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.
Hiking Mount Elbert | Fast Facts
14ers Are Dangerous: Safety is Your Responsibility
These awe-inspiring peaks can be unpredictable and dangerous. Help is often hours or days away: your safety is primarily your responsibility. Carefully prepare for your trek, understand your limits, be aware of the risks, and equip yourself with the necessary skills and gear.
We’ve compiled a comprehensive Mountain Safety Guide – but remember, it’s only as effective as its real-world application. Always prioritize your safety over summiting; the mountain isn’t going anywhere. Climb smart, be prepared, and respect the grandeur of nature.
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!
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!
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 visiting the area around Mount Elbert. You can also scroll down to view the full forecast for Mount Elbert from the National Weather Service.
Here are several resources for checking the trail and summit conditions on and around Mount Elbert. We don’t vet individual condition reports – so take them each with a grain of salt.
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.
Bringing the right gear you will make your hike safer and more it more likely you reach the summit successfully. Here is what. I recommend bringing with you while hiking Mount Elbert.
Hiking Boots: Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX Boots
Power through uphills and descents in any weather with Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX men’s hiking boots. They give you the stability and grip you need, plus a higher cut for extra ankle support.
Backpack: Osprey Talon 22 Pack
The Osprey Talon 22 is the perfect size for those hiking Mount Elbert. With trek pole clasps to secure them to your pack, a pocket for your hydration bladder, and great comfort, you cannot beat this backpack.
Trek Poles: REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles
Trek poles provide stability while hiking and help you use your upper body strength while moving to give your legs a break. These award-winning poles from REI are lightweight, strong, and adjustable for rugged terrain.
Always Pack the Ten Essentials
The ten essentials are the most important pieces of gear you need to survive in an emergency in the backcountry. They empower you to actively respond to a crisis instead of passively waiting for search and rescue to respond. You should tweak the specific equipment you bring on each hike according to conditions, but you should always have something for each of these ten categories.
1. Navigation Gear
I recommend bringing a map and compass. If you want to use GPS, get a dedicated unit. Phone batteries die quickly in the cold on a 14er. This 14er map pack works well for hiking Mount Elbert.
2. Headlamp and Batteries
Even if you don’t plan to be out until dark, you can’t plan for everything. If you’re running behind, having the ability to see – and be seen – is everything.
3. Emergency Shelter
When bad weather strikes without warning or someone falls and is injured, a shelter to get out of the elements can save your life. An emergency bivy works well for an easier peak like Mount Elbert.
4. Extra Water
Bring 2 liters of water per person on your hike – if not more. You also want to bring a purification system to get more if you get stuck outside. That could be purification pills or a life straw.
5. Extra Food
I recommend packing 1,000-2,000 extra calories while hiking Mount Elbert. If you do get stuck out there longer than expected, some extra power gel or energy bars will make a big difference.
6. Knife or Multi-tool
The benefits of having this around in an emergency are self-evident: You can prepare firewood, create a shelter, fix gear, and solve other problems. I recommend a leatherman multitool, which is so much more helpful than just a knife.
7. Sunglasses and Sunscreen
The solar radiation is powerful when you are above the tree line. Bringing strong sunscren (60+ SPF) is recommended to avoid sunburn. Bring a pair of polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes too.
8. Fire-Starting Kit
If you get stuck outdoors in the mountains, the cold is one of the biggest immediate threats to your life. Being able to start a fire can keep you alive through a cold night. Bring a small kitthat includes matches and tinder for starting an emergency fire.
9. First Aid Kit
For hiking Mount Elbert you don’t need to go overboard. Some bandages, moleskin, and pain relief medication is more than enough to deal with falls and scrapes, blisters, and altitude sickness.
10. Extra Layers
Bring one layer beyond what you expect to wear. In summer, that usually means bringing an extra coat or jacket you keep packed away in your bag. If you end up stuck outside overnight with a broken ankle, you will very happy you brought it with. Nanopuff jackets from Patagonia are lightweight but provide a ton of warmth.
Satellite Messenger/SOS Device: Garmin InReach Mini
When something goes wrong out on the trail, it is immensely helpful to be able to contact search and rescue teams quickly. Most areas of Mount Bierstadt do not have dependable cell service. A satellite messenger or personal locator beacon allows you to call for help in an emergency in almost any location. They are expensive and require a subscription, but they have saved many lives on peaks like Mount Elbert.
I recommend the Garmin InReach Mini 2, which also offers premium GPS mapping in addition to text and SOS features.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.”
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.
Here are some additional websites, links, and resources, that might help you plan your visit to Mount Elbert. If you have a suggestion for something to add to the list, leave a comment below so we can share it with the community. Thank you for your help!
Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)
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.