Mount Elbert


Mount Elbert

Mount Elbert has a lot to be proud of. It is the highest mountain in Lake County, the highest in Colorado, the highest in the Rockies, and the second highest in the contiguous United States. But when you ask a non-climber or someone outside of Colorado, nobody has heard of it. But that's their loss because Mount Elbert is a spectacular peak worthy of recognition. One of the great things about Mount Elbert is the relatively moderate terrain to the summit, allowing anyone with reasonable fitness to enjoy the mountain and its status.

Located in the Sawatch Range of the Colorado Rockies, Mount Elbert was named after Samuel Elbert, a controversial territorial governor of Colorado, in 1873. The first recorded summit of the peak was by H.W. Stuckle of the Hayden Survey in 1874. Since then, thousands have climbed it, including a jeep!

In the 1970s, there was a movement among a group of folks that felt Mount Elbert's next-door neighbor, Mount Massive, was more deserving as Colorado's highest peak, so they stacked rocks to raise the height of Massive's summit. After detractors repeatedly tore down the summit's cairn, people abandoned the attempt to change Massive's elevation, and Mount Elbert retained its title as Colorado's highpoint.

Despite many guidebooks listing Mount Elbert as 14,433 feet, a 2002 recalculation of old surveyed elevations concluded Mount Elbert is 14,440 feet. However, many Colorado climbers still use the old survey elevations.

Access Point

Navigate to 5H2Q+J2 Leadville, Colorado.

Most hikers start from the North Mount Elbert Trailhead, located about 10 miles southwest of Leadville, to access Mount Elbert. From U.S. Highway 24, turn west onto Colorado 300, then follow signs to Halfmoon Creek. The trailhead is accessible via a dirt road that is passable with a 2WD vehicle, though high clearance is advisable given the washboard sections.

Recommended Route

Follow the North Mount Elbert Trail.

The Northeast Ridge is the most popular and straightforward route to Mount Elbert's summit. The trailhead begins near the Elbert Creek Campground and ascends through a forested area for the first three miles. After reaching the treeline, hikers face a series of steep switchbacks and false summits before the final push to the top. The total round trip is about 9.75 miles with an elevation gain of 4,500 feet, making it a challenging but achievable hike for those in good physical condition.


When hiking Mount Elbert, please follow Leave No Trace principles to preserve the natural beauty. No permits are required for day hikes, but camping in the area may require a fee if using designated campgrounds. Additionally, hikers should be aware of weather conditions, as storms can develop rapidly, particularly in the afternoon. Starting early in the morning is recommended to avoid thunderstorms and ensure a safer hike.

Lodging & Camping

For those looking to camp, options include the Elbert Creek Campground and Halfmoon East Campground, which offer basic amenities like vault toilets. Dispersed camping is also available along Halfmoon Road, providing a more rugged but free alternative. These campsites allow hikers to start early without a long drive from nearby towns like Leadville or Twin Lakes.


How challenging is the hike to Mount Elbert's summit?

The Northeast Ridge route is a Class 1 hike, a non-technical trail suitable for most hikers in good condition. However, the elevation gain and high altitude make it a strenuous hike.

What is the best time of year to hike Mount Elbert?

The best time to hike Mount Elbert is from late June to early September when the trail is typically snow-free. Early starts are crucial to avoid afternoon thunderstorms in the summer.

Are there any specific gear recommendations for the hike?

Essential gear includes sturdy hiking boots, plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and layers for changing weather conditions. Trekking poles can be helpful for the steep sections above the tree line. Download an offline map or use a GPS since cell service is unreliable.