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Colorado Trail: Find Solitude

How to beat the crowds and find solitude in the Rockies

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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.

5. High and lonesome 370 cars cruise by the CO 149 junction with the CT daily, one of the lowest counts of state highways that cross the trail. Tip: South Clear Creek Falls Campground is less than a mile south of here.


6. Cochetopa Basin There are big crowds here—of elk and black bear. The least-traveled miles of the CT slash through the La Garita Wilderness, a little-visited hotspot for high-country wildlife. For a weekend of guaranteed solitude, trace Cochetopa Creek south from the Eddiesville trailhead to a basecamp at mile 7.5, just west of the turnoff toward Stewart Creek. Start alpine style on day two to bag 14,014-foot San Luis Peak via the lesser-traveled, 2.3-mile east-side approach.

7. Open road Only 1,700 cars cross the CO 114/US 285 junction per summer day. Empty trailheads await.

8. Lake Baldy Make room in your pack for a bottle of red. You’ll thank us as you peacefully sip it on Baldy Lake’s lonely, talus-lined shore. Hike west 6.2 miles from Sargents Mesa, then drop .4 mile to basecamp near Baldy Lake. On day two, make a 12-mile loop linking the Baldy Lake Trail with Dutchman’s Creek Trail and finishing up on the CT heading east. Baker’s dozen: Add an extra mile by bushwhacking for a sunset toast atop 11,974-foot Long Branch Baldy.

9. Marshall Pass Off-roaders circle in camps at Marshall Pass in July and August; just hoof it 3.6 miles south of there on the CT, then head west across open terrain .25 mile for a quiet, easy-access overnighter next to Silver Creek.


10. Bumper-to-bumper With a high-water mark of more than 100 vehicles on a summer Saturday, the Mt. Elbert trailhead is the busiest near the CT.

11. Mill Creek With side trails to Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert (the state’s two highest peaks), this section is far from unpeopled. But you can avoid them. Start at Turquoise Lake for a two-day, 25-mile ramble to Twin Lakes. Cozy up on tent pads at North Willow Creek (mile 8.8) and Mill Creek (mile 16.2). Both backcountry sites are well off the most-traveled summit trails—and out of reach of the peakbagger’s headlamps. Colorado Trail vets rank this stretch among the prettiest.

12. Camp Hale to Kokomo Pass Daytrippers love this area for off-trail peakbagging. Which leaves the easily accessible 6.6-mile out-and-back from Camp Hale to Kokomo Pass all to you (and the occasional thru-hiker). Start at the Camp Hale lot (never more than six cars per day here last summer, says the USFS) and climb along Cataract Creek to the 12,022-foot pass, with views of the spiky Gore Range.

13. Stealth start On a high-use weekend, the Miners Creek trailhead will have only three cars.


14. Georgia Pass This gap between Jefferson and Breckenridge is a hotspot for the ORV crowd. But hike two miles north into the lodgepoles, and you’ll descend into a canopy that’s both off-limits to wheels and off-

the-radar for dayhikers (more than two cars at the trailhead on a summer Saturday is uncommon). Or head west to climb 1.2 miles to 13,370-foot Mt. Guyot, where you’ll see the CT stretching east to the Kenosha Range and west to the rugged Tenmile Range.

15. Windy Peak Only about 20 hikers a year sign the register on this 11,970-foot, boulder-strewn summit in the Lost Creek Wilderness. Its thickly forested ridge is an unmaintained fog of trunks and intermittent blowdowns— perfectly hiding the grassy, picnic-ready summit. From the Rolling Creek trailhead (7.8 miles south of Bailey), take the CT west 3.2 miles, then turn south off-trail to follow the ridge 1.7 miles to treeline, 300 feet from the top. From here, navigate granite boulderfields to the broad, open summit dome.

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