Mount Massive: 14er Hike Review

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Mount Massive (14,421ft.) is a 14er mountain located in Colorado’s Sawatch Range, within the Mount Massive Wilderness and the greater San Isabel National Forest. As the second tallest mountain in Colorado and the third tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S., Mount Massive is only slightly smaller than neighboring Mount Elbert (14,440ft.). Easily accessed from the town of Leadville in Lake County, Mount Massive is an incredibly popular hiking destination with plenty of camping options nearby. 

The standard Mount Massive route via its East Slopes is best accessed via a parking area along Halfmoon Road, not far from Leadville. As with many Sawatch Range mountain ascents, the East Slopes route to the summit of Mount Massive is long and steep at 13.1 miles roundtrip with 4,347ft. of elevation gain. The East Slopes route is rated Class 2, with some moderate exposure approaching the summit. We consider this route a substantial challenge for a day hike, but achievable with proper preparation and training.


Mountain Information

Mount Massive, located in Colorado’s Sawatch Range, is named as such due to its huge presence. Though it is just slightly smaller in elevation at 14,421ft. than neighboring Mount Elbert at 14,440ft., Mount Massive impressively makes up for this second-place status with more area over 14,000ft. than any other peak in the contiguous U.S. 

The Hayden Survey of 1873 records the first known ascent of Mount Massive, led by famous geologist and Civil War surgeon Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden. Hayden, who had previously led survey expeditions in the Yellowstone area in 1871 and 1872, turned his attention to Colorado in 1873 and beyond to study area geology and topography. Though it was Hayden’s survey expedition, Henry Gannett is noted with the distinction of Mount Massive’s first recorded ascent. Gannett famously would go on to become the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) chief geographer and one of the original founders of the National Geographic Society. 

As with nearly every Colorado 14er mountain, Mount Massive is extremely popular especially because of its status as the second tallest peak in Colorado and being adjacent to Mount Elbert. Plan to hike on a weekday or arrive extremely early in the morning for less trail traffic.

Mount Massive

  • Summit Elevation: 14,421ft.
  • Range: Sawatch
  • Location: San Isabel National Forest
  • Nearest Town: Leadville

Trail Guide

Route Information

  • Route: East Slopes 
  • Class: 2
  • Type: Out-and-Back
  • Trailhead: Mount Massive
  • Trailhead Elevation: 10,100ft.
  • Route Length: 13.1 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 4,347ft.
Difficulty – 0
Scenery - 0
Crowds - 0
Fun Factor - 0

Route Overview

The Class 2 East Slopes route to Mount Massive begins at about 10,100ft. at the Mount Massive Trailhead parking area just off Halfmoon Road, near Halfmoon Creek. The trail starts along a segment of the Colorado Trail, which follows a fairly gradual ascent through forest thicket. Approximately three miles into the ascent, cross Willow Creek and reach a trail sign noting the northeasterly shared direction of the Colorado Trail and the Main Mount Massive Trail. In about 300ft., reach another trail sign and turn left to take the branch onto the Main Mount Massive Trail. 

The trail starts to steepen and leads to a clearing around 11,600ft., sparsely populated with conifers. Enter a portion of switchbacks through willow shrubs; to the east below is Turquoise Lake and the town of Leadville. Once through the willows, enter exceptionally beautiful tundra ascending the cirque toward the saddle of South Massive (14,132ft.) and the main Mount Massive summit (14,421ft.). Head right at the saddle, ascending through a trail of talus, gaining elevation along the eastern portion of the ridge. Once fully atop the ridge and heading straight toward the main Mount Massive summit, notice Mount Massive’s additional “summits” — Massive Green (14,300ft.), North Massive (14,340ft.), and Peak 14,169 (14,169ft.). Enjoy the views at the main Mount Massive summit and double back for the steep descent toward to the Mount Massive trailhead. 

Planning Tips

Getting There

From downtown Leadville, CO, head south on Harrison Ave. through town, which turns into US 24. Take a sharp turn onto CO-300 W for about .75 miles, then turn left onto Halfmoon Road for about 1.3 miles. Turn right to stay on Halfmoon Road, which turns into a dirt road and eventually passes by Halfmoon East and West Campgrounds, the Mount Elbert Trailhead parking lot, and the Elbert Creek Campground. The Mount Massive Trailhead parking lot is about another .5 miles on the right.


The standard East Slopes route to Mount Massive begins at the Mount Massive Trailhead, just off of Halfmoon Road. The Mount Massive Trailhead parking lot has enough parking spaces for about 20 vehicles, which fill quickly. There are no restrooms at the trailhead. Not far down Halfmoon Road before the Mount Massive Trailhead is the Mount Elbert Trailhead parking lot, which is just as popular, but is a bit larger and has a restroom.


