Mount Elbert Southeast Ridge Trail

HARD 49 reviews

Mount Elbert Southeast Ridge 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 best used from May until September. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

DISTANCE
9.9 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
5,108 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Out & Back

dogs on leash

birding

camping

hiking

nature trips

walking

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 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.

hiking
1 month ago

AMAZING AMAZING HIKE...but the miles are off for this trail. I agree with Doug Hess below, my Apple Watch showed 17.8 miles round trip for this hike! We were not expecting to go twice the number of miles for this hike but it was well worth it. The trail is hard to find (especially on the saddle) I’m guessing we meandered off and ended up off trail for better views of the lakes. I went with 2 other fit college students and we made our way out and back in around 7 hours with breaks and food.
Bring warm clothes, sunscreen and lots of food
It’s a long way up there. The switchbacks in the midsection are brutal on the way up and down I highly recommend poles and hiking shoes that don’t squish toes on the way down.
This hike is hard on the knees, and it’s exhausting. Worth the views!!

hiking
1 month ago

I stayed at Mt. Elbert Lodge and used Black Cloud Trail all the way to the summit. I also think the mileage reported is a little short of what the hike really is. We started at 4:45 AM and ended around 2:30 to 3:00 PM. Some of us were in shape, some from Colorado, and a few of us from Indiana. It was everyone's first 14er aside from one person. The first portion of the hike is pretty brutal, as we started off like we were in the smoky mountains and could just push. We slowed pretty quick. The views were fantastic the whole way. The false summits can wear you down mentally if you aren't prepared. I took 3 liters of water and plenty of high protein snacks. Force yourself to eat and drink if you're a flatlander. I'll never do it again just because there are so many other new peaks to experience, but I recommend this if you want a challenge and sense of accomplishment. Very few people on this trail, also. Lastly, Mt. Elbert Lodge is awesome, the Twin Lakes Inn for dinner was really good, and the city of Leadville was pretty cool. Can't wait to plan my next 14er in this wonderful state.

1 month ago

brutal but good

2 months ago

Brutal climb, but worth it. Gorgeous views, flora and wildlife. Plan for 6-8 hours on Elbert. Start early for sunrise and missing potential weather. We slackpacked with granolas, 100 oz water, rain jacket and emergency bivy. Took 7 hours, and we stared at 5am. ENJOY!

hiking
2 months ago

Awesome hike! Did last August. Trailhead was a little tricky to find, but there is a sign for it. You spend a good 2-3 miles on the ridge, and being on top of the range, so don’t assume your on Elbert’s peak. You will know when you made it!

3 months ago

Beautiful view at the top but definitely hard on the joints. LOTS of people at the peak!

hiking
3 months ago

awesome hike with great scenery! I was hard on the knees coming down

hiking
3 months ago

This is a breathtaking view but is definitely the hardest route to summit Mount Elbert. After you get above freezing the trail lacks in traction and has 60%+ grades of steepness. If your only goal is to summit take one of the easier routes. Our boys and girls cross country team both attempted to climb it. The girls reached the false summit and the boys barely managed to summit however one of us had extreme elevation sickness on the way down. Also this trail was actually OVER 12 Miles in total distance-not 10 miles. One last thing to note is that this trail is mentally challenging as we found there were about 4 false summits. All I'm all this is a stunning trail that I highly recommend to experienced hikers.

hiking
3 months ago

So this is the SOUTHEASTERN Trail. Just before you get to Mt Elbert Lodge. I found the trek and the mileage to be very accurate. So as far as the hike goes, basically 3 parts. First part is a nice trail, semi steep but easily handled. You then come to a flat area that is very nice, you cross the stream twice and go through some Aspen groves. Then the third part, ouch. Steep and very difficult due to elevation. The worst part is that your approach the top all you see is a peak to the left, which you assume is Mr. Elbert. This would not be correct and when you summit the saddle, you will see that behind what you thought was Elbert is not, and low and behold there he is. About another 1.5 miles to the left of your summit of the saddle. Trail during the 3rd part of the hike was loose rock and very steep. Took more time and awareness coming down then going up. Sticks are huge for balance and watching for slips. Of course what do expect with a 5000 foot elevation gain in 5 miles. Good luck. No other dangers or hindrances to having a great hike. It does get winding and cool on top, even at noon. Once you leave the tree line, make sure gloves and head covering are the norm.

The trail was great and the weather was perfect. Definitely need a high clearance 4WD to make it to the trailhead. My Subaru Legacy was not high enough. My wife and I were not in shape enough to summit and started a little too late (9ish). Didn’t need anything special as far as equipment goes. Trail was clearly marked and the views were amazing!

hiking
7 months ago

I was able to summit on 2/17/2018. Snowshoes came in handy up to the tree line but I would not say they were needed, descended with just my micro spikes. Microspikes are a must if you don't have snow shoes. The winds were brutal, 40+ MPH. Manny of the groups ahead of me turned around due to the winds. This is a long day due to the added milage at the winter parking (you can only make it about 0.25 up the summer 2 track road). Views at the top are beautiful and you are the highest person in Colorado!

hiking
11 months ago

I love this trail, we hiked it at the end of September and loved it. The wind had picked up to 30-40 mph at the summit. Beautiful

hiking
11 months ago

hiking
Saturday, September 23, 2017

Tough hike with beautiful scenery!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

My two sons and wife and I did this Trail on eclipse day August 21 2017. We started at 6 am from the trailhead and reached south Mt. Elbert (14,150 ft) at 11 am and trekked over to Mt Elbert (14,439 ft) summited at 12:15. Return took about 4 hours. This was a long good day. Our two Fitbits showed the total ROUND TRIP to be about 18 miles. Trust me, be prepared for a big day of cardio.

hiking
Saturday, August 12, 2017

We stayed at Mount Elbert Lodge and started the hike around 4:30am in the dark. It was hard to see the trailhead with our headlamps so make sure to go check out the trailhead during daylight so you know where to go. It was an amazing experience watching sunrise during the hike and the views behind us were nothing short of spectacular.

This trail gets very steep and hiking poles are highly recommend on your way down. When you get to the top there were about 3-4 fault summits, all above 14k feet. There weren’t many people on this trail and we met a handful of people that had to turn around because the elevation was more than they could handled. The feeling I got after summiting Mt Elbert was like the time I finished my first marathon; the hike wasn’t easy and it will test you mentally and physically. This hike was definitely one of the best hikes I’ve ever done and highly recommend to those that are up for the challenge! I’ve hiked the Inka Trail for 4 days and I can say without a doubt that this hike was almost as difficult; brought back memories on the Dead Woman’s Pass part of the trek.

hiking
Thursday, August 10, 2017

Went with my nephew on 08/03/17, amazing climb. As I have heard/read, it was the best trail for the views and it was amazing. I don't know if I'd suggest this trail as your 1st 14er though. It was certainly hard for the both of us, luckily we met some other guys from our home state of Texas, we all kind of fed off each other and got it done. One of them had done Elbert before on the North trail and said it is much easier.
Before you get to the ridgeline, the trail switch backs and is pretty steep. This part of the trail got a bit tiresome for us. Once on the ridge you get a bit of a boost of energy as it levels out at parts but still is a difficult last 1.5 miles or so. Careful going down as the steep trails you see going up are not too secure on your decent.

hiking
Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Climbed on 4th of July 2017. Beautiful weather. A few snow fields remain but no problems simply walking around them. Once you're on the ridge (which is after about 3 miles of steep hiking) the trail can be a little tricky to find but in good weather there is no doubt where you need to go. Not a lot of cairns. Saw Beautiful wildflowers, grouse, and a marmot. This was tough on my 59 year old legs but well worth the memories.

hiking
Tuesday, October 04, 2016

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

Sunday, September 04, 2016

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.

29 days ago

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2 months ago

hiking
2 months ago

recorded Mt. Elbert

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2 months ago

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3 months ago

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