Ever dream of a high-flying adventure that has you hugging cliff faces as you gaze upon roaring canyons and piercing peaks? The many Via Ferrata in Colorado give you an up-close look at the Centennial State’s monument landscapes without having to be a professional mountain climber.
Known as the “iron way” in Italian, these assisted, human-built obstacle courses deliver you a mountaineering-like experience without as much risk. Colorado via Ferrata are popping up all over the state. With so many different adventures to choose from you’ve got to tackle this Colorado bucket list item.
As a long-time local of over 13 years and avid rock climber, I’m in love with the via Ferrata in Colorado. These high-altitude adventures let you experience the thrill of hugging a cliffside without the intense risk of multi-pitch rock climbing (more on that lingo later).
The heights will get your blood pumping no matter what your experience level is. So if you’re looking to enjoy Colorado’s via Ferrata like a local, not a tourist, then keep reading.
About this Guide to via Ferrata in Colorado
Inside this local guide to via Ferrata in Colorado you’ll find:
- Info about what a via ferrata is
- Gear needed to tackle a via ferrata in Colorado
- Choosing the right via ferrta
- The top via ferrata in Colorado
- Info about how much they cost, if you need a guide, and distance from Denver
- What to expect on your first via ferrata adventure
- Additional local Colorado travel resources
What the Heck is a Via Ferrata?
Founded in the Italian Alps centuries ago, the Via Ferrata refers to the “iron way.” Once used as a means to go a direct route from one place to another, these protected paths, ladders, and bridges are constructed of iron and hammered into the mountainsides.
Local Tip: Technically, the plural translation is “via ferrate” but virtually no one uses that in English. Instead, they’ll use via Ferrata or via Ferratas for plural.
One day, someone decided that these adventurous transportation routes could also be constructed for sport – hence the birth of Via Ferrata as we know them today. Now, instead of just ladders, rungs, and hanging bridges, these obstacle courses have a steel cable that runs alongside them so you can clip in for protection.
Highly engineered obstacle courses let enthusiastic adventurers traverse these paths built into the cliffside. A lot of the iron pieces have been replaced with more modern steel in order to stand up to rust and weathering in the elements.
Are Via Ferrata Safe?
Listen, nothing in the mountains is safe. Safety is personal and relative to each individual’s assumption of risk. Accidents can and do happen. However, when compared with rock climbing, mountaineering, scrambling (not using ropes to climb low-grade rocks), and free soloing (climbing without gear), Colorado’s via Ferrata are safe.
Each course is over-engineered for safety to ensure that equipment doesn’t break or get over-strained. The best via ferratas in Colorado get inspected frequently.
However, user error, ignoring bad weather, or getting in over your head can cause accidents. Just be aware that you’re in a serious, heads-up environment. Use a guide if you’re not familiar with climbing systems. And never head out if the weather forecast looks suspect.
Pro Tip: Wear a helmet – virtually every via Ferrata in Colorado requires you to do so. But rockfall is likely your biggest danger.
When to Tackle a Via Ferrata in Colorado
Via Ferrata in Colorado are generally open during the summer months only. There are a few exceptions to that rule – we’ll get to that – but in general, you’ll want to enjoy Colorado via Ferrata when the course is snow and ice-free.
The other big consideration is the weather. You’re essentially climbing along a lightning rod. Virtually every afternoon, monsoon rains and violent thunderstorms plague the mountains. For the best chance at getting out, plan your via Ferrata adventure for the morning and always check the forecast before you head out.
Do I Need Special Gear?
All via Ferrata in Colorado require special gear. Oftentimes, your guiding company will provide you with the proper safety gear. If you’re venturing out on your own, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got the right items for the job. Some areas let you rent gear if you’ve got proper climbing experience. Here’s a look at what to pack for a via Ferrata in Colorado.
- Climbing harness
- Climbing-specfic helmet
- Via Ferrata-specific safety lanyard with energy absorber
- 2 locking HMS carabiners (auto locks save a lot of time)
- Sturdy shoes with laces (avoid boots) with good soles. No sandals, heels, or open-toed footwear. Approach shoes or hiking shoes work great.
- Fingerless climbing gloves – not requied but strongly recommended to fight blisters.
