Mount Elbert Southeast Ridge Trail

HARD 130 reviews

Mount Elbert Southeast Ridge Trail is a 11.7 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Twin Lakes, Colorado that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, camping, nature trips, and bird watching and is best used from May until September. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

Distance: 11.7 miles Elevation Gain: 5,144 feet Route Type: Out & Back

dogs on leash

camping

hiking

nature trips

bird watching

forest

views

wild flowers

wildlife

snow

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 around 5000 ft. 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.

hiking
muddy
rocky
snow
28 days ago

Loved this hike. I only made it around 3.6 miles in, so I was still a couple miles from the peak... but it was fun! I was surprised there wasn’t more deep snow. There was a lot of snow (around 2/3rds of the hike) but it didn’t get really deep (12”, maybe a bit more) until after you moved past the tree line. The wind was CRAZY once you got out of the trees! I wanted to keep going to see how far I could push it but ran out of time, and didn’t want to be climbing down in falling snow. I suppose all of this is going to change with the snow tonight though. Happy I was able to make it up!

hiking
rocky
1 month ago

Excellent beginner 14er hike. The trail was easy to navigate. The ascent was gradual as soon as we left the trailhead. Very little scrambling; almost shouldn’t even have to mention “scrambling”. The descent was slippery in areas with loose dirt and small rock; like most hikes. We saw just a handful of hikers on the southeast trail making the hike enjoyable if you like the solitude. Peaked in 4 hrs and 45 mins. Completed the whole hike in 8 hrs and 20 mins.

hiking
2 months ago

Hiked this trail yesterday morning. Started at 5am and made it to the peak just before 10am. Pretty much an incline from the get-go. Trail was really easy to navigate, even in the dark. Plenty of parking available when I got there at about 4:45am. Happy I started as early as I did, because I didn’t think it was going to take me 5 hours to summit. Had I known that I probably would have started 30-60 minutes earlier, but the temperature wasn’t bad on my ascent. Took me about 3 and a half hours to descent. Definitely needed the tread on my boots on my way down more so than I did on the way up. I’ll restate what a few others have said, bring at least 2 liters of water. That’s all I brought and I honestly wish that I had had a third. Hiking poles would have been nice to have for this one. As far as time taken to hike, I may not be the best reference, as I’m from Oklahoma and this was my first 14er. The highest mountain that I had climbed back home was a whopping 2,477 ft. The ascent on this trail was twice that and features a lot less oxygen. Overall, had a ton of fun and will definitely tackle this trail again at some point. Beautiful views and lots of satisfaction to be had once you’ve conquered it. Bonus: High Mountain Pies in Leadville has some pizza and beer that is a perfect post-hike meal. Might go back just for that. Cheers!

hiking
2 months ago

Fun

hiking
rocky
scramble
2 months ago

6 hours and 8 mins. Although I am a co native it was fun did it alone started at 6 am back down to trail head by 2pm I tried to run the first portion but underestimated the thinness of the air died and was in debt for a while if you know proper foot placement and things like that no hiking poles are required in Sept.

Easy trail to find and follow. Really steep in some parts. Well worth the exhaustion. This was my first 14er.

hiking
no shade
rocky
2 months ago

Ascended the Black Cloud trail to the summit of Mt. Elbert this morning (8.31.2019) and it was amazing! We were the first to arrive at the south ridge summit and yes steep is accurate so be prepared. Spectacular views at dawn especially to the south where La Plata took center stage! We left exceptionally early (4am) to use the cool of the early morning to our advantage. All told we were two of eight folks we encountered from this trail head. As expected the summit was over crowded. We decided to make a loop trip and descended the east trail route to avoid the steepness on the way back. Ultimately we landed in Twin Lakes village and enjoyed the fare at the local inn before retrieving our vehicle at the trail head. Highly recommended but be ready with lots of water (I took 3L which worked perfectly!) and strong tread on your footwear.

hiking
rocky
scramble
2 months ago

Trail was fantastic! My 1st 14er, hiked this on a Monday and found a trail buddy. But only 4 people started at this location today. The 4wd trailhead is really close to the other one. NOAA predicted 25mph winds but once we got onto the ridge wind was almost nonstop and we think hit close to 70mph. That being said not at all scary, just takes more energy out of you. I highly recommend spending the prior night as it got very hard to breathe at the top especially with the wind. Overall I went through almost 2L of water but that was only because it was cold most of the time. I highly recommend pants because there's overgrown brush at times. Started at 5:30 and wish I started an hour earlier. We saw 5 people at the top all from the north trail and we saw other from a distance when we were traversing the ridge. Ultimately a great class 2 and I bet much more interesting than the other trails!

hiking
rocky
2 months ago

This trail is a challenging and scenic alternate to the north one with hardly any hikers, we were alone 99% of the time. Take your time on the switchbacks which are dangerous on the way down, shoes with tread are necessary!

