Not a technical climbing route, it is one of the easier nearby mountains to climb, but don’t let this fool you. To get safely to and from the summit, you need to be prepared for emergencies and changes in weather. Before even picking a weekend for this, you need to know that you and your kids are truly ready for prolonged exertion at altitude.
This is not a “ jump off the couch” adventure. Start with other longer hikes. Lost Man Loop and Buckskin Pass are all good warm-up hikes with less exposure, where you can make sure that your family can sustain the efficient pace needed for this kind of commitment. A kid’s bonk factor is way more noticeable and potentially problematic at altitude, so wait until your children are old enough to monitor their own fluid and calorie intake. We bring Carbondale Middle School students up Mount Elbert every September, and these kids sign up for it. They want it. My advice is to be the parent who makes this a rite of passage trip after years of fun on longer and longer trails, rather than pushing your kid and potentially setting yourself up for a situation that isn’t easy to get out of.
The following info is not intended to replace detailed trail descriptions. It can inspire you to start planning this trip. This map might be easier to interpret than a topo map, which you will also need. Remember – no matter which route you choose, plan an early, pre-dawn-at-trailhead start, so you can reach the peak by 11:00 AM, a mandatory turn-around time because it’s essential to descend below treeline before afternoon thunderstorms typically set in.
1. Green: Northeast Ridge – North Elbert Trailhead
9.5 miles round trip. Class 1. Low exposure, low rock-fall potential, and easy-to-follow route.
This route and its adjacent campground make it convenient to summit nearby Mount Massive on the next day. The downside? This trailhead is an hour farther away from Aspen than the other routes up Elbert. So, if you are not camping, leave your house 2-3 hours before sunrise to make it to the trailhead by dawn. Also, this is the closest route for front-range visitors wishing to bag this well-known peak – so expect heavy foot traffic during summer weekends.
How to get there:
From Aspen, drive over Independence Pass. Go past Twin Lakes to U.S. 24, also known as the “Top of the Rockies Byway.” Drive 11 miles. Just before reaching Leadville, turn left onto State Highway 300. Cross the railroad tracks and drive 0.8 miles and take a slight right onto County Road 11, which runs along Halfmoon Creek. Drive 5 miles to the parking area. The Halfmoon West Campground will be on your right (details below). The Mt. Elbert trailhead will be on your left.
2. Green: East Ridge – South Mount Elbert Trailhead
10 miles round trip if you can drive the 4WD approach; 14 miles from the end of pavement. Class 1. Low exposure, low rock-fall potential and easy-to-follow route.
How to get there:
From Aspen, drive over Independence Pass. Just past Twin Lakes, turn left onto “24 Road.” Drive 1.2 miles up a paved road to the main trailhead parking. Beyond this, the 4WD stretch requires high clearance and offers little opportunity to turn around. So, if in doubt, park it and walk up to the South Elbert Trailhead. This route follows the Colorado / Continental Divide Trail for the first .4 mile, where you go straight at the South Elbert juncture. Note that an old juncture was closed in 2017 – hike until you reach the clearly visible signage.
3. Blue: Southeast Ridge – Black Cloud Trailhead
11 miles round trip. Class 2. Low exposure, moderate rock-fall potential, and moderately hard-to-follow route. Not recommended for less experienced hikers.
How to get there:
From Aspen, drive over Independence Pass. Slow down when you see signs for Mount Elbert Lodge before you get to Twin Lakes. The somewhat hidden trailhead entrance is immediately before the turn off for the lodge, with a dirt parking area with room for around a dozen cars.
4. Black: Box Creek Couloirs (winter only)
This is a winter-only snow route rated Difficult Class 2, with considerable exposure and rock-fall potential.
Camping at Mount Elbert
Here are some base-camp options perfect for getting a crack-of-dawn start, while also offering fun for other family members who are not ready to hike Mount Elbert. This way, you can make this a guilt-free all-ages getaway.
Twin Peaks Campground (1 on the map, above) and Parry Peak Campground (2)
These are best for East Ridge and Southeast Ridge Routes.