- A small day pack
- Sunglasses with dongles to protect them from falling off of your head
- Water – bladders work best for easy access
- A small first aid kit with blister supplies – hand blisters can be quite common. Climber’s tape works well.
- Longer shorts, leggings, or climbing pants – short shorts can make your harness pinch
- Sunshirt – not required but very helpful as the rocks and water can reflect the sun and heat.
How Many Via Ferratas are in Colorado?
As one of the top things to do in Colorado, Via Ferratas in Colorado are becoming quite popular, with more routes being made each year. Right now there are 9 locations that offer via Ferrata in Colorado with some of them having multiple routes. This number changes every year, so you can opt to check one off of your list along a Colorado road trip, or on a weekend getaway from Denver and do them all!
Which Via Ferrata is Right for Me?
Choosing a via Ferrata can seem a little daunting, especially if you haven’t done one before. When it comes to Colorado via Ferrata, you really can’t choose wrong. If heights are particularly scary, you may want to avoid some of the more elevated via Ferrata, like Arapaho Basin, the Royal Gorge, or the Telluride via Ferrata.
If you’ve got ample multi-pitch rock experience and the right gear, you can always opt to choose a via Ferrata in Colorado that lets you go unguided. Some courses require you to hire a guide.
Totally at a loss? Simply choose one of the most scenic spots in Colorado that offer a via Ferrata and hire a guide to show you the way. Guides take your ability into consideration
Local Tip: Many of the Colorado via Ferratas have multiple course options, so you can choose something in an area that suits your abilities.
Do I Need a Guide for Colorado Via Ferrata?
The answer really depends. If you don’t have any experience, then you’ll absolutely want to hire a guide for safety reasons. Another reason to hire a guide for a via Ferrata is if you’re required to do so by the course operators. (Don’t worry, I’ll let you know about that with the list of the best via Ferrata in Colorado below).
If you understand the science behind factor falls and anchor building in rock climbing, then chances are you can handle going on a self-guided via Ferrata in Colorado. If I’m speaking in tongues, hire a guide even if you rock climb.
A good rule of thumb? When in doubt, hire a guide. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
The last factor to consider when hiring a guide is gear. If you don’t have the gear – especially the redundant lanyard with energy absorber – hire a guide. There are a few Colorado via Ferrata where you can rent the lanyard and other climbing gear. But again, if you don’t have the proper climbing knowledge, you’re putting yourself and those around at extreme risk.
My experience: I’m a multi-pitch alpine trad climber with years of experience on rock – meaning, I haul all of my climbing gear miles into the mountains and climb 1,000 feet of rock to summit peaks, then get myself back down. I’m well experienced with anchor building, frequently practice self-rescue techniques, and know how to get myself out of bad situations. I feel comfortable not hiring a guide when I do a via Ferrata because I am knowledgeable enough to be fully self-supported. If that’s not you, then that’s okay! Hire a guide to get more out of your experience.
The Best Via Ferrata in Colorado
Okay, now for the exciting part! If you’ve made it this far and you’re eager to scope out some of the best via Ferratas in Colorado, then check out this local list of high-flying fun.
The Via Ferrata at Mount Evans in Colorado Springs
As one of the classic things to do in Colorado in summer, the Mt Evans via Ferrata combines two fun-filled adventures in one, a via Ferrata and zipline.
This guide-operated tour takes three hours and spans a stunning cliffside in the scenic Mount Evans corridor. You’ll be treated to stunning views of nearby Idaho Springs, a fun-filled mountain town near Denver. Not to mention, you’ll also be right alongside Mount Evans, one of the closest 14ers near Denver.
Age limit: 12 and up
Hours: 9 am to 1:30 pm
Price: $119 – $129 pp
Distance from Denver: 33 miles, 35 minutes
Self-guided or guide required?: Guide required
Local Tip: Tack on a trip up the Mount Evans Scenic Byway – one of the best scenic drives near Denver for even more adventure.
Ouray Via Ferrata
One of the newest additions to the Colorado via Ferrata scene, the Ouray via Ferrata located in the Ouray Ice Park is a must-do. As one of the top things to do in Ouray, you’ll want to check out this amazing via Ferrata locale.
