Mt. Elbert (South) Trailhead


Range: Sawatch Range
Coordinates: 39.09933, -106.36714
14ers: Mt. Elbert
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Road Difficulty

Easy 4WD, good clearance recommended. 3   (0=Paved, 6=Very Difficult 4WD)
2WD paved to the lower (main) TH. 4WD dirt to 10,400' at the upper TH.

Driving Directions

From U.S. 24 south of Leadville, take Colorado 82 west toward Twin Lakes. Drive about 4 miles and turn right onto the 24 road. Drive 1.2 miles up a hill to the main trailhead parking area (paved) on the left. This is the lower trailhead and 2WD vehicles should park here. Continue 50 feet past the lower TH and turn left on Forest Service road 125.1B (4WD). From here it's 1.8 miles to the upper trailhead. Walk or drive up the 4WD road to reach the start of the trail.

Along the 4WD road there are many pull-offs and some camping spots. Near 0.5 mile there's a rough patch on the road but most 4WD vehicles should be able to get past it. Near 1.5 miles there's a very rough patch that will stop most vehicles. If you can't drive past this point, there's parking down the road a bit. Continue to the end of the road to find parking throughout the trees and the start of the trail.

Winter Access

Closed at the start of the 4WD road.
Status Updates 
Posted By: summit21
Info: Was able to get within .30 miles of upper 4WD TH (my buddy’s RAV4 TRD Pro). Creek has about 3-4 inches of water and probably could have made it all the way but he didn’t want to push it. Just a couple of rough spots otherwise no issues.
Posted By: serveJesusChrist
Info: The river crossing is about 5 inches deep. I made it without any problems in a 2WD Chevy Suburban.
Posted By: codyli34
Info: 4WD trailhead was accessed with no problems in a 2014 Nissan Rogue AWD. Road shouldn’t be an issue for most vehicles with a decent amount of clearance. Stream crossing was not an issue. Lot was full around 6am, though several vehicles managed to park in less than ideal places around the trailhead.
Posted By: OilyOrca
Info: Access to 4WD drive trailhead was manageable, single creek crossing was comfortable in a light SUV.
Posted By: aldsw
Info: No problem getting my Subaru Outback up / down the 4wd road to the South Elbert trailhead but word of warning that the lot is extremely small. We drive up Saturday afternoon and all camp spots were taken by 6pm. There were still la couple parking spots left but the lot was completely full by 6am on Sunday.
Posted By: kimbuk2
Info: Clear 4x4 road all the way to the trailhead. One creek crossing, unsure of clearance needed for it but a few Subarus were parked at the top. I got there in a non-lifted Land Cruiser with KO2 tires.

FYI the placard at the TH states the trail is 3.85 miles each way, but it’s more like 5.50 miles (aka 14ers beta is accurate)
Posted By: mightycuine
Info: As others have said, this is doable by most cars with decent clearance. Got my 2WD Hyundai Tucson (6.7") with worn all-season tires to the TH with no scraping. Creek was 4-6" deep on 6/11 in the evening.
Posted By: Pedro F
Info: As gregpeak notes, road is totally clear of snow to the 4WD TH. Road is in pretty good condition, only a handful of mildly rowdy spots, otherwise smooth with no washboarding. Creek crossing almost a non-event at ~15’ width and less than 6" depth. Any vehicle with AWD and Subaru-caliber clearance should have no problem making it; indeed, there were two Subies at the TH the day I was there. For comparison, I found this easier than the 4WD portion of the N. Halfmoon Creek TH road.
Posted By: gregpeak
Info: The road is clear all the way to the 4wd trailhead.
Posted By: heathcliff
Info: On April 10, the road was dry about halfway up, 0.9 miles in - thats where we parked. Then hit intermediate snow that turned to slush/mud in the afternoon. Upper TH and last 0.2 mile was completely snow covered. A little clearance needed, but overall an easy 4wd road relative to other 14ers, any full SUV or truck should be fine once its dry.
Posted By: Aphelion
Info: 4WD and good tires will get you to within ~0.4 miles of the upper trailhead without difficulty, but don’t bother trying to get much past the water crossing. The next slope beyond it will almost certainly require chains, and is blocked by a fallen tree at the top.
Posted By: EJDenver
Info: Took the 4WD road to the East Mt.Elbert trailhead from the twin lakes area. (the sign at this trailhead says S.Mount Elbert trail but it’s called the East Route on this website/the map)

