Cottonwood Pass to the Ptarmigan Lake Road - 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 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.


Cottonwood Pass to the Ptarmigan Creek Road Mileage Log

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

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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