The tallest mountain in Colorado rises 14,440 ft above sea level. It is the second tallest and just 65′ shorter than the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states and ranks 15th tallest when Alaska and Hawaii are added in the mix.
Colorado has 58 mountains over 14,000 feet in elevation (14ers). The tallest is Mount Elbert. Mt Elbert is located in the Collegiate Peaks Mountain Range near Leadville. It’s not in Summit County but it is the tallest mountain in Colorado and just a short drive from Summit County so I felt it was worthy of a blog post. There are several hiking trails that will take you to the summit of Mt Elbert, all require climbing steep grade above treeline. Make sure you start early so you can reach the summit around noon and be heading back down before the afternoon storms roll in. There is very little for cover at the top if you find yourself in a lightning storm. Even if the weather forecast shows no chance of storms, don’t rely on that. Colorado weather is unpredictable, especially at 14,000 feet.
We opted for the South Mt Elbert Trail on this hike. It starts from a campground so if you like, you can camp the night before and don’t have to get up quite as early in the morning. There is a well marked trailhead with a small parking lot but don’t be tempted to start there. Take a left after the trailhead and drive a four wheel drive road back through an aspen grove for about 2 miles. Regular cars could probably make the drive but any stock SUV won’t have any trouble. It shaves nearly four long, agonizing miles off your total hike!
The route the trail takes was recently changed which made our hike a little longer than we expected. The trail was in great shape though. It took about 2 miles and 925 feet of elevation gain before we made it out of a huge grove of aspen trees and then pines further up. After a hike across a meadow the trail started it’s steep climb up. There were a few areas where it flattened out slightly giving us a bit of a break but it’s a pretty unrelenting up. After 3 miles of climbing, we made it to the summit. Smoke from the wildfires in California was in the air creating a haze that limited visibility of the mountains surrounding us. We could see Twin Lakes, the reservoir and many smaller ponds in the valley below. There were about 30 people at the top. Most came from the North Mt Elbert Trail. That is the most popular way to the summit.
During our hike we came across four mountain bikers heading up. The trail was so steep they were pushing or carrying their bikes. There was no riding up the steep section of this trail. The first two were beasts. They stayed ahead of us to the top and were on their way back down before we hit the summit. The other group of two mountain bikers weren’t doing as well. One ended up leaving her bike and continuing on with the hike to the summit. The other eventually made it up with his bike. The steep portion of the trail didn’t look like a great mountain bike trail for a novice like me but it must have been a thrill for those that know what they are doing.
Hiking the tallest mountain in Colorado took a total of eight hours, spending about an hour at the summit. The GPS said it was 10.2 miles and just less than 4,000 feet of total elevation gain. If you are considering a 14er and want the bragging rights that go along with climbing the tallest mountain in Colorado, Mt Elbert is a great hike. It’s challenging but do-able. No steep drop offs or dangerous areas along this trail. I would guess it’s one of the mellower 14ers. With that said, we did have a friend fall on the way down. Nothing serious, just some scrapes on her elbow & knee. We always carry a first aid kit so had some antibiotic wipes & band-aids to get her cleaned up and back at it. A backpack with any gear you may need is a necessity for all your hikes. You never know what may happen out there in the wilderness. It’s best to be prepared.
Hiking is one of our favorite things to do in Summit County in the summer. If you want hiking information or recommendations feel free to contact us. Text, call, email or simply stop by. No purchase required!