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 Pass to the Ptarmigan Creek Road is a groomed trail wide as the summer highway and sometimes as smooth. This route offers a surface groomed by snowcat – very unique in the southern end of the valley. The Buena Vista Snowmobile club grooms Cottonwood Pass Road and the Ptarmigan Creek Road as part of their 100 mile sled network in the Cottonwood and Tincup Pass areas. If you like skate skiing, this is the only good place to skate near Buena Vista and Salida. The groomed roads are a good example of different user groups sharing a resource and recreation area. That being said, if snowmobiles bother you, ski here only on weekdays when the snowmobile traffic is much lighter.
The route climbs through the trees on the road before turning south toward Ptarmigan Creek. It continues to climb gradually until it reaches treeline with big views of bigger peaks. Very nice.
Trailhead Access: From downtown Buena Vista, head west on CR 306 from the junction of US 285 and CR 306 (at the stoplight). Drive 12.2 miles on CR 306 up Cottonwood Pass to the gate that closes the pass for the winter. Park on the right. Say hi to the snowmobilers.
Location: Buena Vista
Distance: 8.6 Miles – Out & Back
Travel Time: 3 – 3.5 Hours
Type of Trail: Road
Aerobic Level: Moderate
Technical Difficulty: Ski – Intermediate; Shoe – Novice
Avalanche Danger: Minimal
Elevation in Feet: Low Point 9,930; High Point 11,187; Climbs/Descends 1,257
Land Status: USFS
Maps: Trails Illustrated #129; USGS Mount Yale
Novice Option: Turn around at Mile 1.8, the Ptarmigan Lake Road.
Advanced Option #1: Travel all the way to Ptarmigan Lake. Look at your map.
Advanced Option #2: For a long ski and a fun downhill, ski to the top of Cottonwood Pass. The bowl near the summit is prime avalanche terrain.
0.0 Ski south past the trailhead sign on FSR 391 (39°04.08N, 106º30.31W).
0.3 Stay right on the main road (39 º03.85N, 106º30.23W). The first 1.9 miles are private property, so stay on the road.
1.9 This is an ideal place to turn around if you want a short tour (39 º02.81N, 106 º31.23W).
2.5 Come to the west edge of a large clearing with a bridge that crosses the creek on the left (39 º02.59N, 106 º31.82W). Stay on the main road
2.6 Turn around at this junction (39 º02.55N, 106 º32.04W), or continue on the more advanced options mentioned above. The left road leads south up Sayers Gulch. The right road continues west up the South Fork of Lake Creek toward McNasser Gulch
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.
Silver Creek is a mellow road that follows picturesque Silver Creek near Marshall Pass. The road winds through pine forests along the small waterway and offers excellent views of Mount Antora (13,269 ft.). This is a good trail for people of all ability levels and a good option…
Monarch Crest Trail to South Fooses Creek is one of the best in the west – the Monarch Crest Trail snakes above treeline for many miles along the spine of the Continental Divide. The views are spectacular in all directions and give you a true feel for the backbone of the…
Old Monarch Pass (not Old Old Monarch Pass) was finished in 1922 as part of the “Rainbow Route”, a section of US 50 that stretched from Pueblo to Montrose and marketed as a continuation of the Santa Fe Trail. Due to heavy snow and sharp corners, the highway masters…
Monarch Park offers mellow terrain on Monarch Pass for skiers and snowshoers. This route follows a road parallel to the South Arkansas River that then curves up to the current Monarch Pass Road. Even in low snow years, you’ll find good snow at Monarch Park.
The Waterdog Lakes trail is short and steep, but worth the effort. On a clear day, the views of the Continental Divide and the glacial cirque where the lakes sit, are stunning. The trail winds through dense forest, with occasional views of Bald Mountain (12,858 ft.) and Banana…
The Lost Wonder Hut to Chalk Pass route follows Continental Divide Tail (CDT) up the Middle Fork of the South Arkansas River, from the Lost Wonder Hut to the top of Chalk Pass.
Middle Fork Creek to the Lost Wonder Hut starts in the small town of Garfield, this route follows a mining road along the path of Middle Fork Creek. The destination is the Lost Wonder Hut, the only mountain hut in the Lower Arkansas River Valley. The road climbs steeply in places…
Fooses Creek provides the closest good skiing to Salida with easy to access, gentle terrain. The route leads from just below Fooses Lake to the junction of North and South Fooses Creeks. The trail holds good snow for most of the winter and passes through forests of pine and open…
Raspberry Gulch drops from the heights of Mt. Antero (14,269 ft.) and this tour follows the road up the lower section of the gulch. The route crosses the Colorado Trail and winds through open meadows and huge aspen groves, climbing steadily but very gradually.
halk Cliffs to Cascade Falls is an old railroad grade hugs the north side of Chalk Creek Canyon, directly across from the imposing bulk of the Chalk Cliffs. It’s a gentle route that climbs slowly through forests, along the base of cliffs with perfect views of the peaks on…
Hancock Pass follows the old Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad grade from the ghost town of Saint Elmo to the turnoff for the Mary Murphy Mine/Pomeroy Gulch. The old railroad grade provides a gradual incline good for all ability levels and will probably be groomed or packed…
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
Cottonwood Pass to the Ptarmigan Creek Road is a groomed trail wide as the summer highway and sometimes as smooth. This route offers a surface groomed by snowcat – very unique in the southern end of the valley.
Denny Creek to Hartenstein Lake climbs straight from Denny Creek up and up into the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area and a beautiful mountain basin. It’s one of the best tours in the valley. Hartenstein Lake sits a tad below treeline just east of the Continental Divide and…
South Fork Of Lake Creek starts at the La Plata Gulch Trailhead and goes up the broad basin of the South Fork of Lake Creek. Get ready for good views of La Plata Peak (14,361 ft.) and the famous jagged La Plata Ridge. The trail winds through the trees before entering an open…
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