“Climb the 5th highest 14er in Colorado along a beautiful trail through forest, meadows, and alpine rocks.
— Karl W
River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Colorado 82 closes in the winter.
The trailhead and parking area for this trail are located on the south side of Colorado 82 about 14.5 miles west of 24. It is just a parking area along the side of the road and it's fairly easy to spot.
From here, run along the 82c forest road south for about a third of a mile. You'll get a nice view of the La Plata ridge from the bridge over the North Fork Lake Creek. Keep an eye out for the trail on the left (eastern) side of 82c.
The trail heads east through pine forest while crossing South Fork Lake Creek and a third creek. After the third creek, the trail turns back south and starts up La Plata valley staying close to the creek. You'll get some nice views of the cascades in the creek as you continue through the forest steadily gaining elevation.
Eventually, you'll exit the forest to get some nice views of the valley and some of the first views of the summit in a while. The trail begins to move away from the creek towards the southeast and gets a little steeper. The patches of trees continue to thin out until you encounter the first set of switchbacks.
The La Plata trail has a few sets of switchbacks that are almost humorous in number - please stay on the trail to prevent erosion of the delicate sub-alpine and alpine ecosystems! This first set of switchbacks will quickly take you above tree line so keep this spot in mind for any changing weather. At this point, the trail returns to heading south.
You'll come to another set of switchbacks through rocky scree (but on a very nice trail) which take you to - that's right - more switchbacks. There are amazing alpine flowers in summer along this whole section and numerous marmots, pika, and ptarmigans. At the top of the last set of switchbacks, you'll be in the Plata Basin. Continue south along the fairly clear trail.
From the Plata Basin, you'll enter the final stretch to the summit which is the rockiest and might require a little use of hands for balance. This is pretty standard for the 14ers in the Sawatch Range and it's really nothing more than class two from my experience. For the most part, the trail winds around any challenging parts - keep an eye for the worn path and cairns. The trail follows the ridge so it would be very difficult to get lost even if you lose the actual trail.
Finally, you'll reach the summit! Enjoy the amazing views which include Mt Elbert to the north and Mt Harvard to the south.
This is an out-and-back trail so just retrace your steps to get back to the trailhead.
Flora & Fauna
Pika, Marmots, Ptarmigans and high alpine flowers dot the landscape.