“This is a beautiful class 1 - 2 route up the 5th highest peak in Colorado.”
— Karl W
Colorado highway 82 closes in the winter, making this route inaccessible.
This is a wonderful path to the fifth highest 14er in the state that will take you over/along mountain brooks, through a forest, and along wildflower filled alpine and to outstanding views, all on a very well made path. There is a small amount of scrambling at the top but nothing more than class two making it a very accessible 14er.
Features: Views — Wildflowers — Wildlife
Need to Know
Like all 14er trails in Colorado you'll be above treeline for a long time so wear sunscreen and be very mindful of the weather. Storms typically arrive in the early afternoon so you'll want to get an early start.
The trailhead and parking area for this trail are located on the south side of Colorado 82 about 14.5 miles west of 24. It is just a parking area along the side of the road is it is fairly easy to spot. From here, continue on the 82c forest road south for about a third of a mile. You'll get a nice view of the La Plata ridge from the bridge over the North Fork Lake Creek. Keep an eye out for the trail on the left (eastern) side of 82c. The trail heads east through pine forest while crossing South Fork Lake Creek and a third creek. After the third creek the trail turns back south and starts up La Plata valley staying close to the creek. You'll get some nice views of the cascades in the creek and you continue through the forest steadily gaining elevation.
Eventually you'll exit the forest to get some nice views of the Valley and some of the first views of the summit in a while. The trail begins to move away from the creek towards the southeast and gets a little steeper. The patches of trees continue to thin out until you encounter the first set of switch backs. La Plata trail has a few sets of switch backs that are almost humorous in number - please stay on the trail to prevent erosion of the delicate sub-alpine and alpine ecosystems! This first set of switch backs will quickly take you above tree line so keep this spot in mind for any changing weather. At this point the returns to heading south.
You'll come to another set of switch backs through rocky scree (but on a very nice trail) which take you to - that's right - more switch backs. There are amazing alpine flowers in summer along this whole section and numerous marmots, pika, and ptarmigans. At the top of the last set of switch backs you'll be in the Plata Basin. Continue south along the fairly clear trail.
From the Plata Basin you'll enter the final stretch to the summit which is the rockiest and might require a little use of hands for balance. This is pretty standard for the 14ers in the Sawatch Range and really nothing more than class two from my experience. For the most part the trail winds around any challenging parts - keep an eye for the worn path and cairns. The trail follows the ridge so it would be very difficult to get lost even if you lose the actual trail. Finally you'll reach the summit! Enjoy the amazing views which include Mt Elbert to the north and Mt Harvard to the south.
This is an out-and-back trail so just retrace your steps to get back to the trailhead.
History & Background
La Plata Peak is the fifth highest peak in Colorado at 14,360.