There are some extremely convenient campsite options to choose from near the Mount Massive Trailhead off of Halfmoon Road; however, these sites are typically very busy. The Halfmoon East Campground and the Halfmoon West Campground are two first-come, first-served campgrounds located off of Halfmoon Road along the way to the trailhead. Even closer to the Mount Massive Trailhead, is Elbert Creek Campground, also a first-come, first-served campground. Elbert Creek Campground is a great choice if planning to hike both Mount Massive and Mount Elbert, since it’s walkable to both trailheads on Halfmoon Road.


Dogs are permitted on leash. There is some scrambling and moderate exposure required to reach the summit of Mount Massive. If you do opt to bring your pet, please be considerate of others by keeping your pet on leash and picking up/packing out any dog waste.

Weather Forecast

Always check the weather forecast before venturing into alpine country. Thunderstorms and lightning are frequent occurrences in Colorado during the summer time. Plan ahead for your Mount Massive 14er summit adventure.


Hiking Boots

The Vasque Torre hiking boots are incredibly lightweight, provide excellent traction, and are quite affordable for their versatility. We like the Vasque Torre’s for everyday hiking that includes a bit of scrambling. In addition, with the “GORE-TEX” construction, you don’t have to worry about damp feet if the weather turns or you have to splash through streams or puddles along the way.

Hiking Pants

We love prAna’s hiking pants for their quality and versatility. Indeed, their Zion (for men) and Halle (for women) are great on- and off-trail, especially for travel. Constructed with a durable UPF-50 fabric, a water-repellant finish, and utility pockets, these have become a staple in our wardrobe. Remember that it can be rather chilly at alpine elevations, so consider hiking pants rather than shorts (both for warmth and sun protection).

Hiking Shirt

It can get chilly during alpine outings, particularly when you start early in the morning. Therefore, we typically opt for a long sleeve but lightweight shirt to keep us warm when it’s cold, but keeps us cool when we are working up a sweat later in the day. The no-cotton rule applies to shirts just as it does for pants and other articles of clothing.

Our preferred hiking shirt in the summer is Outdoor Research’s Echo Hoody because of its UPF sun protection qualities and lightweight (4oz.) breathable construction. The shirt has a hood for added neck protection and has thumbholes to protect your hands from sun exposure, if you opt to not wear sun gloves. Outdoor Research also makes different varieties of the Echo shirt (e.g., quarter zip, long sleeve without hood, t-shirt, etc.) if you prefer another style.

Insulated Jacket

The Arc’teryx Atom is easily our favorite insulated jacket. Yes, there may be lighter weight alternatives on the market, but we love the style, fit, packability, and function. Wear the Atom during early morning starts or when you reach the mountain summit. It’s a great addition to an outdoors wardrobe and comes in handy when the temperature dips.

Hiking Socks

For most of our hiking needs, we like Darn Tough socks over the multitude of options on the market. They last long and have an ironclad guarantee. In addition, Darn Tough has a variety of designs, ankle lengths, and cushioning options to choose from. We like the Hiker quarter length with light cushioning.

Headwear/Face Covering

We often wear a Buff as a neck gaiter to protect from the sun, given its UPF 50 protective construction. Buffs are also a great option to use as a face covering on the trail. In fact, there are 12+ ways of wearing a Buff, so it’s a versatile piece of gear.

Day Pack

To summit Mount Massive, we like REI Co-op’s Flash 22L pack for its affordability, lightweight design, and overall versatility. This pack has enough storage for a day hike and side pockets are available to store Nalgene bottles or other equipment. It is also hydration reservoir compatible. We think the 22L version has the perfect capacity, though REI does have an even smaller Flash 18L with a drawcord top.

Trekking Poles

Although trekking poles are optional and a matter of preference, we prefer to use them for added stability. We recommend choosing the lightest weight poles your budget can afford. The Black Diamond Distance Z is our top choice due to its extremely lightweight construction. If you are seeking just one pole, rather than two, consider Gossamer Gear’s LT5, which can be purchased individually.

recommended books

We recommend bringing along a topographical map of the area, such as the “Outdoor Trail Maps Hunter-Fryingpan/Mount Massive Wilderness Map.” A good topographical map is always nice to have in addition to a GPS device, if you’re using one. In addition, we included a couple of our favorite field guides for plant and bird identification to aid in the enjoyment of your outdoor adventure. Lastly, we included Gerry Roach’s “Colorado’s Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs” guidebook, which is the best print guide available for hiking Colorado’s 14ers. It provides an amazing amount of information on Mount Massive and other 14er hikes in Colorado that may be of interest. 

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