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Uncompahgre Peak: 14er Hike Review

Uncompahgre Peak (14,321ft.) is a 14er mountain located near the town of Lake City in Colorado’s Uncompahgre Wilderness and within the greater San Juan Mountain Range. As the sixth tallest mountain in the state, Uncompahgre Peak is arguably one of Colorado’s most beautiful summits. In fact, we consider this mountain a must see for any avid hiker or outdoors enthusiast looking for the best that Colorado has to offer. 

The standard route to Uncompahgre Peak’s summit is via the Class 2 South Ridge, which begins at the Nellie Creek Trailhead. This trailhead is best accessed by a high clearance 4WD vehicle to ascend the extremely rugged Nellie Creek Road. Otherwise, opt for a start at the 2WD trailhead at the beginning of Nellie Creek Road. Starting at the 4WD trailhead makes for a tough but enjoyable 7.4 mile roundtrip hike with about 3,000ft. of gain. A start at the 2WD trailhead extends the hike to 15.4 miles roundtrip and over 5,000ft. of gain; but, your car may thank you. In either case, summiting Uncompahgre Peak is a serious commitment and is considered a challenging day hike.

Hike Review Series: Uncompahgre Peak

Mountain Information

As the sixth tallest mountain in Colorado, Uncompahgre Peak is easily one of the state’s most impressively beautiful mountains. The peak is located within the stunning Uncompahgre Wilderness (renamed from the Big Blue Wilderness), which covers over 100,000 acres within the San Juan mountains. This wilderness area was designated for preservation in the Colorado National Forest Wilderness Act of 1980 and continues to be a tremendous tourist attraction with its two 14er mountains, Uncompahgre Peak (14,321ft.) and Wetterhorn Peak (14,021ft.). 

Uncompahgre Peak’s name is associated with a derivation of Ute words for “rocks that make water red.” The Uncompahgre Utes, (formerly Tabeguache), a band of the Ute tribe, was based along the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers. Indeed, the nearby town of Ouray, CO is named after Ute Chief Ouray, who led negations on a number of treaties with the U.S. government.

As with nearly every Colorado 14er mountain, Uncompahgre Peak is very popular and has its fair share of visitors. However, being that the Uncompahgre Wilderness is located a good distance away from Denver and serious off-roading is needed to reach the 4WD trailhead, you may see less trail traffic than your typical Front Range 14er peak. Still, we recommend planning to hike Uncompahgre Peak on a weekday as Lake City can become very busy with tourists and off-roaders during the summer months. 

Uncompahgre Peak

  • Summit Elevation: 14,321ft.
  • Range: San Juan
  • Location: Uncompahgre Wilderness
  • Nearest Town: Lake City

Trail Guide

Route Information

  • Route: South Ridge
  • Class: 2
  • Type: Out-and-Back
  • Trailhead: Nellie Creek
  • Trailhead Elevation: 11,425ft.
  • Route Length: 7.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,896ft.
Fun Factor

Route Overview

The Class 2 South Ridge route to Uncompahgre Peak begins around 11,400ft. at the Nellie Creek 4WD trailhead (or around 9,350ft. at the 2WD trailhead starting at Nellie Creek Road). The trail starts with a gradual ascent next to Nellie Creek, heading into the basin. Almost immediately, hikers are rewarded with impressive views of Uncompahgre Peak directly ahead. 

Approximately .8 miles from the trailhead, reach the junction with the Big Blue Creek Trail. Turn left, staying on the Uncompahgre Peak Trail and following the sign with arrows pointing toward Uncompahgre Peak and Matterhorn Peak. Heading west across the basin, enjoy the views of Uncompahgre’s east face and continue ascending to the south ridge at 13,000ft. Around this point, reach another trail junction with the Ridgestock Driveway Trail (sign pointing toward Matterhorn Peak), used to reach Matterhorn Peak and Wetterhorn Peak. Turn right at this junction fork, staying along the Uncompahgre Peak Trail which turns to the northwest through switchbacks up the southeast slope. Around 13,800ft., the trail arches out to the west face for a short but steep ascent up loose scree. Once through the scree, the trail to the top of the plateau becomes more defined, accompanied of course with jaw dropping panoramic San Juan Range views.

Although it takes some off-roading to reach the 4WD trailhead, plan to share the summit with fellow hikers. Uncompahgre Peak is one of the most popular San Juan mountains for good reason. Descend via doubling back from the summit and retracing steps to the Nellie Creek Trailhead parking area and enjoy the accomplishment of summiting one of the most beautiful Colorado peaks!

Planning Tips

We recommend bringing along a topographical map of the area — try the “Outdoor Trail Maps Uncompahgre Wilderness” map which covers northern San Juan mountains and trails near Ouray and Lake City. A good topographical map is always nice to have in addition to a GPS device, if you’re using one. In addition, we included a couple of our favorite field guides for plant and bird identification to aid in the enjoyment of your outdoor adventure. Lastly, we included Gerry Roach’s “Colorado’s Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs” guidebook, which includes Uncompahgre Peak and other 14er hikes in Colorado that may be of interest. 

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