Clear signage off of Highway 82 near Twin Lakes. First-come-first-served; no reservations. Tent or trailer camping. No plug-in. Picnic tables, fire rings, drinking water, vault toilets. Look for nearby Twin Lakes Bike Trail or bring your SUP for floating after your summit.
Halfmoon West Campground on Emerald Lake (3).
Best for North Ridge Route. See directions to the trailhead above. First-come-first-served; no reservations. Tent or trailer camping. No plug-in. Picnic tables, fire rings, and pit toilets. Note: this campground area is more shady and secluded than the areas near Twin Lakes. Emerald Lake is known for its beautiful water and fishing.
More to Know Before You Go
Provided by the U.S. National Park Service
San Isabel National Forest, Leadville District. (719) 553-1400
This site offers extensive information about trails, routes, and what to expect, with photos and topo maps. Created by Bill Middlebrook, this site frequently updates info about conditions with trip reports from individual climbers and hikers.
With trained mountaineers guiding your group, you can learn from experts and trust their experience reading the weather, understanding the terrain, and making decisions for a successful backcountry trip.
Stephen began guiding with Aspen Alpine Guides in 2008 after moving from Switzerland where he spent the previous seven years training and working. In the summer, Stephen guides the regional 14,000 ft peaks, day hikes, rock climbs, as well as altitude training coupled with trail running. In the winter, he is a backcountry ski and snowshoe guide, avalanche educator, and has worked for five years as a ski instructor.
A Guide to Camping Lake Powell With Boats
Share this postPart 3: Teenagers and parents find unexpected connection on a boat.
Guide to camping at Lake Powell [Part 1]
Share this postPart 1: Packing list, weather conditions and more advice for camping at Lake Powell with kids.
Guide to camping at Lake Powell [Part 2]: No Boats Needed
Share this postPart 2: Recommendations for specific car camping sites at Lake Powell.
Ticks in Colorado
Share this postFacts and local knowledge about our least favorite “trail buddies” – TICKS!
Dream Pool Design Contest
Share this postTime for a new pool in Carbondale.
C-19 & Local Swimming Pools
Share this postSix-Foot Staycation
Parenting During Turmoil
Share this postAn interview with art therapist Helena Hurrell
MP’s Diversity Booklist
Share this postSummer Reading 2020
Share this postA summer-long series about loving this place while flattening the curve.
Summer Camp Planner
Share this postFind the latest COVID program updates for summer camps and classes. Camps are happening!
Share this postUp-cycle an empty pet food bag for this easy project.
Roaring Fork Nature Parks
Share this postA “Wild at Heart” map of nearby places to discover (or rediscover) with your child.
Mothers Day Tribute
Share this postThree local women who exemplify Julia Ward Howe’s Proclamation of Peace.
Share this postA tragic fact of nature? Or way to find your wings?
Good Sports: Lacrosse
Share this postWith the ROARING FORK LACROSSE CLUB, everyone is included and “it’s just fun.”
Helping Hands: Lucky Day Animal Rescue
Share this postThis foster-based rescue group helps connect pets with their forever families.
MP Trail Map: Winter Hut Trips
Share this postA family-friendly guide to planning an adventure to one of Colorado’s backcountry huts.
Writing By Hand
Share this postWhat can parents do to help their children learn this life skill?
Share this postA mother redefines HEALTHY after her daughter’s Leukodystrophy diagnosis
DIY: Upcycled Owl
Share this postSpread your wings to make this cuddly stuffed owl designed by Handmakery’s Ami Maes.
Aspen Snowmass Nordic Trail System
Share this postMP Trail Map: A guide to Roaring Fork Valley cross-country ski trails.
Share this postMeet local eco-chocolate maker Mark Burrows.
Helping Hands: Roaring Fork Valley Kids Who Care
Share this postAct Locally: A student-led effort to save Sea Turtles and Rainforests.
