Standing prominently amid the Sawatch Range and overlooking Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States, Mount Elbert claims the title as Colorado’s tallest peak at 14,443 feet. Mount Elbert is also the tallest mountain in the entire Rocky Mountain range and is the second highest peak in the lower 48 states. This mountain was named after the 1873 Colorado governor, Samuel Hitt Elbert, who had a reputation for being a controversial and territorial leader. Mount Elbert’s position as the highest peak in Colorado gets it plenty of attention amongst hikers, resulting in an overcrowding on the trails that might be detrimental to its pristine nature.

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Summit of Mount Elbert Colorado in Winter SWKrullImaging OutThere Colorado
Views of and from the summit of Mount Elbert in the wintertime, the highest peak in Colorado

Despite being the tallest, Mount Elbert has been given the nickname the “gentle giant” because it is one of the easier 14ers to summit. The two most popular routes, the Northeast Ridge and the East Ridge are rated as Class 1. Don’t be fooled though, both routes gain over 4,000 feet of elevation and have round-trip distances over eight miles. As with any high altitude climb, dehydration and altitude sickness are always a possibility.

Hikers aren’t the only ones who’ve reached the top of Mount Elbert. An ATV, jeep, mule, horse, helicopter, and of course, many of our four-legged dog friends have visited the peak’s summit.

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Mount Elbert - OutThere Colorado
Mount Elbert

Expansive, breath-taking views of the Upper Arkansas Valley, Twin Lakes, Turquoise Lake, and Mount Elbert’s many prominent neighbors including the second highest 14er in the state, Mount Massive, await at the summit.

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John Prater and Andrew Hamilton Climbing Mount Elbert - OutThere Colorado
John Prater, left, assists Andrew Hamilton during a climb on Elbert. Photo Credit: Charlie

Unfortunately, being the tallest peak in the state comes with its downfalls. According to a 2015 study by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI), Mount Elbert has between 20,000-25,000 people visiting its summit each year, making it one of the top hiked Colorado 14ers. The trails were not built to handle the masses of hikers that climb Mount Elbert annually, and volunteers and outdoor crews have been unable to keep up with the large amount of trail restorations and maintenance needed. The result? Excessive trail erosion- and it’s only getting worse. To repair the damage, build, and maintain more sustainable trails, CFI has estimated that over $3.6 million dollars would need to be allocated to the three most popular trails on Mount Elbert. If these trails, other 14er trails, or simply outdoor recreation are important to you, consider donating your time or money to organizations involved in restoring them, such as the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.

Mount Elbert - East Ridge Trail, Colorado. Photo By: Andrew Davidoff.
Mount Elbert – East Ridge Trail, Colorado. Photo By: Andrew Davidoff.

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