Best time to visit Colorado

Climbing Mount Elbert in Colorado

This so-called "Gentle Giant" is rocked by violent thunderstorms in the summer and avalanches in the winter

Best time: June–September

Climbing Mount Elbert
Climbing Mount Elbert
Climbing Mount Elbert
Climbing Mount Elbert

Mount Elbert holds a lot of records. With the prominence of 14,440 ft (4,401 m), it is the highest peak in the Sawatch Range and the second-highest in the U.S.A. Located in San Isabel National Forest, Mount Elbert lies in about 12 mi (19 km) southwest of Leadville in Lake County, Colorado. The peak was named after Samuel Hitt Elbert, the Colorado Governor in 1873-1874. It is also labelled "Gentle Giant". But why gentle? That's not clear, especially taking into account notorious violent storms that take over the Rocky Mountains every afternoon during summertime, and also winter avalanches.

It looks like Mount Elbert's climbers have no alleviations. Due to avalanches, it's not recommended to hike in the Rocky Mountains in winters unless you're a highly experienced climber. As with most Colorado 14-ners, the best time to hike Mt. Elbert is June through September. Still, even then you have to be alert and self-organized. The main goal is to manage to both ascend to the summit and descend by the afternoon—the thunderstorm time. You don't want to soak under endless flashes of lightning. In the winter it is a popular ski mountaineering destination.

So if you're determined to conquer the highest summit of the Rocky Mountains, make sure you set off early enough to come back before the storm breaks out. You should begin at least at 6 am, yet it depends on your speed.

There are five common trails, two out of which are the most popular—South Trailhead and North Trailhead. The 4.6-mi (7.4-km) North Elbert Trail starts at the Elbert Creek Campground. It features over 4,500 ft (1,372 m) of elevation gain. It can also be covered by a mountain bike. The South Elbert Trail is 5.5 mi (8.9 km) long. It is less steep but a bit longer. From the top hikers can enjoy the views of La Plata Peak to the south, and smaller ranges to the north. There're several places for camping nearby, including Elbert Creek Campground, Lakeview Campground, and Twin Peaks Campground.

Practical info

What is the best time of year to hike Mount Elbert in Colorado?

To hike Mount Elbert, visitors should plan their trip between June and September. Hiking outside of these months can be risky due to winter avalanches and afternoon thunderstorms in the summer. It's necessary for hikers to reach the summit and return before the thunderstorms hit. Visitors can have a pleasant hiking experience and enjoy panoramic views of Colorado's highest peaks if they mind the weather patterns. Show more

How long does it take to hike to the summit using the North Trailhead?

Hiking to Mount Elbert's summit via the North Elbert Trailhead is a 4.6 mile (7.4 km) long journey with over 4,500 feet (1,372 m) of elevation gain. Hikers start as early as possible to avoid the thunderstorms that typically develop during the day. The length of the hike depends on the hiker's individual speed and fitness level. Bikes are allowed on the trail, and visitors can relish scenic views of Colorado's highest peaks. Show more

What mountains can hikers see from the summit of Mount Elbert?

The summit of Mount Elbert provides unimpeded views of Colorado's highest peaks in the Sawatch Range. Hiking up this mountain allows visitors to view La Plata Peak to the south and smaller ranges to the north. These stunning panoramic views make the climb up the mountain worth the effort despite the potential danger. Visitors seeking a safe and rewarding outdoor experience will find it here, among the many mountains in the area. Show more

Are there any campgrounds near Mount Elbert?

Camping enthusiasts should consider staying at one of the three available campgrounds: Elbert Creek, Lakeview, and Twin Peaks. These surrounding campsites have adequate amenities, including restrooms, water facilities, and campsites. To secure a spot, campers should book their reservations early, as these spots quickly fill during peak season. Visitors find these campsites beneficial, as they provide access to the different trails in Mount Elbert's region. Show more

What makes Mount Elbert known as the 'Gentle Giant'?

Despite the violent thunderstorms experienced during summer and treacherous winter avalanches, Mount Elbert's summit offers a distinctive view of the surrounding area. No one knows the origin of the famous nickname 'Gentle Giant' since the mountain can be rigorous to climb. Nevertheless, the varying trails to reach the top attract visitors from across the globe. Brave visitors who overcome the hike's adversity enjoy the various peaks and breathtaking vistas surrounding the peak. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin