Climb to the top of the Rockies, no beer on tap
This hike will take you from the Upper Arkansas River Valley to the summit of one of the country's highest mountain peaks. Despite being the highest mountain in the lower 48 states after Mount Whitney, 14,433' Mount Elbert is one of the easiest 14ers to hike, and is very popular as a result. It also tends to be one of the first 14ers that people will ascend. The trail is well constructed and very easy to follow, even in the tundra.
The trail begins at a large dirt parking lot surrounded by lodgepole pine. It climbs gently at first, crossing a small stream in the first 1000 feet of trail. About a quarter mile into the hike, the trail comes to a T with the Colorado & Continental Divide Trails, which run right through here and are a part of the Elbert Trail. Take a left at this intersection. A little over 1 mile from the trailhead you then will encounter a fork in the trail. The left trail which continues to descend is the Colorado/Continental Divide Trail turning back off of the Elbert trail; you don't want that trail for this hike. The fork to the right is the trail that will lead you to the summit of Mount Elbert.
The trail climbs steeply from this point. Forest composition switches from lodgepole pine to englemann spruce as you approach treeline. Soon you are in a meadow that will fool you into thinking you are at treeline, but then it's back into the trees. Finally, you come to the true treeline and you are greeted with some high alpine tundra.
The trail levels out a bit, but it's still steep for the altitude. You'll spend the next 3 miles hiking up to the summit. Leave early during the monsoon season, as you are pretty exposed for the duration of this hike, and we all know about lighting. What begins at a moderate grade soon becomes very steep. You'll pass the false summit after nearly 2.5 miles in the tundra and gain sight of the true summit. The last stretch of trail is a gentle hike to the summit. Once on top you can enjoy the views of the Rocky Mountains and the high elevation tundra. Return the way you came, taking note that two trails leave from the east ridge. Don't take the one that heads towards the Twin Lakes.
Remember, if you have trouble with Mount Humphrey you will probably be much worse off on this hike. Plenty of people will see the round trip distance and assume it's less than Humphrey and that it will therefore be a faster hike. Its not, it's much longer and harder due to the altitude; plus you gain 4700' on this hike. Watch the skies and try to be off the summit by noon.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.