The Mount Princeton Hill Climb Mountain Bike Guide St. Elmo, Colorado

Mount Princeton Hill Climb

Published with permission from the guide book: The Local’s Adventure Guide to Singletrack & Tarmac – Mountain Bike Trails and Road Rides in the Upper Arkansas River Valley by Nathan Ward.

  • Featuring 36 Mountain Bike Trails and 18 Road Rides in and around Buena Vista & Salida, Colorado – beginner to expert, town to summit, smooth tarmac to extreme singletrack.
  • Maps and Elevation Profiles for each ride, including altitude gain and loss.
  • Local Advice on riding areas and seasons, where to sleep, where to soak, where to find the best pizza, the best coffee and the best bars in Buena Vista & Salida, Colorado.

The Mount Princeton Hill Climb switchbacks up the mountain and finishes above tree line on the southern shoulder of Mount Princeton (14,197 ft.). The climb follows 5.6 miles of dirt road with superb views of the Upper Arkansas Valley and Mount Antero (14,269) – perfect for masochists. The descent follows the same route and rides scary fast. There is a hut at tree line and hot springs just down the road from the parking lot. You may need them.

Trailhead Access: Drive 16 miles north of Salida on US 285 and look for the sign to Mt. Princeton and Saint Elmo. Turn left (west) on CR 162 and drive 4.5 miles to the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. Turn right on CR 321 uphill. Follow this paved road 0.8 mile to CR 322 and turn left on the dirt road with a sign to the Young Life Frontier Ranch. Stay left on CR 322 after the yield sign and drive 1.4 miles to the Mt. Princeton Trail parking area. Ride.

Location: Mount Princeton, North of Salida
Distance: 11.2 miles – out and back
Riding Time: 2 to 4 hours
Riding Surface in Miles: Dirt Road 11.2
Aerobic Level: Strenuous – it’s a hill climb
Technical Difficulty: Novice – but not easy
Elevation in Feet: Low Point 8,940; High Point 12,133; Climbs/Descends 3,310
Land Status: USFS; Private Land
Maps: Mount Antero
Note: Get off the peak before the afternoon lightning starts.
a. Attempt the Mt. Princeton Duathlon – ride to the end of the road, change shoes and hike to the summit. Leave early – the climb is perfect for night riding with lights.

b. Ride with sleeping bags and food to overnight in the “chalet” – a unique rock hut built at the end of the road in a forest of bristle cone pine. Get up early and hike to the summit. The Young Life Frontier Ranch owns the hut. They occasionally use the facility during the summer for student programs, and their groups have priority. There is no reservation system, but they usually don’t kick people out. Be considerate and do not bring a large group. There are no facilities, no water and do not cut the bristle cone pines for firewood. Be self-sufficient. The view from the hut is awesome.

Mount Princeton Hill Climb Mileage Log

0.0 From the parking area ride straight west uphill toward the obvious summit of Mt. Princeton on the road that parallels the log fence.
0.2 Stay on the road to the right between 2 fences. A small sign reads “Mt. Princeton” and points in the desired direction. This is FSR 322.
1.1 The Colorado Trail cuts right (north). Stay on the road and go up, up, up!
1.4 Look left at the top of the Chalk Cliffs. It looks like a huge monster took a bite out of the mountain.
2.7 After a long steep section, the road switchbacks again.
3.2 The road splits. Take the left hand road, FSR 322A, away from the large antennas.
4.8 The road crosses a huge talus field.
5.1 Cross a massive avalanche chute – so big it’s clearly visible from US 285 far below.
5.6 Top out at 12,133 ft. in a tiny parking area. Follow a trail about 60 yards to the stone chalet. Climb to the wooden cross for the best view of Mt. Antero (14,269 ft.) south, and the waves of peaks to the west.
Follow the same route back down – it’s steep and super fast so bring good brakes.

If you plan to climb the peak, ride back down the road 0.8 mile to the small trail heading up the ridge – it is easy to see from a distance. There is no sign and it’s easy to miss. Hide your bikes before you start hiking. Take a map – you are on your own to find the route to the summit and back.


We want you to have a safe and enjoyable trip into Colorado’s backcountry. Be prepared it could be a long walk out. Be sure to read this list of equipment you should bring on your ride along with tips to make your biking trip more enjoyable.


The Colorado backcountry is popular – bikers, hikers, motorcycle riders, hunters and equestrians use the trail system in the Arkansas Valley, and everyone wants a private piece of heaven. Even if you don’t agree with everyone’s motives or methods of travel, please treat them in a courteous manner.


If you require search and rescue services, it can be costly. Buy a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card to protect yourself. Funds from the CORSAR program go into the Colorado Search and Rescue (SAR) Fund. If a CORSAR card holder becomes lost or injured in the backcountry, the Colorado SAR Fund pays eligible search and rescue expenses.




Bicycle riding is a physically strenuous activity with many risks and dangers. Hazards, natural or man made, whether noted in this book or not, can be encountered at any time under any situation. As a cyclist, we assume you know your personal abilities and limitations. This book represents nothing more than a guide to the trails and roads and is not meant to replace your common sense, your ability to navigate in the wilderness or in traffic, or your ability to ride a bicycle safely.

In addition, the mileages and routes listed in this text are only suggestions. There may be variances and you may get lost. We recommend everyone uses a GPS and topographical map to navigate. Most routes in this text are located on public land, but some trails pass through or adjacent to private land. Respect the land owner’s rights and obey all signs regarding trail use. The same goes for wilderness areas which prohibit mountain bike riding. Neither the author, nor the publisher, nor anyone else mentioned in this book are responsible or liable in any way for any accident, injury or any action brought against anyone traveling any route listed in this book. All cyclists and their companions assume responsibility for themselves. Ride at your own risk.

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