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Colorado Trail: Find Solitude

How to beat the crowds and find solitude in the Rockies

Colorado’s population of 5 million mountain-air addicts can make it tough to find a quiet piece of the Colorado Trail. No more. We teamed with the Colorado Trail Foundation, the Department of Transportation, and all six of the Forest Service’s ranger districts along the route to create this trail-traffic heat map–a guide to the least-trod sections of the Rockies’ most beautiful trail.

1. Bolam Pass The hard-to-reach Bolam Pass trailhead weeds out casual daytrippers and high-country tourists trolling US 50. In fact, the U.S. Forest Service logged an average of just two vehicles here on slow summer Saturdays in 2009. (Caveat: high-clearance 4WD mandatory.) Make the most of the solitude on this four-summit sweep, which starts with a 6.9-mile hike to a pass below Blackhawk Mountain. Scramble .4 mile to its summit before descending to basecamp (.7 mile below the pass at Straight Creek). On day two, scramble up Whitecap Mountain (12,376 feet), Dolores Mountain (12,112), and Harts Peak (12,540) in a clockwise circle before rejoining the CT for the trek back to the car. Hiking point-to-point? Recross Blackhawk Pass and cruise three miles south to Hotel Draw.

2. Elk Creek From September (school starts) through mid-October (gun season opens), the CT near here is quiet, leaving the stands of changing aspen to you–and maybe an elk or two. 

3. Vallecita Lake Eldorado Lake (.5 mile south of the CT’s Elk Creek bend) is an insider’s favorite for a quick overnighter. Beat even the locals by continuing 1.4 miles farther to Vallecita Lake. This basecamp abuts one of the state’s showiest stretches of Thirteeners. To rejoin the CT, backtrack to the Continental Divide, or loop south and then west, skirting Storm King Peak on a six-mile trek that merges with the CT at Elk Creek.

4.Carson Saddle People aren’t the only things that are few and far between on this divide-hugging overnighter. The other? Trees. All 15.5 miles are above treeline, and even the cairn-marked trail is sometimes barely visible . What you won’t have trouble finding: empty campsites and the sharp profile of Half Peak. From Carson Saddle, hike five miles west on the CT and turn north to camp in the Cataract Lake basin. On day two, scramble loose class 2 and 3 slopes on Half Peak’s north massif and hit its high point—13,841 feet—before teetering across the narrow connector ridge and hiking downhill back to camp.

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