Mountain Adventure Center Via Ferrata.Photo provided by Kent Mountain Adventure Center and Reed Woodford.

Kent Mountain Adventure Center Via Ferrata

One of the most unique aspects of this via ferrata is that Kent Mountain Adventure Center offers an optional overnight add-on for big wall camping via a hanging portaledge. Dinner and breakfast are included.

Regardless of where you watch the sunset, Peregrine Arete is the area’s original via ferrata route, which was built in Deville Rocks north of Twin Sisters. The pathway climbs nearly 600 feet and offers views of Rocky Mountain National Park.

A second advanced route at Deville Rocks features continuous steep vertical and 30 feet of overhanging ladder ascents.

  • Location: Estes Park
  • Distance: 66 miles north of Denver
  • Season: approximately May through October
  • Price: $174-$330 per person for the via ferrata (call regarding the price of the cliff camping add-on)
  • Guide or Self-guided: KMAC guide required
A group enjoying the Lawson Adventure Park & Resort Via Ferrata.Photo provided by Lawson Adventure Park & Resort.

Lawson Adventure Park & Resort Via Ferrata

Seven miles west of Idaho Springs is the Lawson Adventure Park & Resort.

Explorers can choose a beginner, intermediate, or advanced route options that climb from 250 to 1000 feet along the slopes.

The experience is combined with a zipline descent.

  • Location: Idaho Springs
  • Distance: 40 miles west of Denver
  • Season: May to November
  • Price: $149-$159 per person
  • Guide or Self-guided: Guide required through Lawson Adventure Park & Resort

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Adventure journalist Morgan Tilton covers the outdoors with a focus on travel, industry news and human endurance. Featured in more than 70 publications, she’s a recipient of more than a dozen North American Travel Journalists Association awards.

Crested Butte, CO

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