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Hiking Mount Elbert

Hiking Mount Elbert | 14er Route Map & Advice

Hiking Mount Elbert is popular with many different visitors, including those climbing all the 14ers, state high point peak baggers, and more typical tourists, hikers, and climbers. People are often surprised to learn that the standard route is a relatively easy class one hike. 

In fact, it is one of the easiest 14ers to climb in Colorado. There are great camping opportunities in the area around Mount Elbert, both near the trailhead and along the trail itself if you want to take two days to do your climb. Done as a day trip, the Mount Elbert hike time for most people is around 6-8 hours round-trip (depending on how many breaks you take).

Here’s everything you need to know about Mount Elbert to reach its summit safely and successfully using the North Mount Elbert Trail via the Northeast Ridge route. You might also consider the less busy and more difficult alternative south mount elbert trail.

Mount Elbert Trail Details

TAKE CARE & STAY SAFE!

You are responsible for your own safety in the backcountry.

These peaks can be unpredictable and dangerous. Help is often hours or days away: your safety is primarily your responsibility. Prepare for your trek, understand your limits, be aware of the risks, and equip yourself with the necessary skills and gear. 

Hiking Mount Elbert's NE Ridge

First time planning a 14er hike or climb? Start by reading the route description and reviewing the route map. You should use the weather forecasts to plan, along with my gear recommendations. Check the Trailhead info to ensure you know how to get there and have an appropriate vehicle. Stay nearby at one of the camping or lodging options below to acclimatize before your climb and reduce your risk of altitude sickness. Lastly, refresh your Leave No Trace and mountain safety knowledge to protect the peaks and yourself.

There is additional information about the peak, local regulations, plus additional resources and a frequently asked question section. Have a question? Leave a comment at the bottom of the route guide and we’ll reply ASAP with an answer. Cheers!

Mt Elbert Route Description

Your adventure begins at the appropriately named Mount Elbert trailhead. There are several camping areas here in case you want to arrive the night before your hike. It’s a great way to acclimate and get an early start. Leadville has numerous hotels and campgrounds as well. 

From the trailhead, start the hike up Mount Elbert following 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 to the summit of Mount Elbert.

With a rest behind you, continue hiking along the Mount Elbert trail,  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 are now 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 Mountt 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 Mountt Elbert Route Guide helpful for your trip!

Mt Elbert Topographic Maps

Route Map

This map shows the route and elevation using topographic contour lines. I recommend saving it on your phone and bringing a backup paper copy.

Elevation Profile

This elevation profile shows how much elevation you will gain and lose while hiking up and down Mount Elbert. There is also information about the slope angle, tree cover, and other details along the route.

Mount Elbert Elevation Profile

Mt Elbert Current Conditions

Conditions at Mt Elbert vary dramatically throughout the year. Use the sources below to check for recent condition updates or post a request for an update from other climbers.

In the world of climbing, current condition information is called “Beta.”

Where to Find Condition Reports (Beta)

Each of these websites allows users to post condition or trip reports with photos and descriptions of what they experienced while hiking Mt Elbert. Check them all before you start making posts asking about conditions or you may get scolded on accident.

Where to Ask About Recent Conditions (Beta)

If you cannot find any recent condition or trip reports for Mt Elbert using any of the website above, you can try posting on one of the social media groups or forums below to ask if anyone has been near the peak recently and can share some beta.

Mt Elbert Weather Forecast

The National Weather Service forecast below for Mt Elbert provides everything you need to know to plan ahead for your climb. Additional weather forecast resources include Open Summit and Mountain Forecast.

Mt Elbert Trailhead

Directions: The trailhead for the Northwest Ridge Route on Mt. Elbert is easily accessible from Leadville, Colorado. From the town, head south on Highway 24 and turn west onto Colorado 300. Continue for about 0.7 miles before making a left onto Lake County Road 11. After about 1.2 miles, turn right onto the well-marked road for Halfmoon Creek. Continue on this dirt road for about 5 miles until you reach the Mt Elbert trailhead.

Amenities and Rules: The Mt Elbert trailhead has essential amenities including ample parking, toilet facilities, and clear signage providing directions and trail information. It’s also a designated fee area, so ensure you have cash on hand for the self-service fee station. 

