Culms 5-20 cm. Ligules 0.5-1 mm, truncate to rounded, ciliate; blades 3-6 cm long, 1-2 mm wide, involute or convolute, strigose, particularly on the adaxial surfaces. Panicles 2-5(8) cm; branches erect, usually with 1 spikelet each. Spikelets 8-12 mm, with (1)2(3) florets, distal florets unawned or awned. Glumes equal or nearly so, 8-11 mm, acuminate or awn-tipped, awns 0.3-0.5 mm; lowest lemmas 7-10 mm, 3-veined, apices 4-toothed, awns 10-16 mm; anthers 1.5-2 mm. 2n = 14, 28.
Helictotrichon mortonianum grows in alpine and subalpine meadows and summits at 3050-4110 m. It is restricted to the central and southern Rocky Mountains of the contiguous United States.