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Hiking & Walking: Colorado > Pike and San Isabel National Forests > Salida Ranger District

Quick Facts

Poplar Gulch Trail

Beginning Elevation: 10,100 Feet (3148.4 Meters) St. Elmo/southern access
Difficulty: More Difficult
Elevation: 10,015 Feet (3121.9 Meters)
Elevation Gain, One-way: 2,210 Feet (688.9 Meters)
High Point: 12.310 Feet (3.8 Meters)
Length, One-way: 6 Miles (10.0 Kilometers) 10K
Other Maps: Trails Illustrated 130, 129; San Isabel National Forest
Recommended Season: Summer
Trail Number: 1436
Usage: Moderate
USGS Maps: Mt. Yale, St. Elmo

Satellite and Topo Map

General Description

The Poplar Gulch Trail leads from South Cottonwood Creek to St. Elmo.  The trail is 6 miles one-way.
Copyright: Amy Pyle - Interactive Outdoors, Inc.
The Poplar Gulch Trail leads from South Cottonwood Creek to St. Elmo. The trail is 6 miles one-way.
The Popular Gulch Trail leads 6 miles over the mountains between St. Elmo and South Cottonwood Creek. It is an especially scenic trail with outstanding view of the Sawatch Range and its 14,000' peaks. Deer, Elk and mountain sheep may be seen from the trail. Rocky Mountain Goats also range through this area. There are primitive camping sites at either end of the trail.

This description will lead north from St. Elmo, which seems to be the most popular route. The trail begins at a trailhead on the north side of County Road 267A about .25 miles west of St. Elmo. The elevation of this trailhead is 10,100'. The trail climbs from this point as it follows Poplar Gulch. The trail follows the creek for 2.75 miles until it cuts eastward to a 12,310' saddle between 2 peaks. After crossing the saddle the trail switchbacks down some steep terrain and into the South Cottonwood Creek drainage. The trail follows Green Timber Gulch to its northern terminus.

Directions from Nathrop: Southern Access: Drive west on County Rd 162 to St. Elmo; and then turn north on County Road 267 for 1 mile to the trailhead.

Directions from Buena Vista: Northern Access: Take Cottonwood Pass Road (County Road 306) west from Buena Vista. Drive approximately 7 miles to County Road 344. Follow signs for Cottonwood Lake and Cottonwood Campground. Drive past the lake and campsites to the trailhead, approximately 6 miles. Beyond the lake the road becomes rougher and more rocky. Most passenger cars can travel this road if driven slowly and carefully.

Seasonal Information:
Normally Open: July through October .

Current Conditions & Trip Reports

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Time of Day: 12pm
Length of Time: 4hrs
Difficulty: Moderate
Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: This hike is beautiful every step of the way. We hiked only up to the saddle, the location of an excellent view of tall peaks in both directions! A hike with woods, deer, meadow, creek, goes above treeline, gorgeous view of mountains during meadow clearing, etc.
Conditions: It was windy and cold in the saddle, storms were growing close to the peaks around us. There is a small "pit" in the saddle where we rested away from the wind and quickly ate our lunch before the rain drew close.
Water Availability: 1.5 liters water each was enough for the hike and half way down it was gone. The beautiful creek was a pleasant sound accompanying us most of the way.
Recommended Clothing: shorts, tank top, sneakers. my shoulders got sunburned during the hike. The open field didn't block the scorching high altitude sun.
Suggested Accessories: simply brought a backpack with water and lunch.

Recreation Opportunities
Activity Remarks On Site
ICON Hiking & Walking Poplar Gulch Trail
ICON Horseback Riding Popular Gulch Trail
ICON Animal Identification Popular Gulch Trail
ICON Bird Identification Popular Gulch Trail
ICON Mushroom Identification Popular Gulch Trail
ICON Plant Identification Popular Gulch Trail
ICON Wildflower Identification Popular Gulch Trail

Related Activities
Cottonwood Lake Campground - The immediate area surrounding Cottonwood Lake Campground is wooded by small aspen trees. The site is located in the central Rocky Mountains.

Iron City Campground - The Iron City Campground is located in the Chalk Creek drainage near the well-preserved mining town of St. Elmo. This area offers many attractions for outdoor enthusiasts such as fishing, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and four-wheel driving.

Tunnel Lake Trail - The Tunnel Lake Trail leads users 5 miles over high alpine terrain. The trail never dips lower than 11,000'. Weather should be an important consideration when deciding to hike or ride this trail.

More Information

Visitor Information:

Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box P, South US 24 , Buena Vista, CO, 81211, Phone: 719-395-6612


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