Mount Elbert via Black Cloud Trail is a 9.9 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Twin Lakes, Colorado that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible from May until September.
This trail is an alternative route to the more heavily used North and South Mount Elbert Trails for climbing Colorado's highest peak. It is a moderate to strenuous hike with an elevation gain of 4,713 feet. This trail passes through spruce-fir and aspen stands, then through some rock beds to ruins of mining operations and cabins. Continuing your hike will bring you to timberline and eventually Mount Elbert at 14,433 feet in elevation. For those who don't wish to climb the peak, there are many excellent views from various points along the trail. Mount Elbert (14,433') is the highest peak in Colorado and second only to California's Mount Whitney (in the lower 48 ). As you might guess, Elbert's summit sees many visitors a day, mainly by two very popular trails. The Black Cloud Trail offers an un-crowded hike up one of the most popular peaks in the Rockies. While a little longer than the hugely popular standard routes, the extra effort is definitely worth it. This hike can be divided into three sections: 1) through the forest and up to Elbert's south east ridge, 2) along the south east ridge to the saddle, and 3) up the south ridge proper to the summit. The trailhead is a little difficult to find but offers adequate parking for all but the busiest days. The first three miles of the Black Cloud Trail are especially steep. Your climb will take you through the forest and offers cascading streams, whispering trees, and blissful shade. After ascending above treeline, the trail employs many switchbacks and wastes no time gaining the long ridge of Elbert's south summit. The view is breath taking and you will want to snap photo after photo. The view from Elbert's south summit (14,142') is breath taking. It is also possible to see people on Elbert's summit, looking like little dark sticks, moving around a mile and a half's hike away. Follow the ridge in a northwesterly direction until you descend to a wide and open saddle. The trail along the ridge is easy to follow and offers delightful walking on alpine tundra. There are a couple summits along the way and the views all around are inspiring. Be on the lookout for marmots - there spoor is everywhere. After crossing the saddle, head on up Elbert's south ridge, dodging slightly to the right side occasionally as you gain altitude. Before too long you will be standing on the highest spot in the lower 48 states. There is plenty of room on top and you can expect to see perhaps 40 or 50 people (or more on a busy day) wandering around, soaking up the view and snapping pictures.
Trail length is being drastically under reported in previous posts. My GPS has the round trip at 15.8 miles. Also, the section of trail heading to the saddle has sections that are steep and rock and dirt are eroding quickly. Be careful descending!
Also, supplies will get depleted quickly so bring several liters of water or a Lifestraw that can be filled in the creeks below the saddle
all trails has the length a little short. expect roughly 12 mile round trip. 5300' elevation. Bring tons of water. Trail is difficult to follow on return trip. I wrote trail runners, I would wear boots if I did it again.