Best Fourteener for a Newcomer 2018 | Quandary Peak | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

While the masses head to Grays and Torreys or Bierstadt for their first Fourteener experience, you're smart enough to take the extra time to get to Quandary in the White River National Forest. You won't be alone. The thirteenth-highest Fourteener, at 14,265 feet, is still pretty popular, and its easy access from Breckenridge or Fairplay makes it part of a nice weekend getaway. The East Ridge is the standard — and simplest — route, a Class 1-rated, 6.75-mile jaunt to the top on a well-marked, well-trodden trail that's almost guaranteed to take you past herds of snowy-white mountain goats. At the top, revel in your achievement and check out the views of several other Fourteeners that might be in your future, like Mounts Bross, Cameron, Lincoln and Democrat.

Readers' Choice: Mount Bierstadt

Tenmile Range

Flickr/Dustin Gaffke

So you've bagged a bunch of Fourteeners and you're ready for the quintessential Colorado experience. It's time for Windom, an isolated peak in the San Juans that sports a spectacular view and an even better approach: Take the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train from Durango or Silverton to the Needleton trailhead in the Chicago Basin ($89 per person, round trip), a scenic ride that drops you at the base camp at 11,000 feet, right at the foot of three Fourteeners. Camp overnight (no permit needed), nail the summit, then take the train back when you're done. The hike up can start with a quick dip in Twin Lakes, about a mile from the trailhead, followed by a five-mile journey that gains 3,000 vertical feet over rock slabs, streams and some steep scree slopes. Along the way, you'll be treated to a waterfall and lots of wildlife; after traversing the rocky ridge at the top, look down on Upper Sunlight Lake amid the surrounding peaks.

Readers' Choice: Longs Peak

San Juan Mountains


Not only is Denver's closest Fourteener located at the end of North America's highest paved road — which means if you're nervous about your kids' first time, you can drive nearly all the way to the summit and check out their high-altitude reaction not far from the car — but the 14,264-footer is ideal for all first-timers, with routes rated as easy as Class 1. The shortest and easiest is the 2.9-mile trek from Summit Lake, or you can take more motivated tykes to Echo Lake for the fourteen-mile Class 2 Chicago Creek Route. Make a game of counting the bighorn sheep, mountain goats and marmots, and be sure to check out the 1,700-year-old bristlecone pines at the alpine garden, where your young'uns can make jokes about how they're almost as old as you.

Flickr/Jon Holm

Savvy mountaineers know that it's not just about the Fourteener checklist; many of the Thirteeners in Colorado are harder and far more interesting. Pacific Peak in Arapaho National Forest falls into that category, and has the bonus of Pacific Tarn, the highest lake in the country, which sits at 13,420 feet on the way to the summit at 13,950 (which, by the way, makes it one of Colorado's so-called Centennial Thirteeners, the state's hundred highest). Located not far from Quandary, Pacific takes hikers past two abandoned mines and several lakes tucked into glorious high-alpine meadows, and also offers ice climbers two challenging couloirs. The four ridges at the top — choose your route carefully, because each ridge approach varies from moderate to expert in skill level, and all of them require some route-finding — are exposed and rocky, but slow-and-steady to the talus field results in a straight shot at Quandary, the Tarn and the whole Tenmile Range.

Readers' Choice: Dallas Peak

Tenmile Range

Flickr/Greg Younger

Just like Thirteeners, Twelvers are often overlooked because they're not Fourteeners. The highest summit in the Vasquez Mountains, which sit on the Continental Divide, the 12,947-foot-high Vasquez Peak is a true hidden gem, a mostly easygoing stroll on an old mining road and well-cut trail through forests of spruce and fir, krummholz and endless fields of wildflowers, interspersed with a few steep, rocky segments. Far fewer crowds and the flora and fauna of the surrounding wilderness areas are definite draws, but the best part of this hike is the 360-degree vista at the easily attained summit, including the Indian Peaks and Gore Range, as well as Pettingell Peak, Hassell Peak, Mount Machebeuf, Bard Peak, Mount Evans, Grays and Torreys, and even Longs Peak in the distance. Translation: Don't forget the camera.

Vasquez Mountains

It takes only one class to earn your wings at Atherial Fitness. The aerial fitness studio offers yoga, barre and dance classes, most of which incorporate aerial silks — long strips of fabric that allow fliers to hang from the ceiling while getting a serious workout. Work your core and raise your heart rate in Atherial HIIT and Aerial Core. Use the silks to elevate your yoga practice, and find yourself in inversions after a few flow classes. After flying from one pose to another, lower the silk hammock closer to the ground and settle in for Atherial's more restorative classes. Learn aerial choreography in DanceFly, or take signature barre moves to the air in Barrefly. Once you get the hang of it, fly solo during open gym sessions.

iFLY Denver Facebook page

Ever wonder what it's like to free fall from a 12,500-foot drop zone? iFLY's vertical wind tunnel looks like something out of a 1980s sci-fi flick. Giant fans create a cushion of air that propels fliers skyward, at a speed adjusted to a flier's body weight, as professional guides coach participants through their flights. In fact, iFLY's wind tunnel is so realistic that professional skydivers and military personnel frequent the Lone Tree site for training purposes. A first-time flier package includes a pre-flight training session, all necessary flight gear, instruction and hands-on assistance. The experience takes an hour and a half start to finish, and fliers who want to soar toward the top of the tunnel can add on an exhilarating "high flight" for $9.95.

City of Westminster

The winner in 2017, Westminster Hills is still the champ. Dogs love it for its muddy canal and swimming ponds, its 420 acres of meandering trails and wide-open roaming space, its drinking fountain, and its opportunities to chase the occasional prairie dog. Their people love the shady benches, the gorgeous views of the Front Range, the hiking feel of the space, and the fact that pups usually pass out from exhaustion soon after they leave. The park is kept extra-clean by regular poop-pickup events, and abundant baggies and trash cans help, too. If Fido is a bolter, be aware that there are fenceless areas, but it's easy to avoid them if you head toward the center. Not enough of a workout? Put the leash back on and head to nearby Standley Lake.

Readers' Choice: Westminster Hills

A good dog bar should first and foremost be a fun place for all involved, and Forest Room 5 fits that description and then some. With a pet-friendly outdoor space designed to resemble a campfire circle — albeit one with comfy hewn-log seats, a little stream running through it, and the fire itself nestled in lava rocks — and meats on the grill making pooches and their humans drool, this happy-hour hot spot is convivial and laid-back, and the staff is particularly accommodating of furry friends. The medium-crust pizzas, the gooey mac and cheese made salty with bacon, and the freshly steeped sangria are all stellar.

Mark Antonation

Open Thursday through Sunday only, the super-friendly Switchback is perfect for pooches and their people fresh off a hike and hungry — particularly those following a Paleo diet. The pets-welcome patio offers picnic tables and a picturesque setting next to Bear Creek, and the smokehouse results in some of the best barbecue around, from sweet-and-salty smoked bacon to juicy smoked duck to peppery, paper-thin brisket (get the grilled asparagus, too). Spot is never going to love you more than when you're slipping him some of your 'cue — if you can bring yourself to share.

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