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.
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.
The Salida Trail is a great hike for people of any age along a paved path wandering through historic downtown Salida and out into fields near town.
Castle Gardens hosts a maze of trails among fantastic eroded dirt cliffs – the only landform of this type in the area. This hike follows the dry streambed through the eroded spires and it’s fairly easy and short – the perfect place close to town to take a quick…
The low hills just north of downtown Salida offer a wide variety of nice hiking trails – everything from rocky singletrack to the smooth dirt road that spirals to the top of Tenderfoot Mountain. It’s a perfect area to explore on your own. Simply pick a trail and…
The Rainbow Trail is a long trail that stretches all the way from Silver Creek all the way down the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains toward Westcliffe.
The hike along Starvation Creek follows a winding mountain stream on singletrack through pine, fir and aspen forests, as well as a few grassy meadows. Local legend has it that Starvation Creek got its name when an early fall blizzard trapped a rancher’s cattle in this…
The hike to Pass Creek Lake climbs to a high mountain basin and lake at treeline. The beginning of the hike is rocky and steep, but the middle gets easier with a gently rolling trail along Pass Creek through pine and aspen forests.
This hike starts at Fooses Lake and follows a rough road up the Fooses Creek drainage toward the Continental Divide. It’s an easy walk through pine forests and the road is also a section of the Colorado Trail.
Boss Lake is a small reservoir set in a crown of thick forests. It’s a beautiful spot for a hike and picnic, an overnight camping trip or fishing.
The trail to Waterdog Lakes is a popular hike that leads to scenic lakes beneath the Continental Divide. The lakes are a great spot for an afternoon picnic or fishing trip.
The Monarch Crest Trail wanders above treeline for many miles along the spine of the Continental Divide. The views are spectacular in all directions, giving a true feel for the backbone of the United States and the surrounding land.
This is a hike from the North Fork creek drainage on the Colorado Trail from the Angel of Shavano campground to Blank’s Cabin at the base of Mount Shavano (14,229 ft.). The trail climbs steadily to the top of a ridge, with spectacular views to the south.
The Wagon Loop Trail circles a section of Brown’s Creek on a pleasant singletrack through pine and aspen forest with lots of interesting big rocks. The trail climbs steadily through the forest on one side of the creek and descends on the other side, before joining a dirt…
Established in 1991, the Barbara Whipple Trail is a popular, historical hike with interpretive signs telling about the olden days in the valley. Starting from the Buena Vista River Park, the trail loops up from the river to the old Midland Railroad grade and back down to the…
The Midland Trail offers a pleasant hike that is fairly flat and follows the old Midland Railroad Line. It’s called a bike trail, but it’s perfect for hiking too. There are a few railroad relics along the way and big views of the peaks to the west. The terrain is…
The Davis Meadow Trail winds through the upper end of the Fourmile Travel Management Area northeast of Buena Vista. It’s a beautiful trail through fir, pine and aspen forest to a serene meadow with old pioneer cabins. It’s a great hike with children and the meadow is…
Chalk Creek flows east from the Collegiate Peaks mountain range into the Arkansas River. This beautiful singletrack hike starts at the creek and meanders south on the Colorado Trail. It climbs steadily from the waters of Chalk Creek through pine and aspen forests to a ridge with…
This historic hike follows an old narrow gauge railroad route of a train that ran from Nathrop to Saint Elmo. The trail hugs the north side of Chalk Creek Canyon, directly across from the imposing bulk of the Chalk Cliffs. The gentle out and back route climbs slowly through…
This hike follows the old railroad grade from the ghost town of Hancock to the East Portal of the historic Alpine Tunnel, one of the great railroad engineering feats of the late 19th Century. The tunnel entrance has collapsed, but the gently climbing rail bed will give you an…
Poplar Gulch lies just outside historic Saint Elmo, a photogenic ghost town with many original buildings. The trail begins at the base of Tincup Pass and winds through pine and aspen forests before switchbacking up the mountain. It climbs along a rushing mountain creek to a…
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…
Named for turn of the century Buena Vista Lawyer, George K. Hartenstein, Hartenstein Lake sits in a high basin just below treeline. The hike to the lake climbs steadily and sometimes steeply through pine and aspen forests and small open meadows. The trail is a well-marked, rocky…
Named for the lovely ptarmigan birds, which live in the area year-round, Ptarmigan Lake sits in a high mountain cirque of big peaks. The trail starts at Cottonwood Pass and climbs through dense pine forests before breaking out into flowery meadows dotted by small ponds.
The South Texas Creek Trail is a classic hike through high altitude tundra above treeline. The trail starts at the top of Cottonwood Pass and heads directly east down towards Texas Creek through a wilderness of grassy meadows and pine groves with huge views. The trail sees much…
The Skyline Hike takes you from the top of Cottonwood Pass to the quick and easy small summit to the southwest. From the top, enjoy a 360º view above treeline – the Collegiate Peaks, the Sawatch Range, Taylor Park and all the way to the Elks near Crested Butte…
Interlaken is a former resort that once rivaled the Broadmoor for being the most luxurious property in Colorado. It was established in 1879 as a popular summer resort for tourists who rode the train to Twin Lakes then took a stage to the resort. Guests enjoyed horseback rides…
© 2023 Chaffee County Visitors Bureau | All Rights Reserved