Road is clear of snow, a bit rocky in places (standard). There was a fallen tree branch sticking a small bit into the road but can easily be maneuvered around. There is one spot about 3/4 of the way to the 4WD trailhead that is fairly rocky/runout right before a stream crosses the road. Water is roughly 6" deep, running quickly but we did it in a Tacoma no problem and saw Subaru foresters at the trailhead as well. These areas may take some maneuvering but if you’re careful clearance should not be an issue. Just make sure your water bottles are closed, its a bit of a bumpy ride.

Plenty of dispersed camping along the way.
Posted By: jmanner
Info: Dry all the way to the upper trailhead. Its definitely required awd, but the road isnt too rough.
Posted By: angry
Info: Fresh snowfall today but still accessible to the 2wd TH.
Posted By: Jimmy Jay
Info: Just did a recon run for an oh-dark-thirty climb tomorrow morning, and the 4wd road is good all the way up. Didn’t need 4wd at all, but high clearance is a must and good approach/departure angles. Saw a Chevy Equinox stopped just before the river crossing near the end, but it’s only a few inches deep and he could have made it up farther.
Posted By: tjhoff
Info: Was able to get a 2WD sedan about half a mile from the 4WD TH. Flat area with room for about 3 cars.
Posted By: hopkinds
Info: Easy 4wd all the way to upper trail head. No snow on the road. Most high clearance vehicles should have no trouble. Deep ruts from previous years have been smoothed out. My jeep wrangler had no trouble.
Posted By: gregpeak
Info: The road to the 4WD trailhead is blocked by snow about 3/4 mile below the trailhead. There is not much parking in that area. There are a few pulloffs a little lower for parking.
Posted By: aholle88
Info: Parking available about 1 mile up the road on the left side in the clearing. This is before the road turns uphill and to the right. I made it here in an Impreza, it is dry to there except the last little downhill that has some snow. A couple of 4runner-type vehicles made it further but it is probably not worth it for 1/4 mile.
Posted By: Eagle Eye
Info: The road from the 2WD trailhead to the upper 4WD trailhead is not much different than daway8 described last month. I’ve been able (and was again) to drive about 1 mile to a little side road (loop) on the left side of the road. A new obstacle appeared as I walked down the road at the end of the day...a tree fell right across the road! Its flush with the road. (The water pit and the tree are at approx. 1.2 and 1.5 miles.)
Posted By: daway8
Info: WARNING: the 4WD road looks deceptively easy at the beginning. Don’t be fooled: there was yet another Jeep stuck in the road the day I hiked up it. The road gets progressively worse as you go and turning around becomes less and less of an option. There’s a somewhat ugly little water pit at perhaps 1.5 miles or so up the road which half the road drops into. See photos.
Posted By: spartan0512
Info: Park at the lower trailhead parking lot near the head of the lake - unless you have a 4x4 vehicle WITH snow tires/chains, I would not attempt the 4x4 road. Saw plenty of evidence on my hike up the road to the upper trail head of people digging themselves out. Mud, ice, packed snow that might as well be ice, and drifts all along the 4x4 road - plus a storm is about to hit tomorrow (12/20/1.
Posted By: aholle88
Info: Park at the pavement. Or drive up, and maybe get 1/2 to 3/4 mile shorter hike each way if youre lucky. 100% snow coverage on the road with a decent amount in the center.

There was a Forester stuck today sideways and waiting on a tow past the creek crossing. Tire tracks end around there, but you wont be getting that far or making it out without a heavy duty 4x4 with snows and chains.
Posted By: Kcmartinez22
Info: 4WD only after the 2WD TH. Snow is pretty deep, but melted out in spots during the day.
Posted By: nmek19
Info: not much snow at the lower trailhead but several inches in some spots around the treeline. good boottrail all the way to the summit.

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