Hiking Mount Harvard

Hiking Mount Harvard | 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.

Many people believe that hiking Mount Harvard is the most beautiful trip involving the 14ers. It’s also one of the longer 14er treks, with a tiring 14 miles round-trip. This makes it a great opportunity for an overnight backpacking trip, with a first day hike into the upper basin, and a second summit day. If you have enough time, you can also scramble over to Mount Columbia to bag a second 14er in the area. This traverse takes a lot of route-finding and time, so make sure you research that route specifically if you want to attempt it. Start planning your trip with this free guide for hiking Mount Harvard.


Hiking Mount Harvard: Fast Facts

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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 Harvard - South Slopes Route

From the trailhead cross a bridge and start hiking Mount Harvard 1.5 miles until you come across a second, sturdier bridge. Continue another mile before coming to a trail junction. Take the path to the right and hike on.

As you near tree line you will see the route to go beyond you. You’ll work your way up moraines to the left of Mt Harvard before hiking up the south slope to the summit. Continue along the well-maintained trail.

Now you’ll have a more complete view of the route ahead of you. Stay on route to protect the fragile terrain as you’re hiking Mount Harvard. – it’s also much easier.

Once over the final moraine you’ll see a series of switchbacks ahead of you. These will bring you up the the higher southern slopes before you cross over to climb to the summit.

Now on the upper slopes, turn to your right and follow the trail up to the summit ridge. For a time you’ll have a clear trail to follow, but look for cairns to help you stay on route in rocky terrain.

Nearing the summit area, the trail will turn to talus-hopping and require some scrambling. Keep it up – you’re almost there at this point!

The final few feet to the summit is the crux of the climb. There are several variations you can take to reach the top of the summit block, all Class 2. Pick your line and send it to the summit! Take your time, you’re in no rush.

Once on the summit, enjoy your accomplishment. Be sure you give yourself enough time to get back to tree line by noon when thunderstorms move in. If you have researched the route for the traverse to Mount Columbia, and the weather is clear, you can consider climbing on to this peak. Otherwise, it’s best to descend.

I hope you enjoyed my Mt Harvard Route Guide. If you do attempt this adventure, good luck hiking Mount Harvard, and safe travels on the trail!

Mt Harvard Route Guide

A good topographical map is a part of any good Mt Harvard Route Guide. If you are planning on hiking Mount Harvard, I recommend you download this digital map on your phone and print a paper backup copy in case anything happens to your electronics.

Before hiking Mount Harvard, it’s critically important to plan for the weather conditions. You should check the weather forecast multiple times before your trip. Here are several dependable sources for forecasts for the Mount Harvard route.

Mountain Forecast for Mt Harvard

NOAA Forecast for Mt Harvard

Mt Harvard Route Guide

The right gear will make hiking Mount Harvard much easier! This route includes steep grades, loose gravel, and a lot of opportunities to stub your toe. Leave your flip-flops at home and get a solid pair of hiking boots for hiking Mount Harvard. Be sure you break them in at home before your trip, or you’ll have plenty of blisters before you know it. 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 backpack 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 Harvard:

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

Lodging near Mount Harvard:

There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Leadville, Buena Vista, and the surrounding area, ideal for those hiking Mount Harvard.

Mount Harvard is located in a pristine area nestled in the Collegiate Peaks. Please help conserve the area so it remains that way by following these important 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 Harvard! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.

Mount Harvard is the third tallest peak in the US-Canadian Rocky Mountains and the tallest of the Collegiate Peaks in the Sawatch Range. Mount Harvard was named in 1869 by members of the first Harvard Mining School class after they climbed the peak. For many years, students and alumni from the various schools (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford) tried carrying rocks to the summits to make their named peak the tallest. This culminated in the placement of a 14-foot metal pole on top of Mount Harvard in the 1960s which stayed until sometime in the mid-1980s. 

Hiking Mount Harvard 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 Harvard 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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A: Hiking Mount Harvard can be challenging, especially for those who are not used to high altitude hikes. The trail gains approximately 4,600 feet in elevation and requires some scrambling and boulder hopping. Good physical fitness and high altitude experience are recommended for anyone attempting to climb the mountain.

A: The length of time it takes to climb Mount Harvard can vary depending on a number of factors, such as hiking experience, fitness level, and weather conditions. The standard route up the mountain via the North Cottonwood Creek trailhead is approximately 13.5 miles round trip, and can take anywhere from 7 to 12 hours to complete.

A: Mount Harvard is located in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, USA. It is situated within the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area, approximately 15 miles northwest of the town of Buena Vista. The main trailhead for those hiking Mt Harvard is the North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead.

A: The standard route up Mount Harvard via the North Cottonwood Creek trailhead is approximately 13.5-14 miles round trip. The trail is generally well-maintained, but can be steep and rocky in places, requiring some scrambling and boulder hopping.

A: Yes, Mount Harvard is one of Colorado’s 58 “Fourteeners,” or mountains with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. It is the third-highest peak in the state and the highest peak in the Collegiate Peaks range.

A: The elevation gain of Mount Harvard via the standard North Cottonwood Creek trailhead is approximately 4,600 feet (1,402 meters). The trail starts at an elevation of approximately 9,900 feet (3,020 meters) and reaches the summit at 14,421 feet (4,396 meters). The elevation gain can be challenging, especially for those who are not used to high altitude hikes, and proper acclimatization is recommended.

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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