Hiking Mount Elbert | Advice for Colorado’s Greatest 14er
Many people head to climb Mt Elbert apart from the rest of the 14ers as it’s the tallest peak in the state and rocky mountains overall. They’re often surprised to find the standard route is a Class 1 hike, one of the easiest 14ers to ascend in the state! There are great camping opportunities involved with this peak, both near the trailhead and along the trail in my Mt Elbert Route guide. Here’s everything you need to know about hiking Mount Elbert to reach its summit safely and successfully.
Hiking Mount Elbert | Fast Facts
Hiking Mount Elbert - Northeast Ridge Route
Your adventure hiking Mount Elberts begins at the appropriately named Mt Elbert trailhead. There are several camping areas here in case you want to get to the area the night before so you can get an early start. Leadville has numerous hotels and campgrounds as well.
From the trailhead, start hiking Mount Elbert up a solid trail that switchbacks up through the evergreen and aspen forest. This first part of the route is also a part of the Colorado Trail, which traverses through much of the state and its many mountain ranges.
Keep right at a point where the Colorado Divide Trail diverts to the left. As you pass through the woods, there are many great spots for dispersed camping if you’re making it an overnight trip. This is where you will really start to gain elevation, with the trail steepening and involving numerous stair-like sections.
As you approach tree-line, you’ll start to see views of the summit through patches in the forest, along with the rest of the route. Be wary of the false summit that looms above you… the true summit lies a few hundred feet beyond it just out of view.
Once you reach the top of the first ridge, you reach a gentle slope approaching the final crux of the climb. This is a good place to pause for a break, some food and snacks before you continue hiking Mount Elbert.
With a rest behind you, start hiking Mount Elbert again, reaching the the crux of the route between 13,500 and 14,000 feet. Work your way up a series of switchbacks and wrap around the right side of the peak, before regaining the summit ridge. You’re only a few hundred feet from the top now.
To reach the summit, follow the ridge to the left, taking care to avoid the steep drop off to your right. The Mt Elbert summit will likely be busy – I recommend walking a bit past the main area to find a quieter place to enjoy a rest before you head back. From here you are treated to views of the northern and southern Sawatch Range, the Ten-Mile and Mosquito Range, the Gore Range and Elk Mountains as well. It’s a spectacular sight to see.
Once you reach the summit, enjoy your accomplishment! I recommend a sandwich and long swig of water. It’s best to turn back with plenty of time to reach tree line by early afternoon when thunderstorms become a hazard. I hope you found this Mt Elbert Route Guide helpful for your trip!
Anyone hiking Mount Elbert should have a high quality topographical map of the area to use for navigation and route-finding. I recommend you download this map on your phone and print a backup copy to bring with in case anything happens to your electronics.
You shouldn’t head out to the mountains without checking the weather forecast several times from multiple sources. Here are several dependable sources to check the forecast, an important task before hiking Mount Elbert.
Hiking Mount Elbert and other 14ers is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.
Hiking, scrambling and climbing up Colorado’s high peaks are inherently high-risk, dangerous activities. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits and use my Mt Elbert Route Guide at your own risk.
About the Author: Alex Derr
Alex Derr is a mountaineer and blogger based in Denver Colorado. He is working to climb Colorado’s highest 100 peaks, and the 20 tallest peaks in California. He created The Next Summit to share advice, stories, history & reflections from the Colorado Rockies & Sierra Nevada. When not climbing, he is managing the Communications strategy at Visible Network Labs.