Howard Mountain is situated in the heart of the Never Summer Range on the long spine of mountains that forms the boundary between Never Summer Wilderness to the west and Rocky Mountain National Park to the east. This spine of mountains also forms the continental divide - however the watershed to the west of the ridge drains into the Atlantic Ocean and the watershed to the east of the ridge drains into the Pacific Ocean. Don’t believe me? Check it out.
Along with Mount Cirrus, Howard Mountain towers over Lake of the Clouds and Hitchens Gulch to the east – the direction most climbers will approach from. A traverse from Howard to Cirrus is a simple and easy endeavor that should take most hikers no more than 30 minutes across tundra and talus. For this reason the two mountains are often combined and the saddle between the two can be reached via a straightforward hike up a talus slope from Lake of the Clouds. More interesting routes involve Hart Ridge that connects Mount Cirrus and Lead Mountain to the north and Howard’s South Ridge which connects Mount Cumulus with Howard Mountain. Both of these ridges contain some sustained, exposed, class-three scrambling.
Most climbers will approach from the east at the Colorado River Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. This trailhead is well signed and is about an hour’s drive from either east side entrance or about 15-minute drive from the Grand Lake entrance.
From the trailhead follow the Colorado River Trail for one half of a mile to the Red Mountain Trail junction. Follow the Red Mountain Trail for another 2.8 miles until you reach the Grand Ditch (a large canal that diverts water from the west to the east side of the Continental Divide).
At the canal you can either head north to approach Howard Mountain from Lake of the Clouds or Hart Ridge, or you can head south to gain Howard’s South Ridge.
- For Lake of the Clouds or Hart Ridge walk North (take a right) along the road beside the Grand Ditch for about 1.75 miles until you reach Big Dutch Creek and the trail into Hitchens Gulch. Once in Hitchens Gulch either follow the trail to Lake of the Clouds or head for Lead Mountain and Hart Ridge (see Hart Ridge Route and Lead Mountain Page for details). I don’t have further information for ascending the saddle between Cirrus and Howard because we ran the ridge from Lead to Cumulus. However, the ascent looked straightforward from above. If you found it otherwise please submit a route page.
- See the Mount Cumulus Page for details on the approach to Howard’s South Ridge
No permits are required to hike/climb Howard Mountain, but if you pass through the park entrance gates during business hours you will have to buy a park pass. These are $20 for a week long pass, or $35 for an annual pass.
Camping in the RMNP backcountry is allowed in designated campsites only and requires a permit.
Fees for admission ot RMNP
Basic RMNP Rules/Regulations
When To Climb / Mountain Conditions
The Never Summer Range holds snow well into early summer so to avoid snow Howard Mountain is best climbed July through September. That said, the presence of snow might make the approach to Howard's South Ridge easier. I imagine that many of Howard Mountain's slopes may be avalanche prone though so be careful during the winter and spring.
For current conditions contact Rocky Mountain National Park at 970-586-1206.
Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park is allowed in designated campsites only and requires a permit. To obtain a permit contact the backcountry office at 970-586-1242.