As part of the San Isabel National Forest, the standard Forest Service rules apply. These include no camping within 100 feet of the trail, leash requirements for pets, and practicing Leave No Trace principles to preserve the environment.

Parking and Access Road: The Halfmoon Road leading to the trailhead is a well-maintained dirt road and is typically accessible to two-wheel-drive vehicles, but a high-clearance vehicle is recommended if recent weather conditions have been wet or snowy. During winter months, the road may be closed for a distance from the trailhead, adding to your overall hike distance. 

Parking spaces fill quickly, especially on summer weekends. To secure a spot, it is recommended to arrive early in the morning. Be mindful not to block the road when parking, as it’s used by residents and other recreational users.

Get more info about the trailhead at the USFS website.

Mt Elbert Gear List

Climbing any of Colorado’s 14ers requires careful preparation and the right gear to ensure safety and enjoyment. Here’s a comprehensive gear list for hiking Mount Elbert:

Essentials:
Optional Gear:
Winter Gear:
Clothing:
Footwear:
Communication:

Where To Stay Near Mt Elbert

The area near Mt Elbert has great options for camping, motels, and airbnbs. Here are some of my recommended places to stay nearby.

Where to Camp Near Mt Elbert:

Camping near Mount Elbert:


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

Hotels and Lodging Near Mt Bierstadt

Lodging near Mount Elbert:


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

Leave No Trace

When setting out to hike Mount Elbert, integrating Leave No Trace (LNT) principles is crucial for preserving the delicate alpine environment of this Colorado 14er.

The following section offers guidance on how to minimize your impact while enjoying the great outdoors:

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Understand the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Check the weather forecast, and be aware of the terrain challenges you might face on Mt Elbert.
  • Preparation reduces the likelihood of resource damage and contributes to your safety.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Stay on established trails and avoid cutting switchbacks, which can lead to erosion.
  • In the alpine tundra, plants take years to grow and mere seconds to be destroyed by trampling.
  • If camping is part of your trip, use designated campsites at lower elevations to minimize impact.

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack out all your trash, leftover food, and litter.
  • It’s essential to carry a bag for collecting waste.
  • For human waste, dig a cat hole 6-8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, trails, and camp. Cover and disguise it when finished.
  • Pack out all toilet paper and hygiene products.

Leave What You Find

  • Preserve the past; examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species by cleaning gear and boots before and after your hike.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts in the alpine environment.
  • Use a lightweight stove for cooking and a lantern for light.
  • If fires are permitted, use established fire rings, keep fires small, and burn all wood to ash.
  • Put out fires completely and scatter cool ashes.

Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance and never feed them. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Control pets on a leash at all times, or leave them at home.

Be Courteous to Others Outdoors

  • Respect other trail users and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Use headphones, not bluetooth speakers, and keep your noise down.
  • Give uphill hikers the right of way.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • If stopping, move off the trail to allow others to pass.

Incorporating these LNT principles into your Mt Elbert adventure is a commitment to conserving the mountain for future generations to experience and enjoy. By acting as stewards of the land, we can all contribute to the sustainability of the natural beauty that draws us to these heights.

Learn more by reviewing our complete Leave No Trace Guide for 14ers.

Safety Tips for Hiking Mt Elbert

Mt Elbert, standing tall at over 14,000 feet, offers a majestic experience but also poses unique challenges. It is one of the most difficult class 2 peaks in the state, and people have been seriously injured or killed there in recent years. Prioritize your safety with these essential tips:

  • Acclimate to Altitude: Spend a day or two at a lower elevation near Mt Elbert to get your body used to the altitude. Altitude sickness can be a serious concern and can strike regardless of fitness level.

  • Check the Weather: Mountain weather is notoriously unpredictable. Before you set out, check the local weather forecast and be prepared for sudden changes. Start early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms common in the Rockies.

  • Stay Hydrated: At high altitudes, your body dehydrates faster. Carry plenty of water — a minimum of 2 to 3 liters per person — and drink regularly throughout your hike.

