As a Montanan, I grew up surrounded by mountains. I summited my first ones when I was a young teenager and I’ve bagged quite a few more in the years since. I won’t lie and say they were easy hikes, because they weren’t. But most of them weren’t too terribly difficult because these mountains topped out at around 10,000 feet (3050 m).
In the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, it’s much less common to find a peak that’s only 10,000 feet tall. Most rise at least a couple thousand feet above that. In fact, Colorado has more 13ers and 14ers than any other US state, with nearly 600 mountains that stand between 13,000-13,999 feet (3962-4267 m) and 58 that are over 14,000 feet (4267 m)!
Because of the risk of altitude sickness at such high elevations, Pat and I were very careful with our hiking selections during our first summer in Colorado. We worked our way up to almost 12,000 feet (3650 m) over the first few weekends before deciding we felt acclimated enough to attempt a summit hike without getting sick. For our first Colorado summit, we chose the 13,132 foot (4003 m) Mount Flora.
Mount Flora is located in the Front Range about an hour west of Denver. There are multiple routes to the summit, including a couple that cross over other nearby peaks on the way, but we opted for the most popular and least strenuous route from Berthoud Pass.
Located on Highway 40, Berthoud Pass tops out at just over 11,000 feet (3350 m) and is well marked with a large parking area, informational signs, and restrooms. From here, the hike begins by switchbacking up an old service road for the first 0.85 miles (1.4 km) before intersecting with the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), which climbs up to the saddle between Mount Flora and Colorado Mines Peak before traversing across to Mount Flora.
Our hike began under blue skies, but it was only 7:30am at Berthoud Pass so it wasn’t all that warm. The temperature rose as we climbed, but once we reached the saddle between the two peaks the wind picked up and dropped the air temperature quite drastically. We weren’t quite prepared enough for this; we managed to stay warm by donning our rain coats, but we definitely should have packed hats and gloves and probably a wind-proof layer as well. Lesson learned.
The wind stayed with us for the remainder of the climb to the summit and most of the way back down as well, and we could see a storm rolling in from the west. At times, the gusts were so strong they threatened to blow me off balance (and a couple times, they succeeded). Fortunately, there are a few wind blocks on the summit, so we were able to hide out behind these strategically-placed rock piles and find a few moments of reprieve from the constant gusts.
From the summit, we could see as far north as Rocky Mountain National Park, south and west over the rest of the Front Range, and east toward Denver, though the haze from all the forest fires did put somewhat of a damper on visibility.
But even with the reduced view, this was a beautiful hike through the tundra and, for us, a hike of firsts: our first time on the CDT, our first Colorado summit, and our first Colorado 13er!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: the Mount Flora trail departs from Berthoud Pass on Highway 40, from the parking area on the east side of the road
- Fees and passes: none
- Hiking: 6.45 miles (10.4 km) round-trip via the Mount Flora/Continental Divide Trail out of Berthoud Pass, 1800 feet (550 m) elevation gain, moderate
- Where to stay: there are plenty of campgrounds in the area, and dispersed camping is allowed in the surrounding Arapaho National Forest
- Other: this is one of the few places we’ve been where parking wasn’t a disaster. We arrived at 7:30am and only half the spots were taken. Also, it’s a short enough hike that turnover is quick; I don’t think the parking area ever completely filled.