There are currently two distinct routes. An easier (but super-thrilling) downstream route and a more physical and technical upstream route. With exciting obstacles like the Mars Wall, Stairway to Heaven, and Sky Ladder, you’ll be sure to get your thrills.
Age limit: Anyone under 16 requires an adult
Hours: 8 am to 4 pm
Price: Free, but consider giving a donation to keep this place amazing.
Distance from Denver: 301 miles, 5 hours 30 mins
Self-guided or guide required?: Self-guided is allowed, but all of your equipment will be checked prior to entry and you must have the proper equipment. Guided tours are available with the San Juan Mountain Guides.
Local Tip: Don’t have a lanyard? You can rent yours for the day at the San Juan Mountain Guides in downtown Ouray.
Granite Via Ferrata in Buena Vista
Delivering a similar experience to Mount Evans, the Granite Via Ferrata was also develop by the AVA tour company. As one of the higher via Ferratas in Colorado, the route starts at a breathtaking 8,700 feet above sea level.
Enjoy this amazing Buena Vista activity and get into the heart of the Colorado Rockies. You’ll wind your way around the Arkansas River – a hot spot for Colorado whitewater rafting – as you stare off at the magestic Collegiate Peaks Range in the distance.
Age limit: 12 and up
Hours: Tour hours varry
Price: $99 – $129 pp
Distance from Denver: 121 miles, 2 hours and 20 minutes
Self-guided or guide required?: AVA guided tour required
Via Ferrata in Colorado at the Royal Gorge
Located in one of the top places to visit in Colorado in winter, the Via Ferrata at the Royal Gorge is one of the few routes that’s open year-round (weather dependent). Enjoy the staggering heights as you wind your way around the Royal Gorge at this epic via Ferrata in Colorado.
You’ll need to purchase a ticket to enter the Royal Gorge ($25 per person – included in your booking), and then book this activity separately. No unguided visits are allowed. Guides will show you the way as you marvel at views hundreds of feet from the canyon floor.
Age limit: 10 years or older
Hours: Park hours – 10 am with various closing times depending on the season. Holiday closures are possible.
Price: Varies depending on group size and tour type but generally starts at $135 and up.
Distance from Denver: 129 miles, 2 hours 30 minutes
Self-guided or guide required?: Guided tours only.
Telluride Via Ferrata
A long-time classic via Ferrata in Colorado, the Telluride via Ferrata is one of the few iron ways that doesn’t have many vertical obstacles. In fact, you’ll be moving sideways for most of the time. For this reason, you can make and bring your own teathers, since the risk of a factor fall is not high.
If I’m speaking gibberish, then certainly hire a guide along this butt-puckering traverse. The Telluride via Ferrata skirts the cliffs right outside of Telluride. The route delivers amazing views of Telluride and nearby Bridal Veil Falls.
Feeling ambitious? Check out the Blue Lakes Trail – one of Telluride’s top hikes, – nearby.
Local Tip: The route is ONE WAY so please respect signs.
Age limit: None. Guided groups do have age limits and this is not recommended for children under ten.
Hours: None. Open to the public whenever, but please note that people have died from slips and falls in snow, ice, and thunderstorms.
Distance from Denver: 362 miles, 6 hours 20 minutes
Self-guided or guide required?: Experienced parties can go unguided (this is a great intro to via ferratas for unguided groups) or you can hire a guide.
Via Ferrata in Estes Park, Colorado
If you’re planning on visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, then you might want to check out the Kent Mountain Adventure Center’s Estes Park via Ferrata too. New to the scene, this top Estes Park activity features various routes that cater to all abilities.
From traverses to 600-foot climbs each route provides plenty of killer views. The great part about this guided adventure is that the guides will custom tailor a route to the group’s ability, so you can be sure you’ll get your fair share of thrills, or take it easy.
Age limit: 12 and up.
Hours: Tours vary
Price: Varies depending on the number of clibmers, but in general it’s about $140 pp/
Distance from Denver: 66 miles, 1 hour and 30 minutes
Self-guided or guide required?: Yes, through Kent Mountain Adventure Center only.
