Mount Elbert Southeast Ridge Trail

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Twin Lakes, Colorado

Mount Elbert Southeast Ridge Trail is a 11.3 mile heavily 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.

Length11.3 miElevation gain5,134 ftRoute typeOut & back
Dogs on leashCampingHikingNature tripsBird watchingForestViewswild-flowersWildlifeSnow
Description
Waypoints (3)
Facilities
Contact
Tips
Getting There

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.

No facilities. Parking space is very limited.

Colorado Tourism Office, 1625 Broadway, Suite 1700 , Denver, CO, 80202, Phone: 800-COLORADO

Bring and wear gear appropriate to the season. Bring food and water as this strenuous hike is likely to take all day. I took 8 hours and didn't stop much. Leave early and pay attention to the weather - don't get caught in a storm!

Directions from Leadville: From Leadville travel south on US Hwy. 24 (approx. 15 miles) to the junction of CO Hwy. 82. Travel west towards Independence Pass for about 10 miles. Just west of the Twin Peaks Campground watch for a small Black Cloud sign. The trail climbs north following the Black Cloud Creek.

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Reviews (270)
Photos (710)
Recordings (210)
Completed (544)
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marta portillo
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarFebruary 11, 2021
Hiking

Trail was well marked. There had been other hikers on the trail and it was easy to follow that trail itself. made it to the highest point that we were able to. it got too windy and had to turn around. Some areas had deep snow. We did see many bear paw prints. Trail itself is beautiful.

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Jack Sadanowicz
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarJanuary 31, 2021
HikingScrambleSnow

Beautiful trail. Need crampons for the initial climb and after about 1.5 miles need snow shoes as the trail is not packed. If you haven’t been on the trail before, Need GPS as it’s easy to lose the trail in the snow at times.

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Brooke Hicks
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarJanuary 17, 2021
Hiking

There is a good trench about 2 miles up with the exception of a wind blow area. Snowshoes were not needed, but spikes were very helpful. I’m not sure beyond 2 miles.

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Gena Wagler
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Hiking

Completed at the end of June. I’m a flat lander we only had about 24 hours to acclimate to the altitude. Neither one of us got sick. Started before 6.... over all to summit and scramble back down it was about 10 hours. We took our time to try to keep ourselves from getting sick, and I think it worked! So soooo worth the reward at the top! I would bring poles next time. Would have been nice for the descent.

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Jamie Moon
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Hiking
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Joe Hepburn
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HikingGreat!

It's a very difficult trail, but the views are absolutely worth it. Throughout the hike you'll have an amazing view of the Collegiate Peaks, and as you gain altitude you'll be able to see all the way to the bells. In terms of actual gain there was 5000ft alone, but for cumulative gain it ran to 9000ft. The only time you arent climbing is after the first mile, then you get half a mile to rest before it starts again. Once you reach the ridge it starts to get windy, and it was most likely due to the season, but I fell over a few times from the gusts. But, you get the trail all to yourself which makes it worth it if you hate other hikers.

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Jessica S
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Rocky

Beautiful, intense trail. We saw 28 bighorn sheep just above treeline. They just hung out and watched us until we hiked on and spooked them off the trail. We did not make the summits ( PA natives with only 2 days to acclimatize) but we learned a lot. We could have left a few layers and the heavy boots at home. The 3 guys that passed us all had small packs and trail runners, through at least 2 of them didn't summit either because of wind conditions across the ridge. They did make South Summit though. We were prepared to deal with the wind and cold on the ridge, but the altitude got us first.

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Nat C
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarOctober 15, 2020
HikingGreat!

Even just the first couple of miles is incredible. Great trail!

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jordan teasdale
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Hiking
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Dávid Kovács
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Hiking

Amazing trail!

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Attie Manke
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarOctober 2, 2020
Hiking

Beautiful from start to finish! We started at 4:30am this Friday morning and the moon was so bright we shut our headlamps out about 45 mins in. Relentless ascent but for me it was pleasant and steady. We only hit mild wind at the saddle and the summit was perfect weather! The descent though, the worst my knees ever felt! I still recommend this route up to Elbert. We only passed two hiker our whole trip. Love this!

