Old Monarch Pass - Buena Vista & Salida, Colorado Visitor Guide
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Buena Vista, Colorado

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.

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 moved the road to its current location in 1937. The road is a perfect trail in winter. From the summit on a clear day, you can see the entire breadth of the Rockies, from Pikes Peak to the San Juans.

Trailhead Access: From the intersection of Highways 50 and 285 in Poncha Springs, drive west on US 50 for 18.2 miles up Monarch Pass. Park on the right (north) side of the road in the large pullout. A sign reads “Old Monarch Pass” so you’ll know it’s the right spot.

Location: Monarch Pass
Distance: 2.6 Miles – Out & Back
Travel Time: 1 – 1.5 Hours
Type of Trail: Road
Aerobic Level: Moderate – Altitude
Technical Difficulty: Ski – Novice; Shoe – Novice
Avalanche Danger: Minimal
Elevation in Feet: Low Point 10,939; High Point 11,392; Climbs/Descents 453
Land Status: USFS
Maps: Trails Illustrated #130, #139; USGS Garfield, Pahlone
Notes: Great route with easy access, but watch for speeding snowmobiles.

Intermediate Option: Follow Old Monarch Pass Road past the summit an additional 9 miles to the bottom of the pass on the west side. This option requires a shuttle – drive both cars over the top of Monarch Pass and down the west side 8.8 miles which is almost to the bottom. Turn right (north) on Gunnison County Road 888 and drive another 4.7 miles to the bottom of Old Monarch Pass. Leave a car and drive back over the pass to the start of the route. This option takes most of the day. Follow the obvious road when skiing. It’s all downhill – for real.


Old Monarch Pass Road Mileage Log

0.0 From the bottom of the pass, head up the road (38°30.210N, 106°19.70W).

0.2 Stay on the road to the left.

0.6 Stay on the road left. Do not go through the red gate into Monarch Ski and Snowboard Area. You’ll find good views of the ski area ahead.

0.8 Stay on the lower road.

1.2 The Continental Divide Trail crosses the road. Stay straight on the road.

1.3 Top of Old Monarch Pass and the Continental Divide at 11,392 feet (38°29.87N , 106°20.25 W). Choose your ocean – pee west and it goes to the Pacific, and east pee goes to the Atlantic. On a clear day, you’ll have great views west all the way to the San Juans. From here, either continue down the pass for a longer trip or simply turn around and follow your tracks back to the car.

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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