Mt. Harvard was named in 1869 when Harvard geology professor Josiah Whitney led a surveying expedition into Colorado to investigate rumors of soaring 17,000-foot peaks deep in the Rockies. After crossing Trout Creek Pass, they named the highest summit in sight for the expedition's sponsor: Harvard University.
Mt. Harvard is the third highest peak in Colorado and only one of the three that rise above 14,400 feet. It is the fourth highest in the lower 48 states and the high point of Chaffee County. It is situated 11 miles northwest of Buena Vista and is not easily visible from roads or highways. It hides its mass well. Harvard is often climbed in combination with its neighbor, Mount Columbia. Some choose to do the combination in one long day. Be prepared, it is not a slam dunk. The ridge between the two is 2.2 miles and requires substantial elevation gain and loss. Others seek a high camp in Horn Fork Basin and choose a multi-day outing. Either way, Mount Harvard offers something for everyone.
North Cottonwood TH To access the standard route and the North Cottonwood trailhead begin measuring from the junction of US 24 and Chaffee County 306 in the center of Buena Vista. Drive 0.4 miles north on US 24 to the junction of Chaffee County 350 and turn left (west). Drive 2.1 miles to a T and turn right (north) onto Chaffee County 361. At 2.4 miles the road becomes dirt and angles NW. At 3.0 miles turn sharply south (left) onto Chaffee County 365, which turns west and enters San Isabel National Forest at 5.4 miles. Pass the Harvard Lakes Trailhead at 6.6 miles and continue to the North Cottonwood Trailhead at the end of the road at 8.2 miles and 9,880 feet.
Frenchman Creek TH Follow U.S. 24 7.5 miles north of Buena Vista and turn west onto Chaffee County 386. Go .3 miles until you come to Forest Service 386. Turn west onto FS 386 and go another 1.4 miles to the TH at 9.300'. 4WD vehicles may take the left fork and head south for another 2.2. miles to Collegiate Peaks Wilderness boundary at 10,800'.
Harvard Lakes TH Follow the direction for the North Cottonwood TH. You will find the Harvard lakes TH 1.6 miles before the North Cottonwood TH at 9,420'. If you see the Silver Lakes TH (for Mt. Yale), you have gone .1 miles too far. Remember, Harvard Lakes TH sends you over Mt. Columbia first.
Three Elk Creek TH See the North Cottonwood TH directions. From the turn at the T intersection onto Chaffee County 361, start to measure. At 3.8 from the intersection, turn west onto Chaffee County 368 and go 1.2 miles to Chaffee County 368A. Turn southwest onto CC 368A and go .1 miles until Forest Service 368. Turn west on FS 368 and go .8 miles until you reach the TH at 9,260'. This route will also carry you over Mt. Columbia first.
When To Climb
Generally, Mount Harvard is climbed during the summer months of June through September. Winter ascents are possible, however current snow conditions dictate how long the approach to North Cottonwood trailhead is and are usually multi-day outings.
Caution should be taken in the spring. Horn Fork Basin is notorious for it's dangerous snowbridges from treeline at 11,600 feet to Bear Lake.
Click here for complete information on campgrounds in the Leadville Ranger District. Camping is permitted on the trails approaching Mt. Harvard and on the mountain itself.
No permits or fees are required to climb Mt. Harvard. Leave No Trace practice is mandatory.
Remember, you are within the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. Observe all regulations. Per USFS , these include;
Party size limit is 15
Dogs must be on a leash
Camp at least 100 feet from water
Organized groups must contact the Forest Service.
For current mountain conditions contact the Pike & San Isabel National Forest, Leadville Ranger District office, 2015 North Poplar, Leadville, CO 80461, (719)486-0749. Please click here for more information about climbing Mt. Harvard.