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Christine Dorn
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Hiking
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Kevin Kevin Wickart
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Hiking
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Courtney Mcrae-alston
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Hiking
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Jason Ritz
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HikingGreat!

This IS a difficult trail. It will challenge you, very steep for most of the 6 miles up to Elbert. But very worth it. So beautiful! Spectacular views all around! Be fully committed.

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Ionut Stoica
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 19, 2020
Hiking

Just amazing.

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Jonathan Bragg
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 19, 2020
HikingRocky

Trail was awesome, the elevation gain going up to Bull Hill will make you dig deep. The ridge line was brutal. Wind was gusting. Large boulders and light snow that needed to be negotiated. The last mile up to the Summit had large jagged rocks. I used one stick and never fell. I wasn’t the fastest on the trail but got her done.

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Vince Beard
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Hiking
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Ginger K
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarSeptember 7, 2020
HikingRocky

6:15am start time, clear conditions and a beautiful sunrise took us up to tree line. Smoke / haze from the ongoing wildfires started to gradually roll in as we hiked over the spine on Black Cloud Trail. By the time we summited, visibility was very low (couldn’t see any of the surrounding mountain peaks). Smoke/haze got much worse on the slow trek back down. Was grateful to have downloaded the offline map to this trail to navigate as cairns were few and far between and difficult to see. There is cell service up on the ridge for a while. We made it down, but my partner started getting altitude sickness a couple hundred feet down from the summit and it was not a pleasant hike for either of us, overall. (He has done this trail two other times without issues, and attributed the symptoms to the poor air quality/wildfire smoke.)

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Tom Pileggi
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Hiking
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Amber Walker
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarAugust 28, 2020
Hiking

Hiked on 8/27 with a headlamp start in the dark. We clocked ~11.5 miles with two different Garmins. Absolutely stunning place to take in the sunrise and gorgeous ridgeline views. Was surprised at how non-technical this trail was, the hardest part for me was the breathing on the way up in the last little bit. Straightforward trail, some people had a tough time finding where to start, Look for sign on tree that says “trail” near first few parking spots to know where the trail starts. Was surprised to see some people just out of tree line going up as we were coming back at 11:30am... keep in mind you will be on the ridge for several hours, and this is lightning country!

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Jackson Lightfoot
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HikingGreat!Rocky
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Britton Bradley
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HikingGreat!No shadeRocky

Hiked on Saturday, arrived at trailhead at 430am, was hiking by 5am. Miles tracked on Garmin was 11.75 with about a 9 hour hiking time. Overall a good hike, exit the tree line about 2 miles in, around 2.5 miles the hike gets steep with soft rocks from switchbacks to ridge line. Several people struggling and moving slow with tennis shoes on the steep up and down grades in the area. Hiking the ridge was the easiest part, though trail was difficult to follow in places, but impossible to get lost as it’s a ridge line. The final assent on the rocks, about 1 miles from Mt Elbert summit was complete rock hopping with a few exception areas. Overall a great hike, definitely a demanding one. Went through 3L of water by mile 10, hiking poles and good hiking boots were greatly appreciated on the downhill sections.

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Andrew Corsi
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarAugust 23, 2020
Hiking

This was my first 14er and I would say that the views at the summit are amazing and it feels incredible to stand on the top of Colorado. My biggest complaint was the amount of loose rock on the trail. I’m not very fast going down, but this made me a lot slower.

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Isaac Brazen
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Hiking

Feels like how you would expect the 2nd highest mtn in the lower 48 feels like

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Madison Cowdery
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarAugust 17, 2020
BackpackingGreat!

Beautiful trail, probably one of the prettiest I have seen! The only issue was that the signs and the mileage on here were incorrect. We mapped it the entire time and the CORRECT round trip mileage was 15.7 miles.

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