Hiking Mount Columbia

Hiking Mount Columbia: 14er Route Description, Map & Advice

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This area is increasingly popular and experiencing heavy impacts from public use. Please stay on the designated trail, pack out trash, practice good trail etiquette, and leave pets at home. Click here to learn more.

Hiking Mount Columbia is a fantastic way to spend a weekend in the Colorado wilderness. The mountain’s location near Mt Harvard gives you the chance to summit two 14ers from your base camp in the valley below. You can do it over two days or as a single-day climb. The West slope route is a steep but non-technical hike and scramble up to the summit. From the top, hikers are treated to views of the Collegiate Peaks, Arkansas River Valley, and more. Plan your trip to this wonderful 14er with my free Mount Columbia Route Guide below.

New to 14ers? Check out my Beginner’s Guide here.

Hiking Mount Columbia: Fast Facts

Remember Mountain Safety Best Practices!

14ers can be dangerous due to altitude sickness, lightning, variable weather conditions, loose rock, and exposure. If you are new to hiking and climbing 14ers, click here and take a minute to review our safety tips and advice.

Hiking Mount Columbia - West Slopes Route

Begin hiking Mount Columbia at the North Cottonwood Creek trailhead. The Mount Columbia route starts by sharing the trail up to Mount Harvard. Take a right off of the shared trail at a cairned junction near 11,500 feet which starts to take you towards the West Slopes of Mt Columbia.

Continue through the forest on a good trail, taking another right turn at the second junction in a large clearing towards. A cairn also marks it. 

As you leave the tree line, you can see much of the route to come ahead of you. Take a right and begin working your way through the talus to follow the trail up the West Slopes. This is a lot of elevation gain very rapidly, so take your time, so you don’t trip and fall on the rocks.

Once you are up the West Slopes, you can turn left to start climbing the ridgeline up to the summit itself. While it seems close, you still have about 500 feet left to ascend to reach the top. Stick to the trail along the summit ridge. 

Nearing the summit crux of the climb around 13,800 feet, you can see the final 250 feet left to ascend. Pick your line, follow the cairns, and make your way up to the summit of Mt Columbia.

Once you make it to the top, enjoy your accomplishment. Please make sure your head back to make it to treeline before afternoon thunderstorms become a hazard. I hope you enjoyed my Mt Columbia Route Guide. Good luck hiking Mount Columbia, and safe travels on the trail!

It’s important to bring a solid topographic map along with you while hiking Mount Columbia. Here’s a good topographic map of the Mt Columbia route to help you. I recommend downloading a digital copy on your phone and printing out a paper backup copy in case anything happens to your electronics along the way.

Mt Columbia Standard Route Guide

You should always check the weather forecast multiple times, from multiple sources, before hiking Mount Columbia. I recommend your use the below sources to check the weather along the Mt Columbia route guide.

Mountain Forecast Mt Columbia

NOAA Weather Forecast Mt Columbia

The right gear will go a long way in keeping you safe while hiking Mount Columbia. Here’s a quick overview of what you need for this trip, along with some of my personal recommendations from my experience on the mountain.

Mount Columbia is a popular trail during the summer months. As there are usually a number of people around if anything goes wrong, you don’t need a lot of emergency gear – just the basic necessities:

  • Small First Aid Kit
  • Sunscreen and Lip Balm
  • Water Bottle (2 liters minimum)
  • Snacks (trail mix, jerky, protein bars)
  • Headlamp
  • Knife/Multi-tool

The most important/expensive gear you need for hiking Mount Columbia is a solid backpack for your other gear, and a pair of hiking boots that will get you to the summit. I recommend hiking boots instead of hiking shoes as tripping is very possible on the rocky slopes you’ll navigate while hiking Mount Columbia.

I recommend trekking poles too, as they help you use your upper body strength to support your legs and increases your balance. If you bring a pair, make sure they collapse so you can store them on your pack or the short summit scramble.

Click here to learn more about what to bring with you for a safe and successful fourteener.

Camping near Mount Columbia:

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

Lodging near Mount Columbia:

There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Buena Vista perfect for those hiking Mount Columbia.

The Mount Columbia area continues to become more popular in Colorado, with increasing impact on its slopes each year. Be sure to follow Leave No Trace outdoor ethics while hiking Mount Columbia. 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 Mount Columbia!

Mount Columbia is one of the five collegiate peaks, getting its name from Columbia University on the East Coast after being climbed by some of its alumni. It is famous among peak baggers for its horrible scree and trail, though that is largely being replaced today by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.

Hiking Mount Columbia 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.


Hiking Mount Columbia and other mountains 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.

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