Southern Rocky Mountains

Range TypeMountain range with well-recognized name
Highest PointMount Elbert (14,433 ft/4399 m)
CountriesUnited States
States/ProvincesColorado (66%), Wyoming (17%), New Mexico (17%)
(numbers are approximate percentage of range area)
Area79,008 sq mi / 204,631 sq km
Area may include lowland areas
Extent542 mi / 872 km North-South
255 mi / 410 km East-West
Center Lat/Long38° 56' N; 106° 34' W
Map LinkMicrosoft Bing Map

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The Southern Rockies are the large, distinct, and high group of mountains centered on Colorado, blanketing a huge chunk of that state. Separated from the rest of the Rockies by the dry, open basins of central Wyoming, the Southern Rockies spill over Colorado's northern and southern borders into Wyoming and New Mexico, but these heart and soul of this mountain group can still be thought of as the Colorado Rockies. The extentions of this area into Wyoming (the Park and Sierra Madre ranges) and New Mexico (the southern Sangre de Cristo and San Juan ranges) are consisently lower than the Colorado portions of the shared ranges.

The Southern Rockies are consistently high, rising to over 14,000 feet/4267m in several widely spaced ranges, but the warm, dry summers of 37 to 41 degrees north latitude keep snowfields and glaciation to a bare minimum. The majority of this area is massive, rounded, sprawling, relatively gentle masses of peaks, with the occasional craggy, steep areas sprinkled about. The many ski areas of Colorado are testament to the terrain of this part of the Rockies--just mountainous enough for excellent skiing without being too steep and rocky.

The best-known peak-bagging endeavor in the western United States is the ascent of all the 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado. Popular guidebooks tell hikers how to gain these magic summits, road maps show their locations with special symbols, and many hikers and climbers would be hard-pressed to name more than a few non-fourteeners in the state. The Colorado Mountain Club officially dubs 54 peaks as "fourteeners", but, as with any list of mountains, there is controversy over what sub-peaks and offshoot summits count as separate official peaks. Some advice: decide on consistent criteria (for example, a 200-foot gain from a col with another summit) and make up your own list, or just select peaks that appeal to you in some way.

Nevertheless, the list of fourteeners is indeed an impressive catalog of summits, ranging from the famous (Pikes Peak-14,410') to the challenging (Longs Peak-14,256') to the high (Mount Elbert-14,433') to the obscure (Mount Sherman-14,015'). Most fourteeners are easy climbs, often just hikes. Only about ten or so, including those in the Crestone area in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Wilsons in the San Juans, and summits in the Elk Mountains, require anything more than walking to gain the summit. The hardest don't even require a rope if the climbers are good and careful scamblers, and two (Pikes Peak and Mount Evans) have good auto roads to their tops.

With so much attention having been devoted to the fourteeners, more and more people are discovering the Colorado "thirteeners" (13,000 foot peaks), many of which offer just as much as their slightly higher but more popular and famous neighbors. There are, by one count, 583 thirteeners spread out among the state's ranges, so climbing all of them is much more of a long-term, open-ended challenge than following the masses to the summits of fourteeners. And Colorado has plenty of 12,000 footers or 11,000 footers that would be dominant and spectacular if they were located in any other state. Indeed, Robert Ormes, long-time editor of the Colorado Mountain Guide, has expressed dismay at the emphasis of fourteeners, saying that pointy Mount Zirkel (12,181') is perhaps the finest peak in the state.

Map of Southern Rocky Mountains
Click on red triangle icons for links to other ranges.

Note: Range borders shown on map are an approximation and are not authoritative.
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Other Ranges: To go to pages for other ranges either click on the map above, or on range names in the hierarchy snapshot below, which show the parent, siblings, and children of the Southern Rocky Mountains.
Rocky MountainsLevel 2 (Parent)
         Far Northern RockiesLevel 3 (Sibling)
         Canadian RockiesLevel 3 (Sibling)
         Central Montana Rocky MountainsLevel 3 (Sibling)
         Idaho-Bitterroot Rocky MountainsLevel 3 (Sibling)
         Greater Yellowstone RockiesLevel 3 (Sibling)
         Western Rocky MountainsLevel 3 (Sibling)
         Southern Rocky MountainsLevel 3
                 Park RangeLevel 4 (Child)
                 Southern Wyoming RangesLevel 4 (Child)
                 Flat Tops AreaLevel 4 (Child)
                 Front RangeLevel 4 (Child)
                 Elk Range AreaLevel 4 (Child)
                 Sawatch RangeLevel 4 (Child)
                 Central Colorado RangesLevel 4 (Child)
                 San Juan MountainsLevel 4 (Child)
                 Sangre de Cristo RangeLevel 4 (Child)

Major Peaks of the Southern Rocky Mountains

Ten Highest Peaks
RankPeak NameftmRange4
1.Mount Elbert14,4334399Sawatch Range
2.Mount Massive14,4214396Sawatch Range
3.Mount Harvard14,4204395Sawatch Range
4.Blanca Peak14,3454372Sangre de Cristo Range
5.La Plata Peak14,3364370Sawatch Range
6.Uncompahgre Peak14,3094361San Juan Mountains
7.Crestone Peak14,2944357Sangre de Cristo Range
8.Mount Lincoln14,2864354Central Colorado Ranges
9.Grays Peak14,2704349Front Range
10.Mount Antero14,2694349Sawatch Range
Sub-peaks are excluded from this list. List may not be complete, since only summits in the PBC Database are included.
Child Range High Points
RankPeak NameftmRange4
1.Mount Elbert14,4334399Sawatch Range
2.Blanca Peak14,3454372Sangre de Cristo Range
3.Uncompahgre Peak14,3094361San Juan Mountains
4.Mount Lincoln14,2864354Central Colorado Ranges
5.Grays Peak14,2704349Front Range
6.Castle Peak14,2654348Elk Range Area
7.Clark Peak12,9513947Southern Wyoming Ranges
8.Flat Top Mountain12,3543765Flat Tops Area
9.Mount Zirkel12,1803712Park Range

Photos of Peaks in the Southern Rocky Mountains

Mount Elbert

Mount Elbert, covered with spring snowfields, from south summit (1989-04-25).
Mount Massive
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Lakes on Massive (2013-09-08). Photo by Shawn Burrell.
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Mount Harvard

The north side of Mount Harvard rises from the Pine Creek Valley (1990-09-05).
Mount Harvard
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Mount Harvard, Colorado, rising above the Pine Creek Valley (2009-08-28). Photo by William Musser.
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Blanca Peak

Blanca Peak lords over the open expanses of the San Luis Valley.
La Plata Peak
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Upper reaches of La Plata Peak (2006-08-15). Photo by Joseph Del Grosso.
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Mount Massive - Northwest Peak
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Route up Massive and North Massive using Roach's route 9.4 and 9.4EC; Note the tower mentioned in his book (2018-06-23). Photo by David Musser.
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Uncompahgre Peak
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Uncompahgre from the west (1984-06-18). Photo by John Vitz.
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Crestone Peak
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Crestone Peak (1984-09-10). Photo by John Vitz.
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Mount Lincoln
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Lincoln on trail from Cameron (2014-08-21).
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