Hiking Mount Massive: Route Description, Map & Advice
Mt Massive is appropriately named – it has more area above 14,000 feet than any other peak in the lower 48! It’s just across the valley from Mt Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado, and takes second place for height by a few feet. I recommend taking two days to hike Mount Massive, with a overnight stay at one of the creek crossings on its southeast slope. Here’s everything you need to know to ascend this summit, in my Mt Massive Route Guide.
NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY BEGINNERS GUIDE FOR A SAFE FIRST SUMMIT!
Hiking Mount Massive: Fast Facts
Hiking Mount Massive - Route Guide
Hiking Mount Massive is a fantastic route to hike. This Mt Massive route guide begins at the trailhead. Once parked at the parking lot, start your climb up the ridge. Start early as this lot fills quickly during the summer. You’ll soon take a hard left, passing over the ridge to your side, and begin walking along the East Slopes. There are several creek crossings; each has campsites for dispersed camping if you’re doing this overnight.
Once you pass the creek crossing, watch for a turn-off from the trail to the left. After a half-mile, you’ll finally pass treeline and see South Massive to your left and Mt Massive to the right. Work your way up, continuing hiking Mount Massive.
Your next goal is to hike up the steep Pt 12400. The hill is covered in willows but features a good, sturdy trail.
Once beyond the point, you see the road ahead of you. Your aim is the saddle between South Massive and Mt Massive. The route will become rockier as you go, transitioning from grassy meadows to rocky terrain. At the saddle, you’ll take a right to head up the summit ridge.
The rocky summit ridge features some great Class 2 scrambling. You’ll pass several times from the east side of the ridge back to the west and back. Stick to the main trail, and be careful to avoid social trails that lead you off-track. Eventually, you’ll come upon the final few feet before you step up to the summit!
Looking for more information on this route? Visit 14ers.com. I hope my Mt Massive Route Guide helped you out! Good luck hiking Mount Massive, and safe travels on the trail!
Every good mountaineer should have a topographical map with them – it’s a key part of any Mt Massive Route Guide. I recommend downloading a digital copy of this map on your phone and printing out a paper backup copy in case anything happens to your electronic copy.
Besides reading this Mt Massive Route Guide, you should check the weather forecast before you go. It’s an important task before hiking Mount Massive. Here’s a dependable weather source.
The East Slopes route begins at the Mount Massive trailhead, which is usually closed October through May. The dirt road can be driven carefully by most 2WD passenger vehicles, but more clearance is better than less.
DIRECTIONS TO THE MOUNT MASSIVE TRAILHEAD:
Mount Massive is a long trip. There are many miles of hiking and a significant amount of scrambling at high altitude. A good pair of hiking boots are ideal for this kind of trek. Here are my top 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 backpack options that won’t break the bank.
While trekking poles are not a necessity on this mountain, 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 Massive:
There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads near the trailhead ideal for those climbing Mount Massive. Note that camping is not allowed at the trailhead. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.
Lodging near Mount Massive:
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Leadville, Buena Vista, and the surrounding area, ideal for those climbing Mount Massive.
Mount Massive sees a lot of traffic coming from Buena Vista and Leadville. Numbers are expected to rise dramatically in the next decade. Help protect the area while hiking Mount Massive by following these key Leave No Trace practices:
- 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 Mount Massive! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.
Mount Massive gets its name from its huge, sprawling massif. The summit ridge includes five named summits and the mountain has more area above 14,000 feet than any other peak in the lower 48 states, narrowly beating out Mount Rainier in Washington State.
Mount Massive was first surveyed and climbed in 1873 during the Hayden Survey of the American West. Survey member Henry Gannett is credited with the first ascent. It is the second tallest summit in the U.S. or Canadian Rocky Mountains. Enjoy spectacular views while hiking Mount Massiv.
Hiking Mount Massive 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.
NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY BEGINNERS GUIDE FOR A SAFE FIRST SUMMIT!
Hiking Mount Massive is an inherently high-risk, dangerous activity. 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, climber, and environmental policy expert located 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. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.