A Mt. Bierstadt Winter hike is more difficult than the easier version up to the summit in the summer months. This popular mountain is accessed by Guanella Pass and is a great opportunity for an intermediate hiker looking to climb a “14er” in the winter. This route is longer than the summer version by about 4 miles but has relatively low avalanche risk and does not require loads of extra gear and experience like some winter 14ers do.
Mt. Bierstadt Winter Quick Facts
Rating: ★★★ (3/5 Stars)
Distance: 11 Miles RT (includes extra 4 miles due to pass being closed)
Elevation Start: 10,500 ft
Summit: 14,060 ft
Total Elevation Gain: 3,600 ft
Estimated Time to Complete: (4 hours up, 2 hours down)-This time can drastically change depending on weather.
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate – What does this mean?
Class: Class 2
Season: Winter season is November-May, but this hike can be accessed year round (View summer hike guide here)
Directions to Mt. Bierstadt Winter Hike
Trailhead: Lower Guanella Pass
Getting There: During the winter Mt. Bierstadt is most commonly accessed from the Georgetown side of the Guanella Pass. Take I-70 to Georgetown (exit 228) and follow Guanella Pass road until you reach the winter cut-off point.
Parking: Free winter parking can be found towards the Georgetown side of Guanella Pass. There are two very small lots that can fill up quickly and on most weekends you will find parking along the road of the pass itself.
Fees: There is no fee to hike Mt. Bierstadt in the winter.
Camping: Winter camping near Mt. Bierstadt is not as plentiful as the summer, but there are a few spots leading up to Guanella Pass in addition to a small “campground” located at the base of the winter road cut-off. I use the word campground loosely however because it might get awkward if multiple unrelated parties camped in this small area. Its best to either car camp or just find lodging elsewhere.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed on this hike, but must be kept on a leash. Use your best judgement/common sense if you have never taken your pooch on a winter hike. Spoiler: It can get cold.
Make it a Loop: You can make this trek a loop by pairing Mt. Bierstadt with Mt. Evans. The two are connected by The Sawtooth in between the two mountains. If you plan on hiking the Sawtooth during the winter, you need crampons, a mountain ax, and the technical skills to traverse the Sawtooth in addition to avalanche knowledge because that route is heavily avi prone.
Hike X Factors: Weather
Wind and snow are very common during the winter for most northern Colorado mountains (fun fact for all of you out there who have never been on earth before), but this can also apply for the early summer. If the snow level is low, Mt. Bierstadt in the winter could easily take you half the time I quoted above. However, if the snow is deep and soft, the easy route can catch you by surprise. High winds on this trip, especially during the winter, can turn a reasonable easy hike into a painfully (quite literally if dirt/pebbles begin to blow at you) longer trip. Be prepared for all hiking conditions and don’t be afraid to turn around if the weather is crap. The mountain will always be there tomorrow.
Hike Tip(s): If you are hiking in the Mt. Bierstadt in the winter and snow coverage is good, bring a board or skis to stash for the ride down the closed road or the entire hike. It will make that descent MUCH more enjoyable.
Best Views: Guanella Pass is a great place to take some shots of the stars and sunrise if you get there early enough. Plan ahead so that the sky is clear (for night photography) and make sure you bring your favorite (portable) tripod.
My Trip to Mt. Bierstadt in the Winter: February 2016
As somewhat of an early riser, my goal was to get to the bottom of the (North-Georgetown side) closed pass by 5AM so that I would see the sunrise while hiking. I pulled into the lot right at 5:15 and hit the trail. Since Guanella Pass is closed in the winter, the winter hike comes with a bonus 2 miles of hiking each way up to the trail head. Even with the beautiful stars above my head, those first 2 miles were quite arduous as they mostly consisted of switchbacks on the snow covered road.
When I arrived to the top of the Guanella Pass, I saw the bathrooms and parking lot right away but had a little difficulty locating the trailhead given that it was still pitch black (see above picture for location). Once I found it though, the trail was very easy to follow and this was consistent for most of the hike. I decided to forgo snowshoes and did not regret that decision at all. The snow was packed towards the middle 2-3 feet of the trail which made walking quite normal. I quickly learned that the forecast was brutally correct in their wind forecast. The wind ate through my clothes like your dog with carte blanche in the pantry, it was brutal. I had several layers of clothes on so warmth was not the issue but I was very happy to see the sun come up around 7AM.
The hike, which when I read about it beforehand on other sites, was listed as a was relatively easy winter 14er. However, because of the wind, it definitely took more out of me then I was expecting. When I got to the summit, the snow-pack was quite hard and not the easiest surface to grip with my boots. I have been on the top of a lot of mountains, but I have never felt as though the wind could quite literally blow me off the mountain, so my time on the summit was relatively quick.
For me, the way back down to the car once you reach the summit of any mountain is the absolute worst. The goal has been accomplished, there is nothing keeping you “up” for the miles you still have to go and in most cases you want to be in comfortable place with fresh food. Since I have this mentality, my descent times are usually much quicker than on the way up. For the entire way up, I did not see any other people but as I was making my way down I probably ran into about 20 other people who were heading up to the summit.
Overall, I was very happy with this trip and would recommend Mt. Bierstadt for someone looking to try out a winter hike. The extra 2 road miles are boring but unless the weather is terrible, this is a relatively easy to moderate hike, even in the winter.