Arapaho Basin Via Ferrata
Freshly opened in 2021, the Arapaho Basin via Ferrata is the closet via Ferrata to Denver. But don’t let the short commute fool you, the entire route is in the high alpine environment. This means the air is thin and you’ll be huffing and puffing.
Make your way from 12,000 feet in elevation to 13,000 feet in elevation for stunning 360-degree views of the Continential Divide and beyond. Summiting a mountain along a via Ferrata is arguably one of the most unique things to do in Colorado.
Easier routes are available if you’d like a real taste of what Colorado mountaineering can feel like, but don’t want to commit to a bigger day.
Local Tip: This is the most strenous via Ferrata in Colorado, largely thanks to the higher elevations and steep climbs.
Age limit: No age limit but must bebetween 88 and 264 pounds.
Hours: Tour times vary
Price: $175 – $225
Distance from Denver: 64 miles, 1 hour 20 minutes
Self-guided or guide required?: Guide required through Arapaho Basin Resort
Cave of the Winds via Ferrata near Manitou Springs
For an exhilarating climb, head south towards Manitou Springs and jump on the Cave of the Winds via Ferrata. Loctead inside the Cave of the Winds Adventure Park, this additional activity takes you around stunning limestone cliffs and mountain wanders. The best part? The tour includes zipline too!
Age limit: no age limit but must be 48″ tall and weigh between 90 and 250 pounds
Hours: Varies depending on tour times
Price: $109 per person
Distance from Denver: 77 miles, 1 hour and 30 minutes
Self-guided or guide required?: Guide required. All reservations made through Cave of the Winds park.
What to Expect on Your Via Ferrata Adventure
If it’s your first time along the iron way, there are a few important things you need to know. Here are your most pressing Colorado via Ferrata questions answered.
If I get too scared can I turn around?
Most via Ferrata in Colorado are one-way routes, meaning you can’t turn around or you’ll present a safety hazards. However, with that being said, a lot of via ferrata routes have bail out options if you get too scared. You’ll still have to climb a little further, but you’ll be to safer ground shortly.
Local Tip: The Telluride via Ferrata has a point of no return, after that you have to keep going.
Is there anything I SHOULDN’T bring with me?
Yes! A via Ferrata isn’t a hike, and it isn’t rock climbing either – it’s a unique activity and there certainly are a few things you can leave behind. You do NOT need:
- Trekking poles, they will get in your way.
- Sandals, you must wear closed-toed shoes with laces for a via Ferrata.
- Skirts or dresses – your harness won’t fit.
- flowy, loose clothing that can snag easily.
- A really heavy pack, the lighter and smaller the better for easy movement.
- Dogs. Dogs can’t go on via Ferratas and leaving in them in hot cars can kill them, so leave the pup someplace safe.
What happens if there is bad weather?
Every individual tour company has their own policy regarding weather, so make sure you check before you head out. If you’re going self-guided, always check he weather with a tool like weather.gov for accurate, up-to-date weather. Do your homework and always put a good buffer (2+ hours) between your finish time and inclimate weather in case something goes wrong.
What should I wear for a via Ferrata in Colorado?
Dress in layers. the mountain weather can be quite moody and temps can swing wildly from sun to shade. Bring layers and wear clothing that’s comfortable. You’ll be stretching and moving, so wear an outfit that’s suitable for athletic pursuits. Avoid jeans, skirts, and dresses.
Which shoes are okay for via ferratas?
Only closed-toed, laces shoes that won’t fall off are okay for a via Ferrata. Boots aren’t great, since you’ll want a good feel with your feet and some flex in your footwear. Sneakers are acceptable, but most people will feel like they may slip on the iron rungs or cable bridges.
The best footwear for a via Ferrata are hiking shoes or approach shoes.
Are there weight requirements for via Ferrata in Colorado?
Most via Ferratas in Colorado have weight limits, typically it’s between 250 and 260 pounds. Check with the route you’d like to do before heading out.
How early should I book my experience?
For via Ferrata in Colorado that require advanced bookings, the sooner the better. Guided services can fill up months in advance, especially on summer weekends. If you can try to book your tour 4 – 5 months out to ensure you get what you want.
Additional Colorado Travel Resources
Wanna see Colorado like a local? Check out these additional resources: