Welcome to SP!  -
Elkhead Mountains
Area/Range

Elkhead Mountains

 
Elkhead Mountains

Page Type: Area/Range

Location: Colorado, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 40.76360°N / 107.0577°W

Object Title: Elkhead Mountains

Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Skiing

Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

 

Page By: Scott

Created/Edited: Jan 12, 2006 / Dec 3, 2012

Object ID: 170942

Hits: 10102 

Page Score: 79.54%  - 11 Votes 

Vote: Log in to vote

 

Introduction


Several aspects of the Elkheads make this a rather unique mountain range in Colorado. It is certainly possible that the Elkhead Mountains are the least known of the major mountain ranges in Colorado. This is partially because the range is a long way from any metropolitan area, and partially because the Elkheads are fairly low by Colorado standards, as there are no peaks reaching 11,000 feet. There are also few lakes, so the range isn’t visited by fishermen. Despite their low altitude, the Elkheads receive much snow, and snow lasts into July on the higher peaks. Most of the peaks in the Elkheads see very few ascents, but Hahns Peak, the eastern-most peak in the range is a popular climb for residents of Steamboat Springs. The Bears Ears see quite a few ascents by Elkhead standards, because of their prominent shape and visibility from the Yampa River Valley. Black Mountain is also climbed fairly often because it is the highest point in Moffat County, and the popularity is on the increase with more county highpointing interest. Most of the rest of the peaks see few ascents, and one ranger has told me some of the peaks only have a few names in the registers since 1980. Sand Mountain must be a fairly popular (by Elkhead standards) climb as well, as there is a trail to the top, and as it is the first and only mountain in the range where I have ever met anyone. This was on Labor Day weekend, 2005, when we saw 3 other hikers. So, there are few hikers around, but hunting is another story. The Elkheads are very popular for hunting in the fall and contain large populations of deer, elk, bear, etc.

One thing unique about the range is that hiker use is overall actually decreasing, rather than increasing as it is in most places in Colorado. The summit registers (which the Forest Service keeps record of) on most peaks indicate that they have had more ascents in the 1960’s and 1970’s than they do now. Even before that, there were many summit logs from the 1930’s and 1940’s from sheepherders.

Elkhead Mountains-10,000+ Foot Peaks with 300+ feet of Prominence

Hiking and Climbing Overview

Black Mountain, Sand Mountain, and Hahns Peak have trail to their summits. None of the other peaks have trails to the summits, and many of the trails in the Elkheads are faded away and not in good condition. Plan on using a map and compass or GPS and plan on doing some navigating to reach any of the summits.

The peaks that don’t have trails are class 2 and 3 in difficulty, and there doesn’t seem to be any worthwhile technical climbs in the range. Most of the rock is horribly loose.



Note: Besides Summitpost, the only source that I am aware of that provides some detailed information on some of the peaks in the Elkhead Mountains are some self published books from Joe Kramarsic. His contact number is below and he sells some of his self published books to some of the mountain ranges in NE Colorado.

Joe Kramarsic
PO Box 1342
Dillon, CO 80435

"The Classics"-Favorite Peaks

While all peaks in the Elkheads are worth climbing, I have to admit to having a few favorites. Here are a few of my favorite peaks and my choice of the best climbs based on views, scenery, and enjoyment:

1. Nipple Peak

2. Hahns Peak

3. Sand Mountain

4. Black Mountain

Geology

The Elkhead Mountains are made of old volcanic rocks 17-25 million years old. One thing unusual is that the Elkhead Mountains run west to east as opposed to north and south as most of the ranges run in North America. It is impossible to describe the general forms of the peaks because they are all so different, but most of the peaks are isolated rises from a huge plateau which forms the bulk of the Elkheads.

Seasons

July through early September could be considered the normal season to climb in the Elkhead Mountains. Most of the roads in the interior of the range remain snowbound until early July and then remain open into October in most years.

The Elkhead Mountains are a very popular hunting destination. Use extreme caution in the fall hunting season. Wear blaze orange during that time of year. The Elkhead Mountains Mountain is covered in aspen trees and is very beautiful in September and early October.

Most climbs in the Elkheads should be considered to be multi day trips in late fall, winter, or spring. There are some exceptions. The Freeman Reservoir road usually is open until around Thanksgiving because hunters keep the road open until then, and you can climb Black Mountain in a day at that time. Sand Mountain and Nipple Peak can be reached in one day in winter, if you are a really strong climber. Hahns Peak is a very reasonable one day winter ascent, and is a good choice for a winter ascent.

Weather and Climate


These are the closest long term weather stations, but be aware that higher elevations will be much wetter and colder (except for cold winter nights).

Below is the National Weather Service Climate Summary of Dixon, on the Wyoming/Colorado border. The data is from 1922-1978. Dixon is at 6370 feet elevation.


MONTHAVE HIGHAVE LOWREC HIGHREC LOWAVE PREC (in)
JAN32350-550.89
FEB368 60-440.72
MAR431669-310.96
APR562780-91.14
MAY673486111.18
JUN764195210.94
JUL834799301.07
AUG814595261.12
SEP72369281.04
OCT612781-91.23
NOV441670-240.80
DEC35362-381.02


Below is the National Weather Service Climate Summary of Craig at 6300 feet elevation. The data is from 1928-2005.


MONTHAVE HIGHAVE LOWREC HIGHREC LOWAVE PREC (in)
JAN33257-561.02
FEB37760-510.98
MAR451776-241.19
APR562781-21.40
MAY683588141.37
JUN7841100201.20
JUL864799301.06
AUG844697281.29
SEP763797161.34
OCT64278401.44
NOV471573-211.23
DEC34764-411.06


Below is the National Weather Service Climate Summary of Steamboat Springs at 6700 feet elevation. The data is from 1908-2005.


MONTHAVE HIGHAVE LOWREC HIGHREC LOWAVE PREC (in)
JAN29157-542.47
FEB344 59-482.24
MAR421370-342.11
APR542479-152.28
MAY65318882.08
JUN753696191.49
JUL824197251.54
AUG804098201.60
SEP72339361.81
OCT602489-161.89
NOV431472-281.97
DEC31364-442.38


Weather and climate data for Maybell at 5920 feet elevation is below. *National Weather Service Data 1958-2004.


MONTHAVE HIGHAVE LOWREC HIGHREC LOWAVE PRECIP (in)
JAN33256-60.79
FEB38766-61.84
MAR481875-211.03
APR59268201.35
MAY703391101.13
JUN80409622.93
JUL874710226.85
AUG85459828.89
SEP75369481.10
OCT632587-101.20
NOV461570-241.15
DEC35461-50.89

Wildlife

The Elkhead Mountains are the home of large herds of elk, deer, pronghorn antelope, as well as many small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Bears, coyotes, and cougars are the primary predators.

Area Campsites and Campgrounds

HAHNS PEAK LAKE CAMPGROUND

FREEMAN RESERVOIR CAMPGROUND

SAWMILL CAMPGROUND

STEAMBOAT LAKE CAMPGROUND

Images