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.
Copyright: Amy Pyle - Interactive Outdoors, Inc.
Primitive campsites, like this one, are usually found at trail intersections in the backcountry
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.
Late May through October .