Collegiate Peaks Loop, Colorado

Circle the Rockies on this high-alpine route.
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Circle the Rockies on this high-alpine route.
Collegiate Peaks, CO

Catch the sunset on the Three Apostles from Harrison Flats, just a few hundred yards off the CDT. (Grant Ordelheide)

The numbers: 160 miles, 12 to 18 days (alternative: 8 to 12 days)

The hike: Since 2012,two separate 80-mile alignments of the Colorado Trail, on either side of the Collegiate Peaks, have created a grand circuit encompassing 11 of the state’s Fourteeners—two weeks in the Rockies’ alpine zone. Starting down the east side from a trailhead by Twin Lakes allows for good resupply timing and eases into the hike with lower-altitude terrain (plus a soak stop at Princeton Hot Springs). The newer western route is a highline that crisscrosses the Continental Divide, passing turquoise Lake Ann, nestled below the imposing Three Apostles, and Hope Pass, the 12,620-foot high point of the Leadville 100 trail run. Enrolling for the full Collegiate tour requires about two weeks, but you can shortcut the route by four days and still catch the 16-mile stretch between Cottonwood Pass and Tincup Road that just opened in 2014. For this crash course, head south from North Cottonwood Creek on the east side of the range. A week later, after crossing Cottonwood Pass, drop to Texas Creek and leave the Collegiate West Trail, climb to Browns Pass, and descend Kroenke Lake Trail to your car.

TRIP PLANNER

Trailhead 39.072455, -106.305426; Twin Lakes Dam, 16 miles south of Leadville on County Road 25; North Cottonwood Creek (38.871096, -106.265869), Forest Road 365, 8.5 miles west of Buena Vista

Red tape Free trailhead permits

Season Mid-July to mid-September

Infocoloradotrail.org