  • Research Your Route: Take time to review trip reports, route descriptions, maps, and photos to help you navigate in the field and know if you are on the right track.

  • Dress Appropriately: Layer your clothing to adapt to the variable conditions. Include a moisture-wicking base layer, an insulating layer, and a waterproof and windproof outer layer. Don’t forget a hat and gloves, even in summer.

  • Stay on the Trail: For your safety and the environment’s protection, stick to designated trails. Shortcuts can lead to erosion and habitat destruction and can also put you at risk of getting lost or injured.

  • Know Your Limits: Mt Elbert’s terrain can be challenging, with loose rocks and steep sections. If you’re not an experienced hiker or if you’re feeling unsure, consider hiring a guide or joining a group.

  • Emergency Plan: Have a plan in case of an emergency. Inform someone of your route and expected return time. Carry a whistle, a mirror, and a small first aid kit. A satellite messenger or personal locator beacon (PLB) is advised for remote areas where cell service is not reliable.

  • Bring a Buddy: Never hike alone. Use the buddy system to ensure safety. If one person gets injured or sick, the other can go for help.

  • Share Your Itinerary: Tell someone dependable back home that you are climbing Mt Elbert and share as much of your plans and itinerary as possible. Tell them you when you will check-in with them, and who to call if you fail to do so.

Respecting these safety guidelines will help ensure that your climb up Mt Elbert is memorable for all the right reasons. Stay alert, stay safe, and enjoy the grandeur of the Rockies. 

Learn more by reviewing our complete mountain safety guide.

Permits, Regulations & Guidelines

There are no permits or reservations required to hike Mount Elbert, however, parking can become difficult to find during busy summer weekends. Arrive early or the night before to secure a spot.

The route is located within the San Isabel National Forest.

San Isabel National Forest Rules

Much of the route falls on USFS land in Pike-San Isabel National Forest. Follow their land management guidelines to limit your negative impact on the land and protect public access for the future.

Audio Devices: Keep the volume of audio devices low to not disturb others. Permits are required for public address systems.

Business Activities: All commercial activities require permits.

Campfires: Follow fire restrictions. Use established fire rings or stoves. Fires must be completely extinguished before leaving.

Camping: Camping is allowed with a 14-day limit. Vehicles must be parked in established sites. Remove all personal property and trash upon leaving.

Fee Areas: Fees are required for certain developed sites and must be paid in advance.

Fireworks and Firearms: Fireworks are prohibited. Firearms can’t be used near residences, roads, bodies of water, or where they may cause injury or damage.

General: Removing or disturbing natural resources requires a permit.

Geocaching: Permitted in general forest areas without causing resource damage or vandalism. Must not interfere with other permitted activities or historical sites.

Operation of Vehicles: Obey traffic laws and signs. Avoid damaging the land or vegetation. Parking only in marked areas.

Pets and Animals: Pets must be leashed in developed sites and are not allowed in swimming areas.

Property: Do not damage live trees or any historic or archeological resources. Respect private properties.

Public Behavior: Quiet hours are 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Keep noise at a reasonable level.

Sanitation: Dispose of garbage in provided containers or pack it out. Keep lakes, streams, and other water bodies clean.

Wilderness: Motor vehicles and motorized equipment are not allowed. Preserve the wilderness – “Leave only footprints, take only pictures.”

Learn more about these USFS guidelines and rules for visitors.

About Mount Elbert

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 one hike to the summit.

Here are some other Mt Elbert 14ers tips:

  • Start early! This peak is busy and is getting even more popular each year. Get there before dawn if you want a parking spot.
  • Camp Nearby! There are several first-come first-serve campgrounds on the road to the trailhead, along with lots of dispersed camping areas. You can get an early start and acclimate at the same time.
  • Bring the ten essentials! These are the key gear systems needed to stay safe and actively respond to emergencies. Click here to learn more.

Mt Elbert Photos

These are a collection of photos of Mt Elbert and the west slopes route from previous trips to the area. You can also find additional pictures in our route description above.

Additional Resources for Mt Elbert

Looking for more information for planning your visit to Mt Elbert? Here are some additional resources and websites with more info to continue your research online:

Mt Elbert Websites & Route Guides

News Articles about Mt Elbert

Mt Elbert Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the most common questions we get asked about hiking Mt Elbert. 

