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

Quick Facts

Colorado Trail (North Cottonwood Creek to Chalk Creek)

Beginning Elevation: 9,350 Feet (2914.6 Meters) North Cottonwood Creek Road
Difficulty: Moderate to More Difficult
Elevation Gain: 3,720 Feet (1159.6 Meters)
Ending Elevation: 8,360 Feet (2606.0 Meters) Chalk Creek Trailhead
High Point: 11,900 Feet (3709.5 Meters) Silver Creek Saddle
Length: 22 Miles (36.67 Kilometers)
Other Maps: Trails Illustrated 129; 130 Buena Vista, Collegiate Peaks; Salida, St. Elmo, Mt. Shavano
Recommended Season: Summer
Trail Number: 1776
USGS Maps: Quads: Buena Vista West, Mt. Yale, Mt. Antero

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 offers exceptional scenery. It climbs to high elevations overlooking the Arkansas River Valley, while passing through a variety of life zones. The trail comes within 2 miles of Mt. Yale and Mt. Princeton 2 14,000' peaks in the Collegiate Range. The segment from Mt. Princeton Road to Chalk Creek follows public roads through private lands. Please respect the rights of the land owners and stay on the trail. The trail crosses the Chalk Cliffs formed by ancient volcanic activity. The gully below the cliffs is subject to flash flooding. Do not attempt to cross the cliffs during heavy rainstorms.

The trail starts on North Cottonwood Creek Road about .1 miles past the ending of Segment #12. The elevation of the trailhead is 9,350' as it climbs from the North Cottonwood Creek drainage. The trail parallels Silver Creek for 1.75 miles before crossing it. It crosses the creek at 11,100' and within .5 miles of entering the Collegiate Wilderness. Within 1 mile of entering the wilderness the trail reaches 11,900' on Mt. Yale's eastern flank and begins to descend into Hughes Gulch. Following Avalanche Creek for almost 2 miles the trail comes to Avalanche Trailhead and Cottonwood Pass Road (9,400'). This is a good place for mountain bikers to take up the trail as it leaves the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness before reaching the Avalanche Trailhead.

Continue walking south through the trailhead parking and cross Cottonwood Pass. The trail heads south east after crossing Cottonwood Creek. Stay on the southern side of Rainbow Lake. Approximately 2 miles past the lake the trail crosses County Road 344 and South Cottonwood Creek; and then it begins heading north. The trail crosses South Cottonwood Cutoff Road (343) then begins to lead south again and climb. Remaining lower than 10,000' the trail traverses the base of an unnamed 13,000' peak.

Four miles after crossing South Cottonwood Cutoff Road the trail crosses Maxwell Creek remaining at an elevation of 9,600'. Approximately 1.25 miles after Maxwell Creek the trail crosses a spur of Maxwell; and then it crosses Dry Creek in about .25 miles. Approximately 1.25 miles past Dry Creek the trail joins the Mt. Princeton Road. A signboard at this junction explains the next 5 miles of trail that follow roads to Chalk Creek. Mt. Princeton Road (322) begins as a rough, dirt road and ends at Road 321, which is paved. (From this junction it is only 1.5 miles to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs.) Follow County Road 321 to the right (south) to its junction with Chalk Creek Road. Walk west on Chalk Creek Road to Road 291. Continue walking 1 mile to a parking area and the Chalk Creek Trailhead.

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.

Directions from Buena Vista: Chalk Creek Access: Travel south from Buena Vista on Highway 285 to Nathrop. Turn right (west) on County Road 162 (Chalk Creek Road). Drive 6 miles and bear left on County Road 291. Drive 1 mile on 291 to the trailhead.

Seasonal Information:
Normally Open: Late May through October .

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Recreation Opportunities
Activity Remarks On Site
ICON Backpacking Colorado Trail
ICON Dispersed Camping Colorado Trail
ICON Hiking & Walking Colorado Trail (North Cottonwood Creek to Chalk 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
Avalanche Trailhead - Avalanche Trailhead is located 6 miles west of Buena Vista on Cottonwood Pass. It provides access to Segment 13 of the Colorado Trail that leads from North Cottonwood Creek to Chalk Creek.

Colorado Trail (Chalk Creek to Highway 50) - Segment 14 of the Colorado Trail extends 20 miles south from Chalk Creek Road to Highway 50 west of Maysville. This portion of the trail is open to foot, horse and bike traffic.

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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