hiking
2 months ago

When they say steep they mean steep! We started at 5 am and hiked the first hour in the dark but it was easy to navigate. Would recommend downloading the map before you start as you don’t have service most of the way! The way up is steep and but the way back down seems much much harder. Give yourself more time coming back down and bring hiking poles if you have them. We slid out a few times hiking down very slowly. I can’t say it enough, it’s very steep on the way back. The views at the top are worth it and you do hit multiple false summits! Things to have/bring Flashlight Hiking shoes Bring lots of water: we each ran out of water for the last hour and we had 2L each Sunscreen Buff for the win (gets windy up too) I would recommend not starting any later than 5 am...the afternoon storms roll in quick

hiking
3 months ago

Hiked this trail on Saturday Aug 17 with my brother. It was his first 14er and my 11th. Very challenging but fun hike. Beautiful views of multiple landscapes and the wildflowers were in full bloom. We started early, around 5:30, but there were a number of people already gone from the trailhead. Very serene hike compared to the standard Elbert routes. We saw maybe 8 people our whole hike vs the 50+ on Elbert’s summit when we arrived. It took us just about 10 hours round trip, but we were quite a bit slower than most of the others on the trail due to a lingering knee injury. Would certainly recommend this route up Elbert for a hiker in good condition. There is a lot of time above tree line with the ridge going over South Elbert twice, so be sure to check that the weather will hold out long enough to descend quite a bit to get to the trees.

hiking
rocky
3 months ago

great trail. very difficult as far as steepness especially on the descent.

Beautiful trail. I highly recommend taking a 4wd vehicle (lifted truck or suv) up the dirt road as far as you can. My outback couldn't make it the whole way. Bring lots of water. But an absolutely amazing hike.

Holy steep. Did this side coming down from the eastern approach to Elbert. RIGOROUSLY steep. Views were awesome along the ridge and a cool 13er is barely off the main trail but the initial ascent/final decent was rough. Took me about an hour longer coming down than going up the other trail. And it’s technically like a mile or two shorter. Amazed anyone goes up it honestly.

hiking
4 months ago

One of the most amazing things I have ever done. Did this last summer in July. It was a gorgeous day. Start early. 3-4 am. Summited by 9:30 am and was back down by 2 pm. It was a long fun hike. Trails are clear! Would do it again!

hiking
washed out
4 months ago

We hiked this on July 4th and it was not very busy. We went the South side as we were told by locals easier ascent. We did attempt the road right next to the trailhead parking lot as it will take you up almost 3 miles to another trailhead parking lot. You need 4wd for this road!! 1.5 miles in so much snow melt it’s a large pool of water the car must travel through. We had to park on side of road, take off our shoes and travel across the freeeeezing water to get to other side. Once we got on trailhead it was a good climb to tree line then it got steep! Snowfields are deep and starting to melt which will cause you to sink. They were much harder coming down. We didn’t take poles and regretted it. Coming down is brutal on your knees! The last 400 feet of switch backs are the most difficult. Once we summit it’s gorgeous!! From trailhead to summit little over 4 hours. Great views and perfect weather for us.

hiking
private property
4 months ago

hiking
snow
4 months ago

Awesome climb. Hiked it 07/04/19 Very tough especially with several snow fields still in existence. Post holed in several areas but overall it was an awesome experience and the views are priceless. Took us 8 hours up and down. Snowfields really slowed us down.

hiking
blowdown
off trail
rocky
washed out
4 months ago

what a great hike! multiple false summits keep you antsy.

hiking
4 months ago

Hiked this trail on 7/2/19. Very doable just a few snow fields on the trail. If you don’t want to slog through the snow and opt to hike around I would suggest a GPS hiking app like Hiking Project. Lost the trail twice but was able to correct with this app. Recommend NOT starting at the “official” trailhead but driving up the 4WD road to trailhead by the lily ponds. I am 59 years old and have been working towards this for four months. Started at 4:50 am and summited at 10. Back to the lily pond parking by 1:30. Very strenuous but terrific sense of accomplishment.

hiking
4 months ago

6/29/19 - Took us 10 hours total. We were at the trailhead at 6am. It's 5.5 miles to the top of Mt Elbert. We stopped frequently. Probably could have done it in 8 if we'd hustled more. This is a very challenging trail. The first section up takes you across two creek crossings, through some pines and up through a field full of avalanche debris (trees mostly). The second section is pretty much straight up, to the saddle. Section 3 is across the saddle, and up the false summit. Section 4 is down the other side of the false summit and them up the spine to Elberts tip top. It is an hour, easily, from the false summit to the top of Elbert. Once you reach the saddle, there's really no trail. It's in spots and places but you know where to go. Getting there sucks frankly. It's just rocks and rocks and rocks and marmots and rocks. All the way from the saddle on. It's a real ballbuster. The way back down is even harder in some ways. The knees and quads take a beating and due to the incredibly rocky and rugged trail your feet get wailed on too. I'm glad we did it. And I'm glad it's over. That trail sucked and it beat the crap out of me. If you just want to get up Elbert, use the Northeast or East trails. If you want to embrace the suck then use this trail.

hiking
4 months ago

Absolutely amazing hike. Somewhat difficult due to the snow that has still not melted. Gets very slippery and postholing was needed for some spots. Still very doable without equipment this time of year if you start early!

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