Hiking Mount Columbia – Sawatch Range, Colorado


Article Categories: Hiking

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.

Mount Harvard And Columbia Elevation Profile

Mount Harvard And Columbia Elevation Profile

Trail Map

Mount Columbia Trail Map

Mount Columbia Trail Map

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

This Afternoon
Sunny, with a high near 38. West wind around 15 mph.

Mostly clear, with a low around 19. West wind 15 to 30 mph, with gusts as high as 50 mph. Little or no snow accumulation expected.

Sunny, with a high near 30. Wind chill values as low as -1. West southwest wind 30 to 35 mph, with gusts as high as 55 mph. New snow accumulation of less than one inch possible.

Thursday Night
Patchy blowing snow between 11pm and 2am, then areas of blowing snow and a slight chance of snow showers between 2am and 5am, then snow showers and areas of blowing snow. Partly cloudy, with a low around 10. Wind chill values as low as -7. West southwest wind 25 to 30 mph, with gusts as high as 50 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible.

Snow showers and areas of blowing snow. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 11. West wind 20 to 25 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of 3 to 5 inches possible.

Friday Night
Snow showers likely before 5am. Mostly cloudy, with a low around -4. Northwest wind around 15 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New snow accumulation of less than one inch possible.

Mostly sunny, with a high near 5. West wind around 15 mph.

Directions & Parking

This road is accessible for all vehicles.

Directions to North Cottonwood Trailhead:

Additional Pictures

Horn Fork Basin Views

Horn Fork Basin Views

Views Heading Up Mount Harvard

Views From Horn Fork Basin

Views From Horn Fork Basin

Horn Fork Basin Trail

Horn Fork Basin Trail

Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, 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. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about