Cottonwood Lake to the Poplar Gulch Trail - Buena Vista & Salida, Colorado Visitor Guide
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Published with permission from the guide book:
Skinny Skis and Snowshoes – Guide to Winter Trails in Colorado’s Upper Arkansas Valley by Nate Porter and Nathan Ward.

This guidebook gives detailed information on 25 of the best backcountry ski and snowshoe routes in the Upper Arkansas Valley, with trails for every ability level. If you count all the options presented for each trail, the actual number of routes is closer to 60 without even counting the individual trails at the Nordic centers – that is a lot of skiing. If you’re insatiable and need more, look at the sections titled: Other Areas to Explore. Be insatiable.

Cottonwood Lake to the Poplar Gulch Trail starts from the scenic little log cabins around Cottonwood Lake, this trail follows South Cottonwood Creek up Green Timber Gulch and into the mountains – as if any of these trails go anywhere else. If you follow the road all the way, it splits and ends at either Mineral Creek or Ptarmigan Lake below a small cirque of high peaks – Emma Burr Mountain (13,538 ft.), Mt. Kreutzer (13,095 ft.) and Jones Mountain (12,995). This beautiful area gets less snowmobile traffic than Cottonwood Pass, but the road will probably be snowmobile packed. The route climbs easily through a broad valley for the first two miles and gets a bit steeper before the end.

Trailhead Access: From the traffic light in downtown Buena Vista, turn west on County Road 306 and drive 5 miles to CR 344 (South Cottonwood Road). Turn Left, and continue 3.7 miles to the west side of Cottonwood Lake. Stay left at the Spring Canyon Stables. A sign says the road is not maintained from here, but the Forest Service usually plows to the west side of the lake. Park in the plowed turn-around at the west end of the lake.

Location: Buena Vista
Distance: 6.6 Miles – Out & Back
Travel Time: 2.5 – 3 Hours
Type of Trail: Road
Aerobic Level: Easy
Technical Difficulty: Ski – Novice; Shoe – Novice
Avalanche Danger: None
Elevation in Feet: Low Point 9,563; High Point 10,278 ft.; Climbs/Descends 721
Land Status: USFS
Maps: Trails Illustrated #129; USGS Mount Yale
Note: This route is also known as Green Timber Gulch on some USGS maps.

Intermediate Option: Travel farther and turn around near Morgan’s Gulch.

Advanced Option: Check your map and travel to Ptarmigan Lake or Mineral Creek near the base of Mt. Kreutzer (13,095). Be aware of avalanche danger.


Cottonwood Lake to the Poplar Gulch Trail Mileage Log

0.0 Head west up the South Cottonwood Road (38º47.01N, 106º17.19 W).

0.3 Stay left at the campground.

2.5 Stay right on the main road (38º45.99N, 106º19.33W).

3.3 Summit the top of a small hill with good views – this is the turnaround spot and the point where the Poplar Gulch Trail veers off to Saint Elmo. There is no trail marker (38º45.88N, 106º20.11W). Continue straight ahead for the Intermediate or Advanced Option. Otherwise, turn back and get ready for a speed fest back to the car. Yippie!

Ski & Snowshoe With Care

Backcountry travel is a physically strenuous activity with many risks and dangers. Hazards, natural or manmade, whether noted in this book or not, can be encountered at any time, under any situation. As a backcountry traveler we assume you know your personal abilities, limitations and have a comprehensive background in avalanche safety.

This book represents nothing more than a guide to routes and is not meant to replace your common sense, your ability to navigate in the wilderness or your ability to travel in the backcountry safely.

The mileages, routes and waypoints listed in this text are only suggestions. There may be variances and changes, you may get lost. We recommend that everyone use a global positioning system 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 landowner’s rights and obey all signs regarding trail use.

Neither the authors, 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 backcountry travelers and their companions assume responsibility for themselves. Explore at your own risk, and always tell somewhere where you are going and when you’ll be 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 winter backcountry is becoming more popular in the Upper Arkansas Valley, which means you need to think of your neighbors while out on the trail. There are no hard and fast rules, but please consider the following:


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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