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.
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.
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.
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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