10 best peaks for beginner mountaineers

Pico de Orizaba volcano, or Citlaltepetl, is the highest mountain in Mexico.
There's nothing quite like reaching the summit of a really tall mountain like Pico de Orizaba©robert cicchetti/Shutterstock

Mountains not only request, but demand respect. With feet of snow, hurricane-like winds, little oxygen and their own weather, it’s remarkable we get windows into their world at all. Some are still unclimbed, others invite us in.

If you are physically fit but just starting out as a mountaineer here are a few ‘fourteeners’ – mountains higher than 14,000 feet (4,267 metres) – to get you started for your first big climb. These summit attempts should not be attempted without proper safety precautions. All of these mountains can be summited by first-timers, but we recommend the assistance of a guide with proper training and experience. Be sure to check the latest travel advice and COVID-19 updates before planning a trip.

A woman sits at the summit of a mountain looking down at the clouds mixing around the surrounding peaks; Mountain climbing fourteeners
There's nothing quite like reaching the summit of a really tall mountain like Mt Whitney and looking out over the world © Sean Jansen / Lonely Planet

Mount Whitney, California: 14,505ft

It's the highest peak in the continental U.S., but a trail takes you to the top. A permit is required to hike the trail and you’ll need to participate in a raffle to get one. However for anyone who wants to start climbing and sharpen their skills, Whitney is a winner.

What to bring: Water. Unbelievably, there is no water on the mountain. You are exposed the entire hike up. Besides altitude sickness, dehydration is a serious threat to climbers.

Pikes Peak, Colorado: 14,115ft

As far as scaling mountains go, it doesn’t get any easier or more accessible than Pikes Peak in Colorado. A 13.5-mile trail takes you up 7,400 feet to the summit. Once there, you’re greeted with a road, a train, and 500,000 other visitors each year. There is no other 14er with the ease and safety margin of Pikes.

What to bring: A water purifier. There is water along the trail, but it needs to be sanitized before you take a sip. Again, dehydration is a killer with altitude.

A line of mountain climbers ascend a mountain in Africa as scrub plants dominate the landscape around them; Climbing your first fourteener
You've seen the images of elephants crossing the plains as Mt Kilimanjaro rises behind them, but even a beginner climber can summit the iconic peak © R. Tyler Gross / Getty Images

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania: 19,341ft

Tickling the 20,000-foot (6,000 metres) mark, it may be a surprise to some that this mountain is even on our list. Rest assured – altitude is the greatest challenge on this mountain. Located in northeast Tanzania, Mount Kilimanjaro can be hiked without setting foot on ice or snow. A guide is required and it will take you up to a week to reach the summit, but to say you climbed Africa’s highest peak is on many climber’s bucket list.

What to bring: Your wallet. In order to scale Kilimanjaro you need to break bank. But the money goes to the experienced guides and Kilimanjaro National Park to keep the mountain and wildlife pristine.

Mount Kenya, Kenya: 17,057ft

After ascending Kilimanjaro, why not jump across the border and tackle Africa’s second-highest peak? Mount Kenya, skyrocketing to more than 17,000 feet, may be lower than Kilimanjaro, but it’s more challenging.  With a couple of different routes up this massif, the path you choose is up to you. Once you get there, the views are worth the effort.

What to bring: Camping gear. No matter which route you take, it will consist of a multi-day ascent. With permits and guides in tow, a tent, sleeping bag and pad are all necessary for this summit.

A yellow tent is partially obscured by a snow bank near the top of a very tall mountain in Russia; Climbing fourteeners for beginners
The conditions on Russia's Mt Elbrus are challenging for beginners and amateurs alike © Michael Przech / Getty Images

Mount Elbrus, Russia: 18,510ft

Sitting deep within the Caucasus of southwestern Russia, Europe’s highest peak waits for the eager climber to scale her icy face. Screaming to more than 18,000 feet (5,500 metres), the thin air of this mountain will be a challenge for any climber, whether a beginner or more advanced.

What to bring: Ice axe, crampons, and physical fitness. This mountain demands strength and stamina to achieve the summit and will remind you if you are ready or not.

Pico de Orizaba, Mexico: 18,490ft

Mexico’s highest peak, Pico de Orizaba is a beautifully shaped cone piercing the heavens. Although the climb is relatively simple, a guide is highly recommended as well as plenty of time to tackle its summit. Stay at the hut, wake up at the crack of dawn, and make your way up North America’s third highest peak.

What to bring: Physical stamina and a week or two’s worth of acclimatization training. It is highly recommended you do a few hikes up to altitude in training for the summit.

A solitary backpacker walks through scrubland on his or her way to an isolated mountain in Ecuador; Climbing a fourteener
Ecuador's Volcan Cotopaxi might look lonely and forbidding, but with some stamina and hard work you can reach the summit © Sean Jansen / Lonely Planet

Volcán Cotopaxi, Ecuador: 19,347ft

Sitting on the equator, it’s phenomenal that a mountain shooting past 19,000 feet exists at that latitude. Cotopaxi is a dormant volcano with a perfectly shaped cone to scale. With some mixed climbing that necessitates the use of ice axes and crampons, this challenging summit will test your lungs en route to the top.

What to bring: Some experience and a camera. A guide is required to attempt a summit, but with economical and experienced adventure packages, the only thing you’ll have to worry about are the photos you take from the summit.

Mount Rainier, Washington: 14,410ft

Mount Rainier is such an iconic setting it has its own National Park. Though it barely breaks the 14,000-foot mark, this active volcano throws more challenges than many of the other peaks on the list. But with all the necessary preparation, the climb is nothing short of spectacular.

What to bring: A portable stove. You must melt snow for your drinking water, so a Jetboil is of utmost importance when climbing Rainier.

A line of ice climbers ascends a steep snow-covered peak in France; Climbing fourteeners for beginners
Mt Blanc in France is doable for amateurs, but is also dangerous if it's not approached respectfully © Andrea Rizzi / EyeEm / Lonely Planet

Mont Blanc, France: 15,781ft

Europe’s second-highest peak, the massif of Mont Blanc is a prominent fixture. Though the climb to its summit is no cakewalk, a guided trip up will be achievable by most with proper fitness.

What to bring: You will need a backpack of gear ranging from trekking shoes to ice axes, rope, and crampons. This mountain will demand every type of climbing.

Island Peak, Nepal: 20,305ft

With what has been dubbed, ‘the easiest 20,000 foot mountain in the world,’ Island Peak will undoubtedly test your lung capacity. You won’t just be walking up its face, the use of crampons and ice axes are still required. However, it can be climbed by almost anyone who wishes and acclimatizes appropriately.

What to bring: Any remedy for altitude sickness. These could be used for every climb on the list, but at none other than Island Peak is it absolutely necessary.

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This article was first published 9 October 2019 and was last updated 7 July 2020.

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