Climbing Mount Elbert

A local’s description.

2012-09-11 13.18.53

Located at the base of Mt. Elbert, Twin Lakes has easy access to all three trailheads. The most popular trail is the South Elbert Trail, about 3 miles north east of Twin Lakes village. The other two trails are the Black Cloud Trail, 4 miles west of Twin Lakes, just east of the Mount Elbert Lodge and the North Elbert Trail, about sixteen miles from Twin Lakes. Which ever trail you take, it is recommended that you get an early start to avoid afternoon lightning storms.

South Mt. Elbert Trailhead:

From the intersection of CO Hwy 82 and US Hwy 24, head 4 miles west, turn North on Lake County Road 24 (Do not confuse with U.S. 24). Drive one mile to Lakeview Campground (9560 ft). The trailhead is on the northwest side of the campground and is also an access point for the Colorado/Continental Divide Trail which skirts the base of Mount Elbert in this section running from Lakeview Campground to the North Mt. Elbert Trailhead up Halfmoon Creek.

High clearance vehicles can drive to 10,440 ft. by continuing North on Lake County 24 past the Lakeview campground to the next left(west.) Turn left just past the overlook parking lot. Continue west for 2 miles until the road ends. The trailhead is on the north side of the parking area. Cross a creek via a footbridge and continue a short distance until reaching a signed intersection of the Mt. Elbert/Colorado/Continental Divide Trail where you turn left.

South Mt. Elbert Route:

This is an easy Class 1 hike with a well defined trail. After crossing the footbridge, you will arrive at a sign for the Mt. Elbert Trail. Follow the sign, turning left up toward the mountain. The section after this is somewhat steep and finishes with switchbacks through an aspen forest to a bench. From the bench, you get your first view of the mountain. Hike along level ground through conifer until reaching treeline. The trail will turn northwest and head toward a ridge. Gain the ridge and follow it through a couple of false summits to just below the summit. From there, the trail will circle around a little to the southeast side of the mountain where the trail continues via short switchbacks to the summit. The view from the top is spectacular. Round trip is 12 miles from the Lakeview Campground, 8 miles from the Mount Elbert Trailhead.

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  • Starting up Black Cloud Trail
    Black Cloud Trail tour
  • Rinker Peak
    Along the trail, looking at Rinker Peak
  • Approaching timberline
  • Looking down into the Lake Creek at Mt Elbert Lodge.
  • Southwest, up the South Fork of Lake Creek valley.
  • From the top, LaPlata Peak, Rinker Peak and Twin Peaks.
  • Eastward the whole Arkansas River valley is visible.

A Little Black Cloud trail photo tour.

More information about the Black Cloud trail and other hiking trails in the area can be found here  Black Cloud and other area hiking trails.

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North Mt. Elbert Trailhead:

From Leadville, drive 3.5 miles south on U.S. 24 to Colorado (CO) 300. Turn right (west) on CO 300 and drive .7 miles. At .7 miles, turn left (south) on CO 11 which is a dirt road. Drive south 1.8 miles and turn right (west) at the signed intersection for Halfmoon Creek. Continue southwest past the Halfmoon Creek Campground and the Elbert Creek Campground until reaching the signed North Mt. Elbert Trailhead (10,050 ft.) at 6.9 miles. Note: This trailhead is also referred to as “South Colorado/Main Range Trailhead” in some guidebooks. It is an access point for the Colorado/Continental Divide trail, a short section of which runs from here to the Lakeview Campground to the south.

North Mt. Elbert Route (Halfmoon):

Leave the parking area and hike into the forest on the North Mt. Elbert trail. After a short distance, there is a trail junction with a sign. Turn left and follow what is now the Colorado Trail. Continue on the trail as it climbs through the forest to over 10,600′. During the next 1/4 mile, the trail loses about 200′ of elevation. 1.25 miles from the trailhead, there is another trail junction. There is a large sign for Mt. Elbert. Staying left would take you in the wrong direction on the Colorado Trial. Turn right and follow the North Mt. Elbert trail. The trail climbs up through the forest and eventually comes to tree line above 11,900′. Hike 800′ of elevation up an easy slope. Near 12,800′, reach the crest of the Northeast Ridge. From the ridge you can see into Box Creek. You cannot see the summit from here. Follow the trail southwest along the ridge. Near 13,300′, the route becomes steeper as the trail climbs up through talus. Briefly hike northwest around to the north side of the ridge. After climbing through some brief steep sections, the trail then climbs southwest to regain the ridge near 13,900′. The most difficult portion of the trail is over. From 13,900′ on the ridge, you can only see to 14,250′. Hike up the easy slope to a flat area near 14,300′. You can see the remaining route from here – except for the actual summit. Hike south over to the summit ridge and then southwest up to the summit. This route has a great trail all the way to the summit but you still have to gain 4,650 feet of elevation. Between 13,300′ and 13,800′ there are a couple of brief Class 2 hiking sections because the trail weaves up through talus. Overall, the route is still ranked as a Class 1 hike.

You can find additional information on hiking all the Mt Elbert trails and other area peaks over 14,000 ft. at 14ers.com.