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Enjoy the incredible scenery along The Black Cloud Trail, all the way to the summit of Mt. Elbert.

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Out and Back

14,387' 4,385 m


9,716' 2,961 m


5,023' 1,531 m


5,023' 1,531 m



Avg Grade (10°)


Max Grade (36°)

Dogs Unknown

Features Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife


The southernmost trail up Mt Elbert is the Black Cloud Trail and is certainly one of the most beautiful trails I have ever been on. I can't recommend it enough. Even on a Saturday I only encountered two people on the way up. The wildflowers, views of the Sawatch Range to the south, streams, solitude, and varied landscape all make this a special hike.


The trailhead is especially difficult to find and easy to miss but there is plenty of space for parking as this is not a very popular trailhead. The trail is Class 2, so it's a bit more technical, a bit longer, and a bit less crowded than the standard route up Elbert.

The trail starts in pine forest and aspen groves while climbing steep switchbacks along Black Cloud Creek for about 1.7 miles and 1,700'. The route is very scenic with views of waterfalls, cascading streams, pine, aspen forests, and beautiful clearings.

Eventually the trail flattens out a little at around 11,700' before it steeply switchbacks to gain Mt Elbert's southern ridge. Once on the ridge 2.7 miles in, head north for the highest point, which is unofficially South Elbert (14,134), which is not an official 14er because the saddle between it and Mt Elbert does not provide sufficient prominence.

From South Elbert, follow the ridge northwest until you descend into the saddle. There is a faint trail crossing the saddle across the south ridge of Mt. Elbert, keeping to the right. After traversing the ridge you'll be on the summit of Mt. Elbert (14,439'). Congrats! You've made it to the highest point in Colorado and the second highest point in the continental United States!

On your way back down the ridge, if you're feeling up for it, before veering right to descend the switchbacks, you can continue up to the top of the hill you see in front of you. This is a 13er called Cosgriff peak and makes a nice little addition to a great day!


Shared By:

Mike Langenkamp with improvements by Ashley Peterson

Trail Ratings

  4.2 from 24 votes


in Twin Lakes


  4.2 from 24 votes
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in Twin Lakes


in Colorado


20 Views Last Month
11,077 Since Mar 4, 2015
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A lone hiker enjoys the solitude and fall colors on the south approach to Mount Elbert.
Feb 7, 2017 near Leadvil…, CO
Looking back down the valley towards La Plata Peak
Feb 8, 2018 near Leadvil…, CO
La Plata peaks above the ridgeline on the Black Cloud Trail.
Apr 22, 2017 near Leadvil…, CO
Below tree line looks exactly like this!
Dec 12, 2019 near Leadvil…, CO
A viewpoint thats hard to beat.
Feb 25, 2024 near Leadvil…, CO
View of La Plata peak from the Black Cloud Trail
Mar 4, 2015 near Leadvil…, CO


Current Trail Conditions

Add Your Check-In


Sep 23, 2023
Claire Milligan
10.9mi — 7h 00m
Jun 22, 2022
Brian Gray
10.9mi — 7h 00m
Mar 15, 2022
Private User
Sep 4, 2021
0510-1615 14mi
Aug 31, 2021
Amy Borchardt
Jul 17, 2021
Amy Palmer
Sep 30, 2020
Michael Kellman
steep as fuck. sustained... hardest up hill hiking Ive done. 10.9mi
Jul 11, 2020
Eddie O'Toole
3:49:00 up, 2:15:00 down. The trail is a little tricky to follow at the top (above the switchbacks), but just keep following the ridge line. 11.9mi — 7h 36m

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