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Backpacking: Colorado > Pike and San Isabel National Forests > Salida Ranger District

Quick Facts

Colorado Trail (Clear Creek to North Cottonwood Creek)

Beginning Elevation: 8,960 Feet (2793.0 Meters) Clear Creek Road
Difficulty: Moderate to More Difficult
Elevation Gain: 2,840 Feet (885.3 Meters)
Ending Elevation: 9,400 Feet (2930.2 Meters) North Cottonwood Creek Road
High Point: 11,800 Feet (3678.3 Meters) Harvard Ridge
Length: 18 Miles (30.0 Kilometers)
Other Maps: Trails Illustrated 129 Buena Vista, Collegiate Peaks
Recommended Season: Summer
Trail Number: 1776
Usage: Heavy
USGS Maps: Quads: Granite, Harvard Lake, Mt. Harvard, Buena Vista West

Satellite and Topo Map

General Description

Primitive campsites, like this one, are usually found at trail intersections in the backcountry
Copyright: Amy Pyle - Interactive Outdoors, Inc.
Primitive campsites, like this one, are usually found at trail intersections in the backcountry
This segment of the trail is known as #12, it is approximately 18 miles long and most of it passes through the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area. Therefore, this segment is open to foot and horse travel only.

The Clear Creek Trailhead is located at 8,960' and immediately crosses private property heading south. Be sure to close both gates behind you. Not far from this gate you will begin to ascend out of the Clear Creek Valley. You'll cross Columbia Gulch and several small streams during your ascent. About 1 mile after crossing Columbia Creek Headwaters you'll reach the high point of this ascent (11,640'), which is the eastern ridge of Waverly Mountain. The trail descends into the Pine Creek drainage from here and provides a view of Mt. Harvard to the south.

The Colorado Trail crosses joins the Pine Creek Trail and crosses the stream at 10,400'. After crossing the stream the Pine Creek Trail forks left toward its trailhead on Highway 24. The Colorado Trail continues moving south ascending out of the Pine Creek Drainage. The tread ascends the flanks of an unnamed peak of 13,241', reaching a high point of 11,840'. The trail passes the eastern side of Rainbow Lake approximately .5 miles before reaching this high point. A light trail (.3 miles) leads to the Lake, which provides a good camping site.

The next stream the trail crosses is Morrison Creek; and then it begins to slowly drop into the Frenchman Creek Drainage. This is where hikers can take a side hike to Mts. Harvard and Columbia by heading west in the French Creek drainage. Hikers can gain access to the Mt. Harvard/Mt. Columbia Trail on the eastern ridge between the 2 14'ers.

The Colorado Trail leads southeast after its intersection with the French Creek Trail and continues to descend into the 3 Elk Creek drainage. It intersects the 3 Elk Creek Trail at 10,280' then passes Harvard Lakes. The trail descends about 3 more miles to the North Cottonwood Creek Road. Turn right on the road and walk a short way until the trail resumes on the southern side of the road.

Camping is allowed at undeveloped sites along the trail. The Pine Creek, Rainbow Lake and Harvard Lakes areas receive very heavy use. Camping is not recommended in these areas during the summer season.

Directions from Buena Vista: Clear Creek Access: Travel north on Highway 24 to Clear Creek Road, County Road 390. Turn left on to Clear Creek Road and drive 3 miles to a parking area on the north side of the road. The trail begins on the south side of the road.

Directions from Buena Vista: North Cottonwood Creek Access: Drive north on Highway 24 from Buena Vista to Crossman Street, County Road 350). Turn left (west) on 350 and drive 2 miles to the junction of County Road 361. Turn right on 361 and drive 1.5 miles to County Road 365. At this junction turn left on to North Cottonwood Road (365). After approximately 2 miles this road requires high clearance. From this point to the trail is approximately 1.2 miles.

Seasonal Information:
Normally Open: June through October .

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Recreation Opportunities
Activity Remarks On Site
ICON Backpacking Colorado Trail
ICON Hiking & Walking Colorado Trail (Clear Creek to North Cottonwood Creek)
ICON Horseback Riding Colorado Trail
ICON Stock Packing Colorado Trail
ICON Animal Identification Colorado Trail
ICON Bird Identification Colorado Trail
ICON Mushroom Identification Colorado Trail
ICON Plant Identification Colorado Trail
ICON Wildflower Identification Colorado Trail
ICON Viewing Scenery Colorado Trail

Related Activities
Colorado Trail (North Cottonwood Creek to Chalk Cr - This segment of the Colorado Trail is known as #13, and leads south from North Cottonwood Creek to Chalk Creek. This segment provides access to Mt. Yale and Mt. Princeton fourteeners.

Colorado Trail (Twin Lakes to Clear Creek Rd.) - This segment of the Colorado Trail leads from Twin Lakes Reservoir to Clear Creek Road. It is a popular segment that is used by many runners training for the long-distance foot race the Leadville 100.

Mt. Columbia Trail - This trail is approximately 7.5 miles one-way through the high alpine terrain of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. The high point of the trail is the summit of Mt. Columbia which measures in as one of Colorado's fourteeners at 14,073'.

Mt. Harvard - At 14,420' Mt. Harvard is the third highest peak in Colorado. It lies in the Sawatch Mountain Range and is easily accessible from Buena Vista.

Pine Creek Trail - Pine Creek Trail provides access to Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Colorado Trail (1776), South Pine Creek Trail (1458), Frenchman Creek Trail (1457) and Missouri Gulch Trail (1469).

More Information

Visitor Information:

Heart of the Rockies Chamber of Commerce, 406 West Rainbow Blvd. , Salida, CO, , Phone: 719-539-3591


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