Colorado's second-highest peak, Mount Massive is an intermediate-level fourteener that lives up to its tremendous name.

Mount Massive climbs to a height of 14,421 feet above sea-level, offering a number of route options that will deliver hikers to the summit – a summit that delivers one of the best high-altitude views in the country.

While the standard route up the mountain is a 14-mile class two climb up the eastern slopes, many opt for the "7.25-mile" out-and-back climb up the southwest side of the mountain. If a 4WD vehicle is available, this writer recommends the latter of the two.

Here's a look at what the hike up the southwest slopes is like.

After a narrow 4WD road, hikers start from a well-marked trailhead. One of the big perks about this route is that trail-finding is quite easy.

The first segment of the trail cuts through the forest, presenting hikers with a number of lower-risk creek crossings. Be ready for this by wearing waterproof hiking boots with good grip in wet conditions, as well as an extra pair of socks.

Eventually, the trail breaks above treeline, with a relentless onslaught of switchbacks to follow. During this long push toward the summit, the trail transitions back-and-forth from dirt to knee-busting rock steps.

Spencer McKee on the Mount Massive trail. Photo Credit: Mariah Hoffman.

Spencer McKee on the Mount Massive trail. Photo Credit: Mariah Hoffman.

As the summit nears, beware of false summits. There are several on the way up this side of the mountain. Thankfully, they're located close to the true end.

After finishing the section of switchbacks, hikers are dumped onto a ridgeline where they'll scramble their way to a near-distant summit.

Once at the summit, hikers have a great view of Mount Elbert – the highest point in the state. On a clear day, peaks of the Elk Mountains can be seen past layers of closer peaks.

A view from the summit of Mount Massive Photo Credit: Breanna Sneeringer

A view from the summit of Mount Massive Photo Credit: Breanna Sneeringer.

Be warned – the return trip down this mountain along the same path is steep and can be brutal on your knees. Consider bringing hiking poles for this portion of the hike.

Southwest Slopes to Mount Massive Summit:

- 7.25 miles long (some recordings show a little extra distance)

- 3,950-feet of elevation gain

- Class 2

- 4WD vehicle required to reach the trailhead

View the full route here.

Nearby camping is available.

Editor's Note: Never take on a fourteener you're not adequately prepared for and always keep weather concerns in mind. There's nothing wrong with turning around and summiting on another day. Don't treat this article as the only research/preparation that you need.

Director of Content and Operations

Spencer McKee manages the OutThere Colorado digital publication as the Director of Content and Operations. He also writes about outdoor recreation, travel news, and more. In his spare time, he loves to rock climb, trail run, and mountain bike.


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