Mount Harvard Spencer McKee

This image captures the approach toward Mount Harvard as sunlight starts to fill an alpine valley along the trail. Harvard can be seen in the center of the frame, directly above the most visible portion of the trail. Photo Credit: Spencer McKee.

Climbing to an elevation of 14,420 feet above sea-level, Mount Harvard is Colorado's 3rd highest peak in the state and one that shouldn't be overlooked by adventurous and experienced hikers.

For the vast majority of the standard route to the Mount Harvard summit, hikers follow a well-established trail with a gentle steepness. From the parking lot, this Buena Vista-area trail clocks in at 14 miles and 4,600 feet of gain, with a brief section of class two climbing.

Spencer McKee on Mount Harvard. Photo Credit: Spencer McKee.

Spencer McKee, of OutThere Colorado, scrambles on some rocks near the summit of Mount Harvard. Photo Credit: Spencer McKee.

The trail up the southern slopes of Mount Harvard starts in the forest along a creek before winding through a scenic valley found just above treeline. Eventually, hikers reach the far wall of this valley, making a final push toward the summit that's quite a bit steeper and much rockier.

Author's Note: The final push has cairns, though they can be difficult to follow. This portion of the route can quickly become class three or four if a hiker gets off trail. Study the route beforehand.

View from Mount Harvard. Photo Credit: Spencer McKee

The view from the summit of Mount Harvard. Mount Yale is the most prominent peak seen. Bear Lake is the small alpine lake below. Photo Credit: Spencer McKee

From the summit (and throughout much of the valley), hikers can soak in stunning views of nearby fourteeners Yale and Columbia, as well as Bear Lake – an alpine lake found at 12,374 feet above sea-level.

The descent of this route is as gradual as the climb, with the exception of the brief steeper and rockier section. Some hikers choose to return to a fork in the trail that allows one to summit Columbia up the standard route without having to re-hike the approach. Others traverse between the two peaks, though this route should be reserved for experienced hikers only as lingering snow often poses problems.

It's also worth noting that while the road to this trailhead is considered four-wheel drive, most vehicles probably won't have an issue. There is one large spot approximately 3.3 miles from the trailhead that can be problematic. If you're unsure of whether or not your vehicle will make it past this large rut, park at one of the pull-offs prior to this spot and walk or bike to the trailhead from there.

Overall, the Mount Harvard hike is notable among fourteeners for its stunning valley approach and well-maintained trail. The trail quality and never-ending views can seem to make the lengthy 14 miles of this trek fly by.

To start your research into climbing Colorado's fourteeners, click here.

Director of Content and Operations

Spencer McKee manages the OutThere Colorado digital publication as the Director of Content and Operations. In his spare time, Spencer loves to rock climb, trail run, and mountain bike. Follow along with his adventures on Instagram at @spence.outside

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