Published with permission from the guide book: Mellow Mountain Trails Hiking Guide to Colorado’s Upper Arkansas River Valley
by Nathan Ward.
Colorado Trail South Cottonwood Pass
Beautiful singletrack leads you south on the Colorado Trail from Cottonwood Pass on a rarely hiked section of trail that contours across the base of Sheep Mountain (11,939 ft.). The trail rolls up and down with no major climbing as it crosses streams, winds through pine and aspen forests past beaver ponds. There are excellent views of Rainbow Lake below and excellent aspen viewing in the fall. Thoroughly enjoyable.
For a longer hike, continue as far as you like south on the Colorado Trail.
Trailhead Access & Facilities
From the stoplight in Buena Vista, drive 9 miles west on CR 306 up Cottonwood Pass. Turn right into the Avalanche Trailhead parking area and park. From the parking lot, cross CR 306 and walk down the dirt road into an undeveloped camping area directly across the road. Turn left at .04 miles and walk east. Cottonwood Creek is to the right. Walk through the undeveloped camping area for 0.3 miles, keeping your eyes open for the Colorado Trail marker. There is no trailhead sign here. Look for the brown metal post with the familiar Colorado Trail Sign. You could park in this undeveloped camping site, but your car will be safer in the Avalanche Parking area.
There are pit toilets at the parking area.
Location: Cottonwood Pass, West of BV
Distance: 4 Miles – Out & Back
Hiking Time: 2-3 Hours
Best Months: June through October
Trail Type: Singletrack
Dog Friendly: Yes – Be careful crossing the road
Elevation in Feet: Low Point 9,115; High Point 9,410; Climbs/Descends 614
Land Status: San Isabel National Forest
Maps: Trails Illustrated #129
0.0 Trailhead – Start at the brown, metal post denoting the Colorado Trail with a traditional CT sign. Elevation 9,337 ft. (N38 48.75, W106 16.78)
0.1 Bridge over Cottonwood Creek
0.3 Trail to the left, do not take.
0.4 Note view of Rainbow Lake to the left.
0.5 On the left is private property, so stay on the trail.
0.9 Trail to left, do not take. Soon afterward, you’ll cross a small creek.
1.1 Traveling through an aspen forest. This is beautiful in the fall with golden leaves.
1.4 Watch for the very large beaver pond in Cottonwood Creek.
1.5 Two trails lead down to the beaver pond.
2.0 Stop here and turn around. Elevation 9,115 ft. (N38 48.12, W106 14.95) There is nothing significant here to mark the turnaround point, so if you don’t have a GPS, it’s about 15 minutes walking past the big beaver pond at mile 1.4.
4.0 Back at the trailhead.
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.
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