Good Sports: Challenge Aspen
Share this postQ&A with Special Olympics and NASTAR ski racer Tanner Jadwin
Nighttime Family Staycation
Share this postWintertime fun after dark with the kids.
DIY: Spa Day
Share this postMake your own bath time bliss at home.
The McBride Internship: Kenya
Share this postRoaring Fork Valley students visit Kenya’s Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.
Good Sports: Ski Racing
Share this postFor this mother and her daughters, skiing is among their earliest memories.
Share this postGiving the best present of all: Ourselves
Helping Hands: LIFT-UP
Share this postCan you feed your family breakfast, lunch, and dinner for $4 per person per day?
Helping Hands: The Farm Collaborative
Share this postFarm-to-Table meets Food Insecurity
Q&A: Honeybee Play
Share this postQ&A with the teenage creators of a new original musical
Helping Hands: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklórico
Share this postAn award-winning after school dance program that’s about more than dancing. It’s a cultural bridge.
Getting Into College
Share this postMaking sense of college admission statistics
Good Sports: BMX Biking
Share this postCrown Mountain Park’s bike racing facility has expanded into a world-class race course.
Harvest Road Trip
Share this postDrive Highway 133 from Carbondale to Hotchkiss and make new friends at our nearby farms.
Helping Hands: Way of Compassion Bike Project
Share this postOne man’s trash is, indeed, another man’s treasure.
MP Trail Map: Mount Elbert
Share this postYour child’s first fourteener can also be Colorado’s highest peak.
Good Sports: Sailing
Share this postAspen Rec Department’s Don Sheeley Sailing School
Find Yourself in the Lost Forest
Share this postDiscover Aspen Skiing Company’s Lost Forest adventure park.
DIY: Skateboard Swing
Share this postTurn a discarded skateboard into a big backyard hit.
MORE to FIND in the LOST FOREST
Share this postLots to do in the Aspen Snowmass Lost Forest
DIY: Portraits of Your Children
Share this postHow to capture magical frame-worthy photos
Helping Hands: Colorado Animal Rescue
Share this postC.A.R.E. can help you figure out what kind of adoptable pet is right for you and your household.
Good Sports: Baseball
Share this postA Glenwood Springs High School graduate and college baseball recruit shares what he learned at the ballpark.
Homelife Recipes: Backyard Burgers
Share this postQ&A with Jerilyn Nieslanik about how to avoided the dreaded hockey puck burger
MP Trail Map: Hartman Rocks
Share this postHigh desert mountain biking between Crested Butte and Gunnison
Citizens of the World
Share this postRoaring Fork High School students become world travelers through an all-inclusive club
Where to find Wildlife
Share this postLearn about the untamed creatures you might encounter in our mountain forests and meadows.
The Art of Being ENOUGH
Share this postA Motherhood Manifesto
Yampah Mountain High School’s Teen Parent Program
Share this postA campus in Glenwood Springs where each student is met exactly how they are.
LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Roaring Fork Valley Schools
Share this postA community-wide PRIDE parade + other other Valley-wide efforts to welcome everyone.
Good Sports: Soccer
Share this postReflections from an Aspen HIgh School midfielder and member of an elite all-valley women’s team.
MP Trail Map: Navajo Rocks
Share this postA family-friendly mountain biking destination near Moab, Utah
Helping Hands: Mountain Valley Developmental Services Greenhouse
Share this postA nonprofit gardening center where developmentally disabled adults work (and bloom).
Homelife Recipes: Passover Seder
Share this postRabbi Emily Segal of Aspen Jewish Congregation reflects on this sacred meal (and shares her recipe for Matzah crack)
Good Sports: Black Belt
Share this postA RFHS student and Rising Crane Training Center Cuong Nhu black belt shares her accomplishment.
MP’s Cover Artists: Lily and Elana Royer
Share this postMeet the mother-daughter creative team behind Lilybart
DIY: Chinese New Year Dragon Puppet
Share this postStep-By-Step instructions for making a fun puppet at home.
In-person weeklong all-day summer program