If you do not see your question addressed below in our FAQs, leave it in a comment at the bottom of the page and we will get an answer to you as soon as possible.

A: The nearest town to the trailhead for the North Mount Elbert Trail is Leadville. From there, head southwest on Hwy 24 for 2-3 miles and take a right County Rd 3oo, followed by a left on Halfmoon Rd. Follow the road for 1.5 miles and take a right to stay on the road. Follow the road for 6.3 miles as the road turns into a rougher forest service road. The trailhead will be on your left.

A: The Northeast ridge route on Mount Elbert is 9.5 miles round-trip. With 4,700 feet of elevation gain, it is a steep climb and you will move more slowly. Expect to spend 6-8 hours hiking to the summit of Mount Elbert and back to the summit, unless you are in very good shape.

A: The route to the top of Mount Elbert is long and steep, but ranks as a class-one hike without any scrambling. As long as you can continue putting one foot in front of the other, you can make it to the summit. Taking time to acclimate before your trip will improve your odds of a successful summit.

A: Hiking Mount Elbert is undoubtedly a challenge for most people. The route climbs nearly a mile in elevation: 4,700 feet over 9.5 miles round-trip. The best way to prepare is to spend time hiking, running, or otherwise improving your cardio strength before you climb. Acclimating before your climb and eating the right fuel will also hep you reach the summit successfully.

 

A: There are two easy ways to the top of Mount Elbert. One is shorter in distance: this route, the Northeast Ridge route, is 9.5 miles round-trip. The other route, the East Ridge, is longer, 10.5 miles, but has less elevation gain, 4,100 feet, compared to 4,700 feet for the Northeast route. The NE ridge option is the older, standard route, but both are popular options. If you are hiking Mount Elbert during winter, the east ridge is the safer route with less avalanche risk.

A: This is a very busy 14er in Colorado. Plan to arrive at the trailhead very early if you want a parking spot – before dawn if possible. You can also arrive the night before and camp at one of several campgrounds along the road or at one of the dispersed campsites. You get the added benefit of acclimating while sleeping at a high altitude before your climb. When you go on your hike, watch out for the junction for the CDT so you don’t take the wrong turn. Beware of false summits along the way – as Colorado’s tallest peak, there are a lot of them along this route.

 

A: Mount Elbert is a relatively safe fourteener compared to the other peaks in Colorado. As a class one hike, there is no exposure along the route and a fall is unlikely to be serious. However, as with any 14er, there are inherent risks involved. There is a small risk of developing serious altitude sickness, getting injured or becoming lost during your hike. Still, deaths and serious injuries are rare on Mount Elbert. Out of 30,000+ hikers each year, there are less than 20 search and rescue missions on the peak each year. With the right preparation, odds are, you will be fine.

 

A: No, you cannot drive up Mount Elbert. This 14er, the tallest peak in Colorado, can only be reached using several hiking trails. Read my guide to learn more about the two 14ers you can drive up in Colorado.

 

Most people are able to climb Mt. Elbert in a single day. The route is 9.5 miles round-trip and involves 4,700 feet of elevation gain. While this is not an easy hike, it can be done within a single day – usually between 5-10 hours depending on how in shape you are. For those who take two days to do the climb, there are a number of dispersed campsites along the main trail.

Notice: The material presented in this route guide may not be comprehensive or precise and should not be solely relied upon when planning your climb. Inadequate experience, physical fitness, supplies, or equipment may result in injury or fatality.

The Next Summit and the author(s) of this hiking guide offer no guarantees, neither explicit nor implied, regarding the accuracy or dependability of the information provided.

By utilizing the information herein, you agree to indemnify and absolve The Next Summit and the hiking guide author(s) from any claims and demands against them, including any legal fees and expenses. 

One Response

  1. I’ve hiked Mount Elbert three times. It is a great route. I highly recommend getting there the night before and camping at one of the campgrounds along the access road, or dispersed camping nearby. You benefit from the extra acclimatization and you also can get an earlier start on your climb in the morning.

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Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr 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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