Published with permission from the guide book: Mellow Mountain Trails Hiking Guide to Colorado’s Upper Arkansas River Valley
by Nathan Ward.
Monarch Crest Trail to South Fooses Creek
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. You’ll hike through forests and alpine tundra with plenty of great picnic spots along the way. It’s a fabulous trail that you could follow farther and make it into an overnight or multi-day backpacking trip.
If you don’t want to run into any mountain bikers, search out the Monarch Crest Trail heading north from the top of Monarch Pass. The trail is a little tricky to find, but it’s a beautiful hike and hardly anyone walks the northern trail.
Trailhead Access & Facilities
From the intersection of US 50 and US 285 in Poncha Springs, drive 19.5 miles west on US 50 to the top of Monarch Pass. Park in the large lot by the tram building.
There are no facilities along the trail, but the Monarch Crest Gift Shop on top of the pass has toilets and food.
Location: Top of Monarch Pass
Distance: 10.4 Miles – Out and Back
Hiking Time: 5-6 Hours
Best Months: June through September
Trail Type: Singletrack & Road
Difficulty: Strenuous – High Altitude
Dog Friendly: Yes – on leash.
Elevation in Feet: Low Point 11,285; High Point 11,994; Climbs/Descends 1,380
Land Status: Gunnison National Forest
Maps: Trails Illustrated #139
Notes: This is a very popular mountain bike ride. To avoid lots of cyclists, start your hike early in the morning. Otherwise, just smile at each other.
0.0 Start up the road to the left of the tram building (N38 29.77, W106 19.52), marked as FR 906 after about 100 yards.
0.3 At the USFS/Continental Divide sign (N38 29.60, W106 19.27), turn right on the singletrack and sign the trailhead register.
1.1 The North Fooses saddle (N38 29.37, W106 18.57). At the junction, stay to the right on the doubletrack heading uphill (south). Follow the sign that points to the Continental Divide Trail and S. Fooses Creek. This is a steep 0.5 mile climb.
1.7 At the CDT sign turn right (N38 29.01, W106 18.53).
2.5 As you round the south side of Mount Peck (12,208 ft.) the Crest Trail stretches out to Peel Point.
4.6 Cross this saddle to look down into the South Fooses Creek Drainage. You’ll also have great views of Pahlone Peak (12,667 ft.), Chipeta Mountain (12,850 ft.) and Mount Ouray (13,971 ft.).
5.2 The South Fooses Trail junction with a CDT sign. This is the turnaround spot (N38 27.27, W106 16.63). The Colorado Trail climbs South Fooses and joins the CDT here. Marshall Pass is five miles further along the CDT.
Retrace your steps back to the car. What a sweet hike!
10.4 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.
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