Mount Columbia is a 14,073 foot peak in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness of Colorado. This hike features incredible backpacking, stunning views, and is a difficult day or overnight trail. It is often combined with the neighboring Mount Harvard.
Distance – 11 miles round trip (17.70 km)
Height – 14,073 feet (4289.45 m)
Elevation gain – 4,380 feet (1335 m)
Duration – 7 to 9 hours (book time)
Difficulty – Strenuous
Class: Class 2 Hike
Seasons – This hike can be completed in all seasons, but winter is especially difficult, and dangerous. Only very experienced hikers should attempt this hike in any season.
Trailhead Location – North Cottonwood Trailhead – 9,870 feet (directions below)
Horn Fork Basin Trail To Mount Columbia: 11 Miles Round Trip | 4,380 Feet Elevation Gain | Class 2
This is the most common route to the summit and features class 1 and class 2 hiking. The trail begins at the North Cottonwood trail (the same start for Mount Harvard), and begins a gradual climb for the first several miles. Hikers simply follow the well traveled trail. The first junction is .9 miles in and hikers bear right to stay on the Horn Fork Basin Trail.
3 miles in, hikers reach the junction that takes them left to Harvard, or right towards Mount Columbia. Hikers bear right and begin heading hit treeline and scree quickly. There is a rock outcropping here in which it can be hard to see the trail. Stay in the center of the scree gully and find the more well defined trail.
From here, the trail is extremely steep but switchbacks through incredibly well maintained trails. A half mile from the summit the trail levels off a bit and hikers will trek along a ridge to the summit of Columbia.
Mount Harvard & Mount Columbia Combined – 13.6 Miles Round Trip – 6,016 Feet Elevation Gain
Many choose to summit both peaks in a day hike or overnight hike camping in the basin. This turns this trip into a much more difficult one, but super fun and beautiful.
We recommend summiting Harvard, and then heading on to Columbia afterwards. Follow the normal path to Harvard, and then begin the track between the two. Hikers basically stay along the ridge and follow the path marked with some cairns, and worn by hikers. BIG NOTE: This is not a real trail, meaning route finding is necessary. If you have little experience, we recommend doing these peaks seperately.
Do not descend into Horn Fork Basin. Hikers will need to do some own route finding on this depending upon conditions.
Once summiting Columbia, the route down is pretty easy to follow. This is insanely steep terrain, but the trail has been heavily maintained with some of the nicest switchbacks in any trail system, making it very easy to follow.
Hiking Mount Columbia in Winter
As with any 14er, this hike is significantly more dangerous in winter. There is plenty of avalanche danger on this route as well. Be prepared, and don’t take this lightly. Much of the trail is exposed to avalanche danger for Mount Columbia.
Camping For Mount Harvard & Horn Fork Basin
This hike features various camping options. The trailhead, as well as the road leading to the trailhead features tons of dispersed campsites, though the government site specifically says no camping at the trailhead.
“Dispersed camping is permitted along the road to North Cottonwood. Campers must camp at least 100 feet away from the stream.”
In addition, hikers can camp in Horn Fork Basin if they wish to make this an overnight hike.
Here is the government site on this area to read about self serve free wilderness permits: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/psicc/recreation/recarea/?recid=12684&actid=104
Current Weather Conditions:
Here is the detailed weather forecast for the next few days. We highly recommend you check out the mountain forecast for this peak the morning of your hike.
Buena Vista, CO
Clear, with a low around 34. Southeast wind around 5 mph.
Sunny, with a high near 51. Southwest wind 5 to 10 mph.
Mostly clear, with a low around 31. West southwest wind 5 to 15 mph.
Sunny, with a high near 50. West northwest wind 10 to 15 mph.
Partly cloudy, with a low around 32. West wind 10 to 15 mph.
A chance of snow showers and a slight chance of thunderstorms between noon and 2pm, then a slight chance of thunderstorms and a chance of rain and snow showers. Mostly sunny, with a high near 47. West wind 10 to 15 mph. Chance of precipitation is 40%. New rainfall amounts less than a tenth of an inch possible.
A slight chance of thunderstorms and a slight chance of rain and snow showers before midnight. Partly cloudy, with a low around 33. West northwest wind around 10 mph.
Directions & Parking
This road is accessible for all vehicles.
Directions to North Cottonwood Trailhead:
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about