OverviewThis is considered one of the two standard routes for Mt. Elbert. The other "standard" route is via the Northeast Ridge and is called the North Mt. Elbert Trail. Either one is good in summer conditions, but the south Mt. Elbert Trail is considered the standard winter route.
The South Mt. Elbert Trail is a great route and a relatively easy hike for someone in reasonable physical condition. The trail is well established and easy to follow. The key to a successful climb is an early start. A sunrise start is ideal to beat the afternoon storms.
Getting ThereFrom Leadville, drive south approximately 10 miles to the intersection of U.S. 24 and Colorado (CO) 82. From Buena Vista drive north 20 miles to the same intersection. Once on CO 82, drive west 4 miles to Lake County Road 24 (Do not confuse with U.S. 24). Turn right (north) on Lake County 24 and drive one mile to Lakeview Campground. The trailhead is on the northwest side of the campground and is also an access point for the Colorado/Continental Divide Trail in which a short section runs from Lakeview to the North Mt. Elbert Trailhead. Shortly after Lakeview Campground, turn left into an obvious parking area, overlook, and dirt road. This is the 2WD trailhead at 9560 ft. High clearance vehicles can drive to 10,440 ft at the upper trailhead by driving west past the parking lot on a rough road for 2 miles until the road ends and you see other vehicles parked. The upper trailhead is on the north side of the parking area. Cross a creek via a footbridge and continue a short distance until reaching a signed intersection of the Mt. Elbert/Colorado/Continental Divide Trail where you turn left (NW).
Route DescriptionAfter crossing the footbridge, you will arrive at a sign for the Mt. Elbert Trail. Follow the sign, turning left (NW) up toward the mountain. The section after this is somewhat steep and finishes with switchbacks through an aspen forest. Just above the aspen forest, the trail levels out into meadows and conifer at 11,400 ft. From here, your first view of the summit will be seen. Hike along fairly level ground through conifer until reaching treeline. The trail will turn northwest and head toward a ridge. Gain the ridge and follow it to just below the summit. From there, the trail will circle around a little to the southeast side of the mountain where the trail continues via short switchbacks to the summit.
Round trip from the lower trailhead (9560) is 11.2 miles and 4850 ft of elevation gain. Round trip from the upper trailhead (10,440) is 7.6 miles and 4000 ft of elevation gain.