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.
HIKE REVIEW SERIES: Mount Massive
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.
- Summit Elevation: 14,421ft.
- Range: Sawatch
- Location: San Isabel National Forest
- Nearest Town: Leadville
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
RECOMMENDED HIKING APPAREL AND GEAR
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.
- Colorado’s Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs
- A Climbing Guide to Colorado’s Fourteeners
- Colorado 14ers: The Standard Routes
- Outdoor Trail Maps Colorado 14ers Series Sawatch Range Map Pack
- Outdoor Trail Maps Hunter-Fryingpan/Mount Massive Wilderness Map
- Rocky Mountain Wildflowers Field Guide
- Roadside Geology of Colorado
- Mammals of Colorado Field Guide
- American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of Colorado
- Sibley Birds West: Field Guide to Birds of Western North America
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