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Mount Harvard: South Slope

Buena Vista


This 14-mile roundtrip hike to the 14,420' summit of Mt. Harvard, complete with a final scramble up the summit-block, is truly a top-notch 14er experience!

Hiking Extreme

21 km
1.4 km
1.4 km
6-7 hrs
Low Point
3 km
High Point
4.4 km
Mount Harvard: South Slope Map

Mt. Harvard's South Slopes Route is one of the longest standard routes in the Sawatch Range, but can be accomplished either as a long day-hike, or a backpack-in to the lovely Horn Fork Basin. Regardless of the method, this route will put you on the summit of the third highest 14er in Colorado.


Starting at the North Cottonwood trailhead (TH), the first five miles is about as mellow as it comes for a 14er hike, with an elevation gain of only 2,000'. That, of course, means that there will be a sharp increase in steepness over the last two miles... so it is advisable to enjoy the early miles and save energy for the end.

The trail is easy to follow as it wends its way up through the woods, alongside the gurgling Cottonwood Creek. The first intersection takes hikers to Kroenke Lake, but Harvard-bound trekkers just keep going on the Horn Fork Basin/ Bear Lake Trail.

About 3.5-miles up the trail, the beautiful basin will come into view, along with the first sight of Mt. Harvard. If the adventure includes backpacking, there are plenty of campsites all through Horn Fork Basin; just choose one, set up camp and get a good night's sleep before the remaining hike to Mt. Harvard's summit the next morning.

If this is a day-hike, make sure to fully enjoy the mellow grade on the approach to Bear Lake, because the mellow flavor will end at about that point! There will be an unmarked junction; Bear Lake is to the left, right is the trail to Harvard. This is a wonderful spot to re-fuel and prepare for the climb.

The next two miles ascend steeply on good trail, gaining nearly 2,600', with the final climb being the 50' summit-block scramble. There are several ways to address the block; choose the approach that works for you.

Once on the 14,420' summit of Mt. Harvard, relish the knowledge that there are only two other places in Colorado higher than this!



Scrambling up mountains and along technical trails with moderate fall exposure. Handholds are necessary to navigate the trail in its entirety, although they are not necessary at all times. Some obstacles can be very large and difficult to navigate, and the grades can often be near-vertical. The challenge of the trail and the steepness of the grade results in very strenuous hiking. Hikes of this difficulty blur the lines between "hiking" and "climbing".

High Exposure

3 out of 4

Some trail sections have exposed ledges or steep ascents/descents where falling could cause serious injury.


3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

between July and September


  • Alpine
  • Summit Hike

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area