Mount Elbert is known as a gentle giant. It is the highest summit in the Rocky Mountains (and the second-highest in the Lower 48 after Mount Whitney). The mountain's easiest and most popular climbing routes are categorized as Class 1 to 2 (of A+). It is a mountain that can be hiked by most fit hikers.

It is a very prominent fourteener rising to 14,400 feet or 4,404. Mount Elbert is located in the San Isabel National Forest close to the City of Leadville. The mountain is often snow-capped through the year - even in summer. Just next to it to the north, is Mount Massive - the second-highest peak in the Rockies. Another great way to explore the Coloradan Rockies is with a hot air balloon ride.


Dethroning Mount Massive

Originally Mount Massive was measured as the highest peak in the Rockies - there is only around 12 feet or 3.7 meters difference between them. Mount Elbert was originally measured as 14,433 feet or 4,399 meters was thought to be shorter than Mount Massive (which today is measured as 14,428-feet or 4,398 meters). But Mount Elbert was later remeasured to 14,440 making it the tallest.

  • Height: 14,440 Feet or 4,404 Meters

Oddly this led to protests and supporters of Mount Massive even tried to build large piles of stones of the summit to reclaim the status as the tallest mountain (the supporters of Mount Elbert just came and demolished them). Today Mount Elbert remains officially the tallest in the Rockies.

Trails To The Summit

There are five routes that lead to the summit, three (including Black Cloud Trail) of them are considered main routes. All of them gain over 4,100 feet (or 1,200 meters). The most difficult of the main routes is the Black Cloud Trail. It is classified as a Class 2 climb and takes around 14 hours gaining 5,300 feet. It is very steep, with unstable and rocky places along the trail. The US Forestry Service has more information on the trails, with tips, and maps of trails.

Unlike other mountains like Denali in Alaska (considered the Mt Everest of North America), none of these conventional routes require specialist mountaineering skills. The routes are strenuous but one of the main risks is altitude sickness.

Related: 10 Stunning Lakes To Hike To In The Canadian Rockies

North Mount Elbert Trail

The North Mt. Elbert Trail is one of the two standard routes (excluding Black Cloud Trail) on the mountain (the other being the South Mt. Elbert Trail. Both are good in the summer. The North Mt. Elbert Trail is a stunning trail that is only recommended for very experienced adventurers and the best hiking season is from May to October. The trailhead is accessed just past the Elbert Creek Campground off Halfmoon Road southwest of Leadville. It can be quite strenuous but is definitely rewarding.

  • Length: 4.3 Miles
  • Popularity: Heavily Trafficked
  • Type: Out And Back
  • Elevation Gain: 4,400 Feet

South Mount Elbert Trail

This trail is accessed from the South Elbert Trailhead just above Twin Lakes on Country Road 24 from Shore Pretty Overlook. For those wanting to cut the hiking time down more, they can continue another 1.8 miles on the Forest Service Road if they have a 4WD vehicle in the summer (the road is impassable in the winter). The South Mt. Elbert Trail is considered the standard route in the winter. The trail is well marked and generally suitable for folks in reasonable physical condition.

  • Length: 5.8 Miles
  • Difficulty: Considered the "Easiest" Route To Mt. Elbert
  • Note: Elevation Gain Is Still 4,800 Feet
  • Open Season: Friday Preceding Memorial Day
  • Water and Restrooms: None

Seasons And Activities

In the winter visitors enjoy cross country skiing and snowshoeing. In the spring the wildflowers bloom across the mountainsides and people see the migration of elk herds.

In summer the season is great for hiking, climbing, horseback riding, rafting, mountain biking, and fishing. Autumn is a great time to see the stunning colors as the greens turn to golds - and fishing is at its best. Hiking is even better at this time as the stream levels are low and so the highest trails are more accessible.

Related: 'Caribbean Of The Rockies': What To Know About Camping At Bear Lake KOA

Lodge Accommodation

There are a number of lodging options around the mountain, and one active rustic option is Mt. Elbert Lodge. They are open year-round so visitors can experience the heart of the Rockies in all four seasons. Some of the accommodation options include (note some require a minimum of two-night stays and the price can vary by season):

La Plata

  • Bed: 1 Queen Bed, Private Bath
  • Rate: $135.00

Twin Peaks

  • Bed: 1 Queen Bed and 1 Twin Bed, Private Bath
  • Note: Great Views To The South And East And Awesome Views Of Sunrise
  • Rate: $130.00

Mount Massive

  • Bed: 1 King, Private Bath
  • Note: Their Largest Room And Boasts The Best Eastward And Southern Views
  • Rate: $150.00

The Barn

  • Bed: 3 Bedrooms, One Bath, Living/Dining/Kitchen Area
  • Note: Built In 1898 Was One of The Original Stables of The Road Hours
  • Rate: $145.00

Next: 30 Stunning Pics Of The Rockies Only Seen From Above