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A challenging run up two of the Collegiate 14ers.

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14,372' 4,381 m


9,887' 3,014 m


5,628' 1,715 m


5,622' 1,713 m



Avg Grade (8°)


Max Grade (33°)

Dogs Leashed

Features River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife

The Cottonwood Creek Trailhead is generally closed for winter several miles below the start of the Horn Fork Basin Trail.

The land manager requests all dogs be leashed.


While Harvard and Columbia aren't that difficult in and of themselves, connecting them via a steep, loose, and rocky traverse makes for an incredibly long day. This Sawatch twofer is an exhausting day for even the fittest of runners.

Need to Know

This is a rugged and at times dangerous route. Running it the opposite direction MAY yield a slightly easier time but either way, this route is long, high altitude and includes at least some amount of rock scrambling.

This run is a slog. Bring plenty of food, water, and warm clothing. Despite many miles of excellent trail, it's worth considering wearing hiking boots instead of trail runners - the traverse between Columbia and Harvard is extremely loose and rocky, and you'll likely find your ankles covered in scree more than once. Expect an 8 hr day if you're a very fast hiker, and 10-15 if you're on the average-slower side.

Runner Notes

Horn Fork Basin and the lower portions of the Mt. Harvard Trail are gradual with only the odd rock or root, making for excellent running. However, Mt. Columbia is too steep for serious running, and the traverse between the two mountains is far too loose and rocky for anything other than a cautious walk.


From the center of Buena Vista, head west on County Road 350. After 2 miles, turn right onto CR 365. In just shy of a mile, turn left onto dirt CR 361. Continue 5 miles to North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead. There is free parking and camping here, but no potable water or latrine. The trail starts to the west.

Continue up an excellent singletrack trail, low in grade and with few obstacles. In 1.5 miles, stay right at the junction with Kroenke Lake Trail. As the trail steepens there will be more roots. As the west slopes of Mt. Columbia come into view, head right towards a boulder field, leaving the Horn Fork Basin Trail.

Run up a small hill out of the forest, continuing up a short gully to the left of the boulder field at about 11,800 ft. Cross the small boulder field, angling uphill and to the right. Avoid a set of cliffs, creating your own switchbacks through the rocks. Continue to the left up steep, grassy slopes toward the shoulder of Mt. Columbia. Angle to the left, reaching a rockier summit ridge at about 13,600 ft. From here, the grade less steep (as seen on the elevation profile). Continue about a half mile along the ridge to reach the summit of Mt. Columbia.

While you've finished the steepest running of the day, there's still plenty of misery left. From the summit of Mt. Columbia, head north, dropping to the right of a clear connecting ridge with Mt. Harvard. Despite being called the Frenchman Creek #1457, THERE IS NO TRAIL HERE and the route gets dubious at best. From mile 6.2 to mile 7 the route is sketchy when running the the mapped direction. Following the route the opposite way MIGHT be easier but either way you're in for a ruggged run. (If you do Harvard first, be sure to descend to the left of the ridge. Staying on the ridge towards Columbia becomes treacherous quickly.) Descend some grassy slopes for about 400 feet over a small ridge, before dropping down some talus into a basin on the side of the ridge. The talus here is steep and loose (see photo). Drop to about 13,000 ft, hopping between some large boulders before coming to another grassy slope. Turn left and head up to regain the connecting ridge with Mt. Harvard. The trail here isn't clear, but the summit is, so just run toward it. Once at 13,800 ft, the ridge narrows and the trail becomes clearer. Scramble along some class 2+ rock formations (class 3 if you get bored) to attain the summit. Take note, Mt. Harvard boasts an elevation of 14,420 ft, so it's a long way up.

Once finally on the summit of Mt. Harvard, the misery is over. You still have a 7 mile run back to the car, but it's a pleasant one. Scramble down about 40 ft of solid rock to gain the Mt. Harvard trail. Run along the western ridge before dropping to the south. There tend to be a lot of mountain goats on this part of the mountain. Run on excellent trail down some switchbacks, passing the odd cliff or rock band. There is a short talus field at around 13,000 ft, but the trail through it is excellent. About 1.5 miles from the summit, you'll be deposited into Horn Fork Basin, and the grade flattens out as you run along the creek and willows. Continue to follow the trail back to the Horn Fork Basin on which you approached Mt. Columbia. During the spring and early summer, this basin is often full of snow and the trail can be hard to find. If necessary, simply retrace your steps from the visible boulder field of Mt. Columbia. Regain the trail and descend back to your car.

While some runners may elect to make this journey in the opposite direction, this may be both more physically demanding and navigationally difficult. Done in reverse, ascending ends almost 2 miles later, leaving you with a steep descent off Columbia. Furthermore, the trail to Mt. Harvard is harder to find than the one to Mt. Columbia, and it's easier to find your way back down if you've already seen it from the Columbia summit. This run is hard enough in the direction described. Don't change it unless you really want to summit Mt. Harvard first.

Flora & Fauna

From trees and wildflowers to marmots and pika, this route has it all. For some reason, the mountain goats up high are particularly sodium-deprived, to the point where they will follow you around just waiting for you to relieve yourself. The USFS has actually gone so far as to suggest runners urinate on solid rock instead of dirt trail, thus discouraging these odd creatures from literally eating dirt.

History & Background

Mt. Harvard is the third highest peak in the state. Sometime during the 1960s a trio of Harvard men, in a sophomoric Ivy League attempt to bolster the status of their alma mater's mountain, erected a flagpole with a high point of 14,434 ft - making the top of Mt. Harvard the highest in the state. Though they escaped electrocution, their efforts were nullified in the 1980s, when the pole was taken down by runners trying to clean up the 14ers. Unfortunately, Harvard alums may still be found running them.


Shared By:

Tyler Prince with improvements by Liz

Trail Ratings

  3.7 from 17 votes


  3.7 from 17 votes
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7 Views Last Month
6,755 Since Mar 6, 2015
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View from about 3/4 of the way up to Harvard.
Jul 31, 2021 near Buena V…, CO
Looking east on the Harvard to Columbia traverse.
Mar 26, 2024 near Buena V…, CO
Near Columbia summit views.
Mar 26, 2024 near Buena V…, CO
Excellent views of Princeton, Yale, and Bear Lake from Harvard's summit. Much of the trail is visible in the lower left
Oct 2, 2017 near Buena V…, CO
A couple hundred feet below the summit of Mt. Harvard.
Mar 12, 2015 near Buena V…, CO
When the trail starts getting a little more rugged.
Jul 31, 2021 near Buena V…, CO



Current Trail Conditions

Add Your Check-In


Aug 9, 2020
Jacob Sweezy
The connector from Columbia to Harvard flat out sucks. Not hard just demoralizing. I think Harvard first might be the way to go. Opinions? 16.5mi — 6h 35m
Sep 8, 2019
Celeste Wilson
Aug 12, 2017
Justin Wright

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