Kelso ridge and Kelso mountain as seen from Torrey's Peak, Colorado

The Best Alpine Climbs for Beginners

Ready for your first alpine climb? These 6 summit routes top some of the most iconic, beginner-friendly peaks in the U.S.

The alpine environment is the grandest arena you’ll ever climb in. Above treeline, the air feels crisper. Colors seem more vivid. Brush-strokes of scree and snow cast the rocky walls into sharp relief. At the bottom of an alpine climb, you’ll never feel smaller. At the top of one, you’ll never experience a world so vast.

But like any remote mountain pursuit, alpine climbing is a complex juggling act of outdoor knowledge, mental fortitude, and physical strength. Pulling it off safely takes both skill and experience. That said, you have to start somewhere, and there’s no better place to begin your alpine climbing career than on these six classic peaks.

(Note: The following routes are organized from easiest to hardest based on terrain class and commitment grade. If you have limited alpine experience, start with routes near the beginning of the list. If you’re a longtime trad climber with significant experience in mountainous terrain, start closer to the end of the list.) 

1. Old Rag - Shenandoah National Park, VA 

(Class 3, Grade I)

Many call Old Rag the most classic—and most challenging—hike in Shenandoah National Park. And for good reason: It’s a 3,284-foot peak on the eastern edge of the park known for being rocky, rugged, and frequently shrouded in mist. There are several ways to get to the top. The Ridge Trail/Saddle Trail tends to be the more popular route, but the Berry Hollow route is also a great option if you’re trying to get away from the bulk of the crowds.


The Ridge Trail/Saddle Trail loop is about 7.3 miles long and takes most parties several hours to complete. Rocky steps and some slick scrambling is required to reach the summit, but you shouldn’t need to rope up or bring any special gear aside from grippy hiking boots or approach shoes. More info:  

2. Kelso Ridge - Torreys Peak, CO 

(Class 3, Grade II)

Colorado may be home to more than 50 peaks higher than 14,000 feet, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more famous route than Kelso Ridge, the standard line to the top of 14,267-foot Torreys Peak. This long spine of rock extends for more than a half-mile, offering incredible views both to the north and south the whole way. It also contains a short but hair-raising section of exposed third-class terrain called “the knife edge” which will have you straddling the Continental Divide. 


The whole route tackles about 3,000 feet of elevation gain and 7 miles round-trip. To do it, start at the Grays Peak Trailhead off Stevens Gulch Road and head southwest along the Continental Divide Trail. (Tip: When you’re done with Torreys, be sure to head south to tag its 14,270-foot twin, Grays Peak, before you head back to your car.) More info:

 A person climbing Mt. Borah

3. Borah Peak - Lost River Range, ID  

(Class 3/4, Grade II)

If you make it past the airy “Chicken-Out Ridge” on the standard route of central Idaho’s Mount Borah, you’ll have secured yourself a summit of the state’s highest peak. This committing hike features some extended scrambling, spine-tingling exposure, and some of the best views in the Lost River Range. Be sure to take a few minutes to soak in all the beauty—and save some energy for the long hike down.


This hike covers a whopping 6,700 feet of elevation gain over just 4.1 miles, making it one of the steepest ascents on this list. Be sure to get there early, both to beat the summer alpine thunderstorms and the crowds. (Pro tip: There are five primitive campsites at the trailhead. If you can, arrive a day early to snag one and sleep at the base.) More info:  

4. Eagle Slide - Giant Mountain, Adirondacks, NY

(Class 4, Grade II)

Romp up 1,000 feet of low-angle slab to gain the summit of Giant Mountain. This is one of the better slide climbs in the ’Dacks, though not for the faint of heart. Make sure you’re well acquainted with slab technique and have a sticky pair of approach shoes before you head up. Helmets are recommended, and parties new to slab climbing will want to consider roping up. 


Eagle Slide is about 1,300 feet long and is almost entirely fourth class. To get to the base, park at the Giant Mountain Trailhead and take the Roaring Brook Trail for approximately 2 miles. When you see a cairn, head into the streambed and bushwhack uphill for about a mile to reach the slide (guidebook recommended for those new to Adirondack navigation). More info: 

5. East Face - Teewinot Mountain, Grand Teton National Park, WY 

(Class 4, Grade III)

With some serious elevation gain, potential for snow climbing, and a short but exposed crux, Teewinot’s East Face keeps even experienced scramblers on their toes. Still, it’s one of the most classic scrambles in the U.S. and a great introduction to mountaineering in the Rockies. From the top, you’ll be able to watch the sun rise over the Grand Teton and savor sweeping views out across the rest of the national park. 


Teewinot’s East Face ascends a whopping 6,000 feet over just 3 miles and tops out at 12,325 feet above sea level. Arrive several days in advance of your climb to get acclimatized, and be sure to start early (many parties begin at 2 or 3 a.m. in the summertime). You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to complete the climb—and the arduous descent—before nightfall. Note that you’ll need a national parks pass to enter Grand Teton NP, and an overnight permit if you plan to sleep in the park. More info:  

6. West Ridge - Forbidden Peak, North Cascades National Park, WA 

(5.6, Grade III)

One of America’s 50 Classic Climbs and some of the most fun you’ll ever have on 5.6 terrain, the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak is the full package. It offers serious exposure, endless ridgelines, fun movement, and good protection where it counts. As for the setting? Well, that’s hard to beat, too: Located deep within North Cascades National Park, Forbidden Peak is surrounded by milky blue lakes, verdant forest, and glaciated slopes in every direction. 


The toughest part of this climb is the approach: Once you get into the national park, park as you would for the Boston Basin trailhead (on the north side of Cascade Pass Road) and hike past a small kiosk into the forest. The ascent starts almost immediately, carrying you more than 3,000 vertical feet over just 2.5 miles on a loose, narrow climber’s trail. Pause at the Boston Basin campsites to refill water and get your bearings, then head north from the camping area to gain the western shoulder of Forbidden Peak. There are a few ways to access the start of the route depending on snow conditions (guidebook recommended). More info: 

Note: Mountain travel is dangerous, no matter how easy the route. Make sure you’re comfortable using crampons and executing a self-arrest before venturing into snowy terrain. Take a glacier travel course with a certified instructor if you expect to encounter crevasses. Climb with an experienced partner and, if possible, one who’s already familiar with the route. Always check the weather before you climb, and bring sufficient navigation, communication, and emergency gear. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.