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.

NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY BEGINNERS GUIDE FOR A SAFE FIRST SUMMIT!

Hiking Mount Elbert | Fast Facts

Hiking Mount Elbert - Northeast Ridge Route

Your adventure hiking Mount Elbert 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 the 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 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 the Mosquito Range, the Gore Range, and the Elk Mountains as well. It’s a spectacular sight to see.

Once you reach the summit, enjoy your accomplishment! I recommend a sandwich and a long swig of water. It’s best to turn back with plenty of time to reach the treeline 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 within case anything happens to your electronics.

Mt Elbert Standard Route Guide

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.

Mountain Forecast Mt Elbert

NOAA Forecast Mt Elbert

The right gear will make hiking Mount Elbert much easier! This route includes many miles of hiking up steep mountain slopes. You will need to get a solid pair of hiking boots for Mount Elbert. Be sure you break them in at home before your trip, or you won’t have a fun time. Here are my hiking boot recommendations.

You should always bring the ten essentials with you on your trip (see the infographic below). To carry them all, bring a backpack with 20-30 liters capacity. These are several good options that won’t break the bank. 

While trekking poles are not a necessity, I use them myself as they offer many benefits and make hiking easier. If you want a pair, I share my personal favorites here.

Don’t forget to bring 2 liters of water, and a good bit of snacks and food for the trail. Learn more about packing for a 14er here.

Camping near Mount Elbert:

There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along the forest road leading to the trailhead ideal for those hiking Mount Elbert. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.

Lodging near Mount Elbert:

There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Leadville. They’re ideal for those hiking Mount Elbert.

As Colorado’s tallest peak, Mount Elbert gets a lot of traffic. Please help us maintain the wilderness essence of this area by practicing the following key Leave No Trace ethics. This includes:

  • Plan ahead, review the route and pick a weekday or day in September to hike.
  • Stay on the trail, and keep dogs leashed on and off-trail to reduce trampling of alpine grass.
  • Leave your Bluetooth speaker at home and let nature’s sound reign.
  • Urinate off trail, and pack out your waste – a cathole won’t work at high altitude.
  • Give wildlife a wide berth – 100 meters if possible. If they approach, back up to keep space.
  • Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.

Safe travels, and good luck hiking the Decalibron Loop! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.

Mount Elbert is the tallest peak in the state of Colorado and the entire US and Canadian Rocky Mountains. The peak was named in honor of a Colorado statesman, Samuel Hitt Elbert, who was the Governor of the Territory of Colorado in 1874. While this fourteener is taller than all others, it is a class 1 hike to the summit.

Hiking Mount Elbert is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.

  1. Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
  2. Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
  3. Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
  4. Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
  5. Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
  6. Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.

NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY BEGINNERS GUIDE FOR A SAFE FIRST SUMMIT!

Hiking Mount Elbert and other mountains is an inherently high-risk, dangerous activityy. 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 at your own risk.

Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit

Alex is an Eagle Scout and mountaineer living in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. You can subscribe to his Next Summit Newsletter here.

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