Most Symmetric Peak of Colorado’s Fourteen Thousand-Foot Peaks. The Mount Princeton trail rises over 5,000 feet in seven miles to an elevation of 14,197 feet, the southernmost summit of Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks.
The seven-mile long trail to the summit of Mount Princeton begins at the Mount Princeton trail head on the Mount Princeton Road (CR 322) about eleven miles southwest of Buena Vista, Colorado where the climber has the choice of beginning his hike at 8,900 feet or of continuing on the Mount Princeton Road to park at tree line around 11,000 feet to reduce the length of the trail to four miles to the summit. There is no other way to get here but by private car where there is ample parking for over fifty cars (at the 8,900 foot-parking lot – only several cars at various turns near tree line). Hikers should sign in at the trail register just beyond the larger parking lot.
The Best Times to Climb MT Princeton are Limited
The best times to climb Mount Princeton (so named by William Libby, a Princeton graduate and first ascender in 1877) are from late June through early September. Be aware that freak snowstorms can occur any time during the summer months. Strong winds can develop within minutes of a build-up of summer thunderstorms. It is best to summit by no later than noon. The worst times to climb this peak would be from early September through mid-June. There are no man-made hazards on the trail but the hiker should be wary of altitude sickness and spend a few days acclimating at the Mount Princeton hot springs resort or at the Mount Princeton Campground.
The Hiker Should Get an Early Start From the Trail Head No Later Than 6 A.M.
In order to avoid afternoon thunderstorms at the summit of Mount Princeton, the hiker should get under way no later than six o’clock in the morning. Once she has begun her hike, she will enter a dense lodgepole pine forest with a rich fragrance scenting the air. The gravel road is steep and winding until it reaches tree line at 11,500 feet. The hiker will notice a number of cars parked at switchbacks along the way. A sign marks the tundra trail that breaks away from the gravel road and enters lush green tundra. Enjoy the rich beds of alpine flowers on either side of the trail including bright yellow alpine avens and alpine gentians (related to arctic gentians) along with clusters of bright blue chiming bells. At around 13,000 feet, there is a deep cave where the hiker can rest and have his lunch. Should it be raining, this place serves as a nice shelter.
Just beyond the cave the trail suddenly steepens with switchbacks through loose slabs of rock. The hiker should watch his step as he proceeds upward toward a high saddle on the flanks of the summit. Almost all of the rocky slabs are coated with bright orange and green lichens. As the hiker gains elevation to the fourteen thousand foot-level, she will notice many alpine birds fluttering above the rocks such as pipits and rosy finches and even much larger golden eagles up in the sky. Once the hiker arrives at the saddle, she will perceive the beautiful symmetry of Mount Princeton with a high false summit to the north and to the south with pyramid-shaped Mount Princeton rising in-between.
Views From the Summit of Mount Princeton are Sweeping and Incomparable
Hopefully the hiker will arrive at the summit of 14,197 feet before noon. Take a deep breath and enjoy the incomparable beauty of alpine terrain spreading far and wide all around. To the southwest rises Mount Antero some hundred feet higher than Mount Princeton. Due south looms La Plata Peak heavily scored by ancient glaciers. To the north rise the many other Collegiate Peaks including Mount Yale and Mount Harvard. To the east the hiker can see in the distance Pikes Peak of the Front Range.
The hike takes up to a full day (depending on which elevation was the climber’s starting point) with a vertical gain of over 5,000 feet. Bring sufficient water as there are no water sources along the trail, nor are there any rest room facilities. You can pick up a trail map at U.S. Forest Service Headquarters in Leadville (north of Buena Vista) or download one from USGS website Mount Princeton Quad.