How Long To Hike Longs Peak In Colorado?

Colorado’s Longs Peak is often presented as a hike. But the Keyhole Route is only a hike in places. It draws upon proper climbing skills to reach the summit. Unfortunately, many people have died due to this misunderstanding. Also, due to the rough terrain and skill required, the 15-miles takes longer than easier, more traditional hikes. Also, your departure time is crucial. 

Hiking Longs Peak takes hikers between 10 – 15 hours. Some highly skilled folks finish it under 9 hours, but it is not the norm. Also, it is crucial that you set off between 2 – 3 am. Afternoon thunderstorms are almost guaranteed, and you must be off the submit before lighting strikes.

Longs Peak is one of Colorado’s most coveted “14ers,” mountain peaks that are over 14,000. While Longs Peak isn’t Colorado’s highest, it is in Rocky Mountain National Park. Its location means it is also easier to gain access to than many. Thus, people sometimes try it on a whim, 14 miles doesn’t sound hard or that long of a day. But it is both.

Time Required To Climb Longs Peak Keyhole Route?

Longs Peak Keyhole Route takes 10 – 15 hours and is not a route that can be rushed. It requires technical skill and taking the time to do it carefully and thoughtfully. It is not a true hike. Yes, some sections are hiking, but critical areas require mountain climbing skills rather than your basic scramble. Trying to do these sections without ropes is inviting death.


Longs Peak has the highest death toll of any Colorado peak. Trail and Timberline’s Summer 2011 edition posted that 53% of deaths were from unroped falls. Only 4.8% were due to equipment failure, which is the same death rate for lightning on this peak. Thus, anyone attempting Longs Peak without having proper experience and skills is making a foolish and potentially deadly decision.  

Best Time Of The Year To Climb Longs Peak Keyhole Route?

The best time of year to climb Longs Peak is when it has the least snow and ice, typically between mid–July and mid-September. However, snow sometimes comes earlier in the fall, and then in other years, it is later.

Also, weather conditions on Longs Peak are constantly changing. Even in the “nicer” months, the weather can swiftly and dramatically deteriorate. So keep up with forecasts, talk to rangers and climbing professionals in the area, check again even as you are about to start, and when in doubt, turn back.

Hikers become most exposed after crossing the “keyhole.” Most accidents occur after this point. Until a hiker has gone through the keyhole, the weather can be challenging to gauge. Afterward, the exposed “bowl” opens up, and the clouds can be seen.

Too often, people reach the keyhole and think they can “make it,” despite the obvious turn of the weather. But this is also where the route becomes most rugged, along with narrow ledges and smooth, slippery bits. There is simply no way to “move faster” past this point, and attempts to do so can be fatal. 

Best Time Of Day To Begin Longs Peak Keyhole Route?

The best time to begin your Longs Peak adventure is 2 am – 3 am. Starting the route after this time risks being too high when the notorious thunderstorms roll in. This is a problem with any hike above the tree line in Rocky National Park. For example, in 2014, two people were killed by lightning in the park in the same number of days.

Thus, hikers in the Rocky National Park are all supposed to be below the tree line by noon. As Longs Peak is a 10 – 15-hour hike, that means getting up well before the rooster crows.

Longs Peak & Altitude Sickness: Time Required To Alchemize?

Half of the people who set off for Longs Peak never see the summit. Thankfully, the high failure rate is primarily due to people turning around, not serious injuries or death. One common reason people are forced to turn back is altitude sickness. Some people turn back because their dog is experiencing altitude sickness.

Unfortunately, knowing if you might be prone to altitude sickness is not something that can be predicted. Which people it impacts is not determined by age, physical fitness, or nutrition. The only thing that can reduce a person’s risk of getting altitude sickness is acclimatizing their body.

Try to give yourself a good three days before the summit bid to alchemize to the high altitudes at Rocky National Park. It is suggested to take shorter hikes lower down in the park for a few days, each one going a little higher. Staying in accommodations close to the park or camping in the park are also helpful.

Even better, rest a day, do some shorter hikes over a few days, then rest the day before the summit attempt.  

Every person’s body is unique when alchemizing to high altitude. The more days you give yourself, the less likely altitude sickness will ruin your summit attempt.

However, if you are hiking and develop altitude sickness symptoms, do not ignore them. Signs of altitude sickness include:

  • Dizziness
  • General malaise
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting

You can try to manage them by:

  • Drinking water
  • Taking frequent breaks
  • Use pain relief medication

But if the symptoms are not improving, then you’ll have to head back.

Longs Peak & The Heat: Time Required To Alchemize?

Heat is another big issue when doing Longs Peak. It can get blazing hot, and many areas of the route are incredibly exposed, leaving you with no relief. Thus, it is best to train for hiking in the heat of the day in addition to standard advice:

  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Drinking lots of water

Heat slows you down, causes horrific cramps, and makes you susceptible to dehydration. Even minor dehydration can impact your physical performance. This is dangerous when doing a route where being a little wobbly could result in severe injury or a horrific fall.

Thus, heat training should be done before making your Longs Peak bid. Ideally, this is an hour of hiking in hot weather for two weeks in the run-up to the big day.

However, you might not live somewhere that produces hot weather hikes for two solid weeks. Also, you might have employment that makes this impossible. Thus, you need to try to put yourself in hot conditions and exercise when possible, even if indoors.

For example:

  • Sit in a sauna (although not for a solid hour)
  • Turn up the heat in a room and exercise
  • Exercise in heavy clothing
  • Go hiking in your not-hot weather wearing too many clothes

Take care to monitor yourself carefully, don’t overdo it, drinks lots of water, and eat healthily.

Conclusion

Hiking Longs Peak takes time to do it safely:

  • 10 – 15 hours to do the route
  • Leave between 2 -3 am
  • Give yourself time to alchemize to the altitude
  • Make time to do heat training

Wishing you a safe and successful summit.