“A classic Sawatch hike summiting two Colorado 14ers.”
— Tyler Prince
Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
During the winter, the road is usually closed about 4 miles below Missouri Gulch Trailhead.
The land manager requests dogs be leashed. This is an excellent hike for dogs - minimal exposure, well-maintained switchbacks, and few mountain goats to chase - so few would blame the owner who lets their dog(s) roam free.
This relatively easy Sawatch 14er duo provides an awesome day hike within about an hour of Leadville. While over 10 miles and 5,000 ft of gain, the grades are fairly mellow, and the trails are some of the best maintained in the Sawatch Range. There is very little talus to deal with. More ambitious hikers can tack on Missouri Mountain
for a 15 mile day, or make a weekend of it camping in the basin. Due to its distance from Denver, it's not too crowded, either.
Need to Know
While an easier Sawatch option, this is still a long day. Bring sun protection, warm clothing, and water. Should a storm hit while you're closer to Mt. Oxford
, it's a long way back to treeline. Hikers should expect to spend 6-12 hrs on this route.
From Leadville, drive 20 miles south on US24. Turn right on the Chaffee County 390 dirt road, passing a reservoir on your left. This road is easily driveable with pretty much any car - the occasional washboard is as hard as it gets. In addition to servicing Belford, Oxford, and Missouri Mountain
, this road also provides access to Huron Peak
and La Plata Peak. Drive 7.5 miles on this road, coming to the Missouri Gulch Trailhead on your left. This can be easy to miss, so just note it's more or less right across the road from an old ghost town.
From the parking area, head south up the Missouri Gulch Trail
. Cross a footbridge almost immediately. Continue for about a quarter mile before coming to a series of switchbacks. Hike up through fairly steep forest on excellent terrain. The switchbacks mellow after about a mile. Cross a stream to your left at around 10,800 ft - there isn't much of a bridge here, just a bunch of logs. In under a half mile, come to the remains of an old shack right off the trail. Continue for just a little bit before coming to treeline at 11,200 ft. Exit the forest along some short trees. Mt. Belford will be visible in the distance.
The trail here is a little rocky. Continue along a creek to the right until you reach a junction at 11,600 ft in some willows. Turn left and angle toward Mt. Belford's northwest ridge, which is easy to see and has excellent trail. (Staying right will take you to Missouri Mountain
From here, it's a short jaunt to Mt. Belford's northwest ridge. Hit the ridge at a rocky area (cairned) before attaining an excellent trail...with many switchbacks. You'll spend the next mile on nothing but sharp switchbacks, but will encounter hardly any obstacles. Around 13,800 ft, the switchbacks angle to the left, and a false summit pops into view. Continue along a straight (refreshing) trail. Crest the false summit at 14,100 ft, upon which the summit of Mt. Belford comes into view. It's just another hundred feet and change to the small rock band that is the summit.
From Mt. Belford, Mt. Oxford
's summit is 1.5 miles away. From the summit, hike south to about 14,000 ft before angling left toward a clear saddle. It gets steep here and is killer on the way back up. Hike down some clear trail and then talus to reach the 13,500 saddle. Enjoy the brief flat terrain before starting up toward Mt. Oxford
. Follow the trail and reach some rocks at 14,000, following the rocky path up to the summit.
From here, turn around and do it all backwards. Ambitious hikers may want to turn at the Mt. Belford - Missouri Gulch
junction and continue to Missouri Mountain
. Another option still is to camp at this junction, stashing gear as necessary.
Flora & Fauna
There are plenty of marmots and pika...everywhere. Don't leave any food in your tent: these hungry guys will eat right through the fabric. There are plenty of wildflowers throughout, and tons of willows along the creek at the junction between Missouri Gulch Trail
and Mt. Belford - Missouri Gulch
Trail. Not too many bighorn sheep or mountain goats here.
History & Background
Mt. Belford has no history. Mt. Oxford
is named after Oxford University, I guess.