French Mountain is seen from Leadville and southward between Mount Elbert and Mount Massive. French Mountain is among Colorado's 100 highest peaks, #63 to be exact. The approach from the west is gorgeous and uncrowded. The north and east approach offers an easy day climb, if you don't combine it with a neighboring peak. It could make a great introduction to Colorado mountains for a beginning climber, compared to the crowded routes on, say, Mount Elbert. It is not necessarily a short climb though. The shortest documented route to French's summit is about 5 miles each way, unless you can shorten it with 4WD.
Located near the center of the Colorado Rockies, French Mountain is worth visiting for the panoramic view alone. See the Views From French Mountain section below.
There are two main trailheads: Halfmoon Creek Trailhead, and North Lake Creek Trailhead.
Halfmoon Creek Trailhead: Provides access to the north, east, and south sides of French Mountain, via a road that encircles half the mountain. Drive 3 miles south of Leadville on U.S. 24, and turn west on Colorado 300. Go 0.7 miles west, then turn south onto Lake County 11. Follow signs to Halfmoon Campground and Halfmoon Creek. Pass the Halfmoon Campground, the Elbert Creek Campground, and the Mount Massive Trailhead. Park at the junction of two roads, 2 miles past the Mount Massive Trailhead. With a 4WD vehicle you may be able to proceed farther, south from the trailhead.
North Lake Creek Trailhead: Provides access to French Mountain's west side, via Frasco Benchmark (13,876 ft.) and possibly Casco Peak. The trailhead is right off of Colorado 82, 19 miles west of the U.S. 24 - Colorado 82 junction, at the base of Independence Pass. Locate the tiny, unmarked turnoff just 100 yards before you reach the first major switchback on Independence Pass. There is ample parking space.
Overview of Routes
South Slopes: Class 2 scramble, following a long walk up an old road. 10 miles round trip from Halfmoon Creek Trailhead. 3140' to 3700' elevation gain.
West Ridge: A 10-minute, class 2 walk-up, following a much more challenging traverse over Frasco's south ridge. Minimum 9 miles round trip from North Lake Creek Trailhead. Minimum 3500' elevation gain.
This mountain is in the San Isabel National Forest, where visitors are subject to Federal Regulations. Read the rules, which address camping, vehicles, camp fires, pets, and several other issues.
Mountain Conditions / When To Climb
Current, local conditions are maintained by the Forest Service at their newly updated web site. Besides the current weather, they publish campground status, road conditions, trail status, and closures. You may also contact the Leadville Ranger District office at
2015 North Poplar
Leadville, CO 80461
The summer months are the safest time to climb mountains in the Sawatch. Be aware of the high potential for lightning on summer afternoons. As always, use good judgment, and Check the Weather Forecast before you go.
There are two Forest Service developed campgrounds along the road to the Halfmoon Creek Trailhead. (Halfmoon Campground and Elbert Creek Campground) with 39 total sites. I don't think they take reservations. In the Twin Lakes area there are several others, larger ones, including Twin Lakes Campground and Parry Peak Campground, along Colorado Highway 82. Most campgrounds are open Memorial Day through Labor Day. Call the local Ranger District Office for specific questions and exceptions.
Dispersed camping is also permitted in many areas and with certain restrictions. A short backpack from the North Lake Creek Trailhead into the Lackawanna Gulch would yield excellent opportunities for quiet, peaceful camping.
Views from French Mountain
If you have no other reason to climb French Mountain, consider it for the summit views alone. If you can supply more views from French Mountain, click the Add Photo button next to the section heading just above.