Peak(s):  Mount Sopris - 12953
Date Posted:  06/24/2010
Modified:  06/25/2010
Date Climbed:   06/23/2010
Author:  kaiman
 Mount Sopris via Northeast Ridge  

Anyone who has read any of my responses to questions by people looking for information about hiking and climbing in the Elk Mountain Range on the forum has no doubt seen that I often include a plug for Mount Sopris.

Simply put Mount Sopris is one of my favorite peaks to climb in Colorado. At 12,953 feet in elevation, however, the peak barely makes it onto the list of the highest 800 peaks in the state.

But why judge a mountain by its size alone? Like Capitol, the Maroon Bells, and Snowmass, it has many of the features of its more famous neighbors without all the hype.

Although the mountain lacks any real technical routes, the 13 miles round-trip length and 4,400 feet of elevation are sufficient challenge enough and make for an excellent pre-season warm-up climb or separate spring/summer outing.

Since not much info can be found on this site about climbing Mount Sopris, I thought I would share the details and pictures of my recent climb for anyone who is interested.

Named after Captain Richard Sopris who prospected in the Roaring Fork Valley in 1860 and later became the Mayor of Denver, Mount Sopris was first climbed by Hayden Survey party members in 1873.

Early morning light hits Mount Sopris. Summit in center of photo.

Mount Sopris can be most easily accessed by taking the Prince Creek Road (paved and 2WD dirt) off of Highway 133 out of Carbondale for about 8 miles to the Thomas Lakes Trailhead.

Thomas Lakes Trailhead

From the trailhead the route follows an old jeep road as it winds through the woods for about a mile until it reaches some open meadows and traverses to the right (southeast) for about half a mile.

The Haypark/Thomas Lakes Trail split. Take the right trail to reach Thomas Lakes/Mount Sopris

After the trail split, the route climbs through the trees and meadows for 2.5 miles, crossing the creek twice before reaching the Thomas Lakes.

Hiking through the aspen trees on the way to Thomas Lakes

Lower Thomas Lake

From lower Thomas Lake, the trail meanders through the trees (about a quarter mile) past several campsites to reach upper Thomas Lake.

Upper Thomas Lake

A view of the northeast ridge from near Upper Thomas Lake

Mount Sopris summit (right) from Upper Thomas Lake

From here the trail switchbacks steeply up to the ridge above.


Once out of the trees the trail becomes rockier as it continues to climb towards the crest of the ridge and the views of the Elks open up.

Heading towards the ridge crest

The Elk Mountains come into view

Here the route begins to quickly turn to talus as you steadily climb along the steep ridgeline.

Looking back on Thomas Lakes from part way up the ridge

A steep section on the ridge

The remaining route on the northeast ridge.

From here the trail skirts the trees to the right, then climbs a short slope to reach a narrow "neck" section.

Another look at the narrow section. The crux of the route can be seen beyond the neck.

Photo of the route crux (taken from the middle of the narrow section) shows the class 2+ scree/small talus slope that must be climbed to reach the summit ridge.

Looking back down the northeast ridge route from the summit ridge.

The beginning of the summit ridge. The false summit is in the foreground with the true summit on the back right side.

Mount Sopris' rock glacier (Sopris is one of the few mountains in North America that have a growing rock glacier).

Another shot of the northeast ridge from the false summit

A shot of the remainder of the summit ridge.

From here I traversed below the second false summit and ascended just to the left of the ridge crest, crossing a small patch of snow as I reached the summit plateau. The summit was amazingly calm with no wind and I didn't see a single cloud in the sky. After some lunch and about a half-hour lounging on the summit, I snapped a couple photos and began my long descent.

Some pictures of the Elks (taken from the summit).

Daly and Capitol

Hell Roaring, Avalanche, and Gift Creek drainages (there's still plenty of snow on those north facing slopes)

Another shot of Capitol Peak with Snowmass Mountain poking its head up to the right

Mount Daly (right foreground) and Haystack Mountain (left center) stand watch over the Maroon Bells (center background)

Descending across the narrow "neck" section

Mount Sopris' rugged east slopes

Conclusion - While you won't get the adrenaline rush you get when climbing some of the Elk Mountain's more technical peaks, Mount Sopris' northeast ridge offers visitors a straightforward climb to a splendid summit. Combine this with the solitude, natural beauty, and incredible views of the Elks and you have one of the best climbs in the range.

Some parting wildflower photos

Golden Banner

Indian Paintbrush

Wild Iris

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

 Comments or Questions

No problem.
06/25/2010 03:56
Glad you enjoyed the report. If you are interested in more on the scientific side of Mount Sopris, check out this link:

Pretty cool.


06/25/2010 04:32
I did not know that about Sopris - thanks for the link!


Thanks to everyone
06/25/2010 16:48
for the comments so far.


Very Nice ...
06/25/2010 22:50
Wonderful report on a very prominent peak (for those of us who have frequented that area for many years and looked up at it as we drove to and fro). I‘ve never climbed it, but this report certainly makes me want to ... looks like I would enjoy camping at the lakes. Thanks for posting. Happy trails!


06/26/2010 19:20
Pics, history and useful beta. Well done!
I still remember the first time I saw Sopris, thought it was HUGE. Couldn‘t believe it was ”only” at 12er.
Need to get up there and explore, thanks for the info!


Sopris love
07/05/2010 06:07
Nice to see. Incredible mountain.
If anybody needs someone to climb Sopris with them, look me up. I‘m always up for a climb up there if I have the time!


One of the best
09/03/2010 18:01
I actually think I took a different route when I climbed it about 6 years? back. Well done.
Its still on my top 10 favorite peaks of the state (beating a lot of higher ones).

Here's a shot of the rock glacier from the top:


Thanks sunny1
11/30/2010 17:28
Yes it's amazing how the surrounding area can make a mountain really stand out. As the link in mattpayne11 comment points out, Sopris actually rises over 6,000 feet above the town of Carbondale which may be the reason why it looks so tall


Yes camping at Thomas Lakes is great and there are lots of good spots to be had. I actually recommend to people that they camp at the lakes and climb, as doing it from the trailhead (like I did) makes for a pretty long day...


The best kind of TR
01/19/2011 03:38
No narcissistic narrative, no pleas for five stars, just a solid, much-needed contribution to the ”literature” of our hobby. Since Sopris has been on my lists for years, your TR is much appreciated (and darn well done). Thank you for making my one-stop Sopris shop.


02/05/2011 00:22
Thanks for posting this - Sopris has been on my radar for awhile.

Sopris may not be a 14'er or even a 13'er, but it is ranked the 3rd most impressive summit based on Omnidirectional Relief and Steepness.

Great report! I really liked the macro flower shots. Sopris looks like a great day.


06/02/2011 14:57
I agree with Matt. Those flower shots are most excellent. Some of the best IMO. I have thinking of this mountain from the first time I saw it last year. Thanks for the report as it will be helpful.

Hiking Mt. Sopris
07/21/2014 17:54
I plan on doing this hike Fri 7/25/2014 leaving Aspen early morning. Anyone interested in a climb? Let me know.
msmiller at mailatabs dot com


09/29/2020 12:54
trying to figure out where to take my smaller pop up to camp in that area pre-climb.
avalanche or prince creek?

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