EXPEDITION PLANNER: Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Colorado
DRIVE TIME: Buena Vista is 120 miles (3 hours) southwest of Denver and 95 miles (21/2 hours) west of Colorado Springs.
THE WAY: From Denver, take US 285 southwest for 115 miles to US 24 and head north (turn right). Drive 10.5 miles and take County Road 386 west for 1.5 miles to the Frenchman Creek trailhead. Hikers with four-wheel-drive vehicles can continue another 3.5 miles to the wilderness boundary.
TRAILS: The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness has 105 miles of trail. The Frenchman Creek-Pine Creek-Colorado Trail loop described at left is 22 miles. If the snowpack is lingering, stay on the Colorado Trail. Have more than a weekend to spare? Take the Colorado Trail (469 miles) south or north.
ELEVATION: The loop ranges from 8,400 to 13,000 feet. The high point in the wilderness is Mt. Harvard, at 14,420 feet.
CAN’T MISS: Views of Missouri Basin and Bedrock Falls along the Pine Creek Trail.
CROWD CONTROL: The Pine Creek Trail is popular, so go in June or after Labor Day. You’ll also avoid crowds by staying clear of the 14er summit trails. Fall is hunting season; check with rangers for specific dates.
SEASON: Late May through late September is best for snow-free walking.
GUIDES: The Complete Guide to Colorado’s Wilderness Areas, by John Fielder and Mark Pearson (Westcliffe Publishers, 800-523-3692; www.backpacker.com/bookstore; $24.95). Trails Illustrated’s Buena Vista-Collegiate Peaks #129 map (800-962-1643; www.trailsillustrated.com; $9.95).
WALK SOFTLY: Above treeline, stay on the trail in the fragile alpine environment to avoid trampling plants. Camping above timberline is allowed, but not recommended.
CONTACT: Leadville Ranger District, San Isabel National Forest, (719) 486-0749; www.fs.fed.us/r2/psicc/leadvile/collwild.html.