Mt. Stanley, a 12,521 ft. peak in central Colorado, provides a great escape in any season when reached from Berthoud Pass on Hwy. 40. When summer temperatures deter from heated hiking in the foothills, the higher elevations of the Continental Divide prove cooler. In the winter, skiers dot the slopes of the first mile of the hike, and once the ridge is reached, snowcapped peaks surround the view. Conveniently, access to the trailhead can be reached within an hour’s drive on I70 from Denver.
The hike offers a good challenge. In less than 7 miles round trip, hikers can take in great panoramic views while feeling the cardio effect of exertion above 12,000 ft. To the north is Winter Park and Frasier with the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park as a backdrop. To the Southwest, the higher peaks of the Front Range stand tall. From a perch on the summit of Mt. Stanley, the view looks down into Butler Gulch. Besides the first mile of backcountry ski company in the winter, the trail becomes much less populated.
Weather conditions: For summer summits, hikers should pay close attention to forecasts and avoid common late morning and afternoon thunderstorms. The majority of the trail is above tree level where lightning strikes are a potential threat. During winter and spring, the area is notorious for high winds. Goggles and face protection may be required. Snow can cover the trail through May, so snowshoes or traction devices may be required. The trail follows the ridge over the Stanley Slide, a steep slope on the south that often causes avalanche closures on Hwy 40. The ridge trail is relatively low in avalanche risk, but hikers should stay clear of the snow overhangs in this area. Road closures and conditions may be found on the Colorado Department of Transportation Web site at http://www.cotrip.org/home.htm.
To get to the trailhead, from Denver, take I70 to Hwy. 40 (Empire Exit) past Empire and to the top of Berthoud Pass. The Berthoud Pass ski area is on the left with public parking and restrooms. The trail is on the west side of the road. Follow a jeep access road to the top of the first slope where the trail levels out until the switchbacks on the east side of a 12,290 ft. peak. Once on the ridge, the trail joins the Continental Divide Trail heading west (left). Within a mile and a half of rolling terrain along the ridge, Mt. Stanley’s summit is a short diversion off the trail. This is a great turnaround point for a healthy day hike, but the trail continues as it drops 800 feet and then ascends the neighboring peak on the way to Vasquez Peak over 2 miles away.