Climb Mount Democrat: A Colorado Fourteener

Route Description for 14,155-foot Mt. Democrat

Jane Koerner hikes up Mount Buckskin in Colorado.
The broad south face of Mount Democrat rises behind a hiker on the slopes of Buckskin Mountain. Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

Mount Democrat is Colorado's 29th highest peak and is one of the easiest of the state's Fourteeners to climb. The 14,155-foot-high mountain rises just east of the Continental Divide at the northern end of the Mosquito Range.

Good Fourteener for Beginners

Colorado has 54 or 55 mountains of 14,000 feet or higher (depending on which criteria you use to decide what is a Fourteener). Mount Democrat by itself is a great climb for novice mountaineers as well as children. You might want to choose it if you are a lowland mountain climber unaccustomed to Colorado’s thin air, making you at risk of altitude sickness.

The Mosquito Range is a long mountainous ridge with four 14,000-foot peaks that runs south from the Divide and Hoosier Pass to the twin Buffalo Peaks above Buena Vista in central Colorado. Mount Democrat, however, is usually climbed in a day with two nearby peaks—14,286-foot Mount Lincoln and 14,172-foot Mount Bross—allowing climbers to easily bag three Fourteeners. Mount Sherman, another easy Fourteener, is a dozen miles to the south.

Mount Democrat is Popular

Mount Democrat is a fast hike if you are fit since you can park at 12,000 feet at Kite Lake, leaving only 2,000 feet of elevation gain to the summit and a round-trip hike of four miles. Because it is close to the Front Range cities and is relatively easy to climb, it is very popular in summer, particularly on weekends. Try to plan your ascent on a weekday to avoid crowds.

Best Climbing Season is Summer

The best time to climb Mount Democrat is from early June to mid-September. Expect snow on the east face of the mountain in June and bring an ice axe. The route is usually free of snow by early July and stays that way until the snow flies, usually in late September.

Mount Democrat makes a good winter climb, although it requires skiing or snowshoeing up the road to Kite Lake from Alma. The route is generally free from avalanche danger. It’s also a fun snow climb in May when the snow has consolidated.

Watch for Thunderstorms and Lightning

Treat Mount Democrat with respect. Even though it is considered an easy climb, the mountain can be dangerous. Thunderstorms regularly brew up in the Colorado Rockies almost every afternoon and can quickly move onto the peak.

Because you’re hiking up Democrat’s east flank, you’re unlikely to see weather forming to the west. Get an early start and plan to be off the summit by noon at the latest to avoid thunderstorms and lightning. Carry rain gear and extra clothes to avoid hypothermia.

Finding the Trailhead

From Fairplay on the northwest edge of South Park, drive north on US 285 for eight miles on CO 9 to the small town of Alma. Alma is also reached by driving south from I-70 through Breckenridge and over Hoosier Pass.

In Alma, turn west on Buckskin Creek Road (Park County 8) and follow it seven miles to Kite Lake. The last mile of the road can be very rough but can usually be negotiated in a two-wheel-drive vehicle. If the road is too rough for your taste, there are pullouts along the way where you can park and hike to Kite Lake.

Climbing Mount Democrat

The trailhead to climb Mount Democrat is at 12,000 feet at Kite Lake in a broad cirque southeast of the mountain. A good, easy-to-follow trail ascends Mount Democrat’s southeast slope to a saddle between Democrat to the west and 14,238-foot Mount Cameron, an unranked Fourteener, to the east. It then climbs the east ridge to a final gentle grade to the summit.

Begin by hiking north on the trail up a long gradual slope to steeper slopes on the lower east face of Mount Democrat. Follow the trail which switchbacks up the steep slopes to the obvious saddle between Mount Democrat and Mount Cameron at about 13,400 feet.

Turn west at the saddle and continue on the trail up the broad east ridge of Mount Democrat, crossing scree slopes and jumbled boulders. At 13,900 feet you reach a false summit at the top of the ridge. Cross a wide plateau, passing the remains of an old miner's shack, and scramble up a final rocky pyramid to the true summit.

Descend by the same route back to your vehicle at Kite Lake unless you plan to climb the other two Fourteeners in the group. Allow 3 to 4 hours to reach Mount Democrat’s summit and another two or so hours to descend back to Kite Lake.

Fast Facts about Mt. Democrat

  • Peak: Mount Democrat, 14,148 feet (4,314 meters)
  • Prominence: 748 feet (228 meters).
  • Location: Park and Lake counties, Central Colorado (Northwest of Fairplay and east of Leadville)
  • Range: Mosquito Range
  • GPS Coordinates: 39.33970° N / 106.1394° W
  • Difficulty: Class 2 – Hiking and scrambling over boulders
  • Trailhead Elevation: 12,000 feet at Kite Lake
  • Elevation Gain: 2,150 feet from Kite Lake (rough 4-wheel-drive access) and 2,750 feet from 11,400 feet (end of 2-wheel-drive access)
  • Round-Trip Distance: 4.0 miles from Kite Lake
  • Maps: USGS Quads: Climax, Alma Trails Illustrated: #109; Pike National Forest map
  • Camping: Camping at Kite Lake
  • Lodging: Hotels and motels are in Fairplay to the southeast