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Hiking Birthday Peak

Hiking Birthday Peak in the Collegiate Wilderness

Birthday Peak is in the 12er family. At 12,730 feet, it sees less foot traffic than its taller cousins, which means you’ll have more solitude but still have epic views of the surrounding mountains in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. This hike requires some additional navigation skills and includes a fun boulder scramble to the summit. If you’re lucky, you might enjoy the company of a mountain goat or two.

Trail Details
Summit: 12,730′
Distance: 10.3 miles
Time: 5-6 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation gain: 2,827 ft
Dogs: Yes
When to go: Mid-June to early October
Download GPX
Sitting on the Continental Divide, Birthday Peak really has spectacular views of the surrounding 14ers–and with names like Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and Yale, you might think you’ve made the Ivy League.

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike begins at the North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead, about 8.5 miles west of the rustic town of Buena Vista. Much of the road is gravel and dirt, but easily passable in a sedan during normal summer conditions. Get turn-by-turn driving directions using Google Maps. Parking is free and no permit is required.

Hiking to Birthday Peak

There is only one trail from the trailhead, and it begins with a gentle climb that parallels and occasionally crosses Cottonwood Creek, heading towards Kroenke Lake and Browns Pass.

At 2.7 miles in, an improvised log crossing of Horn Fork Creek was the sole challenge along the Kroenke Lake Trail. There was still a lot of snow melt, so the water was running strong and I was grateful to have brought my trekking poles.

Improvised creek crossing

At about the 4 mile mark, I reached the unnamed creek that led up towards Birthday Peak.

Unnamed Creek where I turned off trail towards Birthday Peak

Rather than follow the Kroenke Trail as it continues across this tributary and continues alongside Cottonwood Creek, we tu, ned right to follow this unnamed creek up to the cirque below Birthday Peak. Some guide books describe the trail here as “intermittent”, but there was hardly a trace in late June. This off-trail section requires good map reading skills, but as long as you follow the little creek, you will do pretty well. Having the route and maps downloaded on GaiaGPS helped tremendously.

Climbing above the tree-line, the creek grew smaller and smaller, replaced by the occasional snow field.

Birthday Peak in the distance

Soon the saddle to the south of Birthday Peak was in clear view. There were some footpaths through the snow and rock that made provided a good target as I aimed for that saddle.

Making my way to the saddle below Birthday Peak

At the top of the saddle, straddling the Continental Divide, looking back on what I had just climbed.

Looking back down from the saddle below Birthday Peak

From the saddle, make your way north along the ridge to Birthday Peak. The final 0.25 miles required boulder scrambling to reach the summit. It looks more intimidating than it really is. Take your time and test each rock before putting your full weight on it.

Looking up the boulder scramble to the summit of Birthday Peak

The summit of Birthday Peak itself has a grassy knoll spotted with wildflowers. The summit register is protected by a small rock cairn.

The views from Birthday Peak are sublime.

Heading back down was easier, and I knew where I had to aim. Picking your route is much simpler when you have your GPS track to follow, and can see the area from above.

Heading back down to Cottonwood Creek

Once you reconnect with the Kroenke Lake Trail, follow it downhill back to the trailhead.

Alternate Route

A longer, but easier route to navigate that some people prefer is to follow the Kroenke Lake Trail all the way to Browns Pass. From there, veer north and pick your way along the ridge-line, eventually reaching Birthday Peak. This adds some mileage but eliminates any bushwhacking.

Birthday Peak Trail Map & Elevation Profile

Download file: CO-six-pack-birthday-peak.gpx

Birthday Peak Tips & Resources

  • Birthday Peak is a Colorado Mountain Club Classic. For more details, check out Colorado Summit Hikes for Everyone (affiliate link).
  • At the time of writing, no permits were required.
  • Bring plenty of water and sun protection.
  • Dogs are allowed, on leash.
  • After the hike, grab lunch in downtown Buena Vista and stop in at The Trailhead–a great local outdoor store.

Buena Vista Weather Forecast

[forecast width=”100%” location=”81211″]

The Colorado Rockies Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge

Colorado Six-Pack of Peaks ChallengeBirthday Peak is part of the Colorado Rockies Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge, a self-paced hiking challenge that takes you up six, iconic peaks–each one a bit higher and tougher.

It’s a challenge in itself, or great training for still bigger adventures. Learn more and sign-up here.

Originally hiked on June 29, 2017.

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