Riding Mt. Elbert

My Trip

I rode Mt. Elbert last week. Although I've hiked over twenty 14ers in Colorado, Elbert was the first one I biked. I really enjoyed it on a bike and will definitely be biking more of them. It's a great way to knock off some of the easier ones. Besides being my first 14er on a bike, it was also my first time up Elbert, which made it even better. Check out the trip details, video, and my recommended trip, below.

Mt. Elbert is Colorado's highest peak at 14,433 feet. It was also surprisingly rideable along the East Ridge route. I didn't do my research prior to heading up Elbert and ended up ascending the Northeast Ridge route. I expected to return down the same way I went up, however, it became very clear after going a little above treeline that descending the Northeast Ridge would be less than fun and would likely require walking down in many sections. I was also getting nervous as some of the drop-offs along the Northeast Ridge route were awkward and I could certainly imagine myself crashing badly.

As I neared the top, a hiker suggested I return down the East Ridge. After asking him a few questions, this seemed like an excellent option. After I was on top, I also chatted with some hikers who came up the East Ridge to get their opinion. I seemed fairly unanimous that the East Ridge was not only a better option, but also provided a pretty smooth route to the bottom.

It turns out that the East Ridge is a great way to go down. It would also be my recommended way to go up as it will allow for more riding than the Northeast Ridge route.

Above treeline, the East Ridge is loose in some spots, but mostly without any large obstacles, staircases, etc. I rode the whole thing down on a hardtail without incident. Approaching treeline and below, the East Ridge is a sweet trail with flowy lines and nice dirt. It also goes through some beautiful aspen groves. Additionally, once you've descended the East Ridge trail to the Colorado Trail, the riding remains excellent all the way back to the trailhead.

Recommended Trip

For the sake of mountain biking, I would recommend going up and down the East Ridge of Mt. Elbert. It will provide you with the best opportunity to maximize saddle time and minimize pushing time. Also, leaving from the Mt. Massive trailhead to the north of the East Ridge (instead of coming to the trail from the south via Twin Lakes) will give you a lot of fun riding before and after the actual ride up and down from the summit.

Here's what to do:

  • DISTANCE: 16.8 miles
  • ELEVATION GAIN: 5,350 feet
  1. Start at the Mt. Massive trailhead; this is where the Colorado Trail intersects Halfmoon Road outside of Leadville (39.151367, -106.419059). There is a good bit of parking if you get up there early. There is also a lot of camping along Halfmoon Road; I would recommend camping along Halfmoon Road and leaving from/returning to your campsite via bike.
  2. Head south on the Colorado Trail. Continue straight past the trail that descends to the Mt. Elbert parking lot on your left. Go over a bridge. Climb up a rocky section and continue on the Colorado Trail (to the left) past the sign that says Mt. Elbert. If you are going up and down the East Ridge, do not go up this way as this is the Northeast Ridge trail. You'll travel about 1.5 miles and climb 530 feet in this first section.
  3. Continue on this rolling trail. It gets more awesome as you go further south. There are a few short climbs, but nothing significant. Stay on the Colorado Trail until you reach the East Ridge trail marked by a sign that says: "S. MT. ELBERT TR. NO. 1481". You'll travel 3.2 miles and climb 460 feet in this section.
  4. Go right, up the hill and begin your climb. The trail will lead you up along smooth sections through pine forest and aspen groves, much like the Colorado Trail section you've been riding. At treeline, the trail gets steeper and rockier with some loose sections about halfway between treeline and the summit. You'll travel 3.6 miles and climb 3,850 feet in this section.
  5. Enjoy the summit and then head back down the way you rode up. This is the fun part!

Don't underestimate this ride. Although the total mileage is 16.8, the altitude and elevation gain will make it a relatively harder ride. You'll definitely be walking some of it. Also, remember that you are headed out well above treeline, so get an early start and monitor the weather. Make sure you bring a little extra gear, tools, etc. than normal to get you out of a jam. Don't sweat the extra weight. You don't want to get caught above treeline during a thunderstorm. Here is a link to the recommended gear list on 14ers.com.

 This is the route I took. I went up the Northeast Ridge and down the East Ridge, returning via the Colorado Trail. For maximum riding, I'd recommend doing the out-and-back shown in the map below.

This is the route I took. I went up the Northeast Ridge and down the East Ridge, returning via the Colorado Trail. For maximum riding, I'd recommend doing the out-and-back shown in the map below.

 This is the out and back route I'd recommend. It offers the best chance for the most riding. Not that this map only shows the way up, not the round trip.

This is the out and back route I'd recommend. It offers the best chance for the most riding. Not that this map only shows the way up, not the round trip.