Category: Colorado

The Complete Guide to Mt. of the Holy Cross

Mt. of the Holy Cross is one of Colorado’s most iconic mountains. Situated deep within the Sawatch mountain range it is renowned for its northeast face, which features two deep…

Mt. of the Holy Cross is one of Colorado’s most iconic mountains. Situated deep within the Sawatch mountain range it is renowned for its northeast face, which features two deep couloirs form a near-perfect cross when filled with snow. The peak barely meets fourteener status, with a summit elevation of 14,005′ above sea level. Located just outside the town of Minturn, Colorado and with multiple routes carrying Class 2 difficult rating according to 14ers.com, the mountain makes for a popular 14er to bag. Keep reading to learn everything you’ll need to know to have a great adventure climbing Mount of the Holy Cross!

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Mt. of the Holy Cross Elevation

The summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross sits at 14,005 feet above sea level. As with many mountains, you’ll see a variety of elevations given depending on the source. We chose to utilize the elevation shown on the USFS map below, which gives the official elevation as 14,005′. Regardless, you can count on the air being thin at the top!

The summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross sits at 14,005′. Map courtesy of USFS.

 

The summit is surrounded by several prominent 13,000′ peaks, including Notch Mountain located to the northeast.

 

Mt. of the Holy Cross trailheads

Mt. of the Holy Cross is accessed via the Half Moon Trailhead, which sits at the end of Tigiwon Road (sometimes spelled “Tigwon” and also known as Forest Service Road 707). For those hiking Mt. of the Holy Cross via the standard North Ridge Route you’ll take the Half Moon Trail which will be on your right-hand side when looking at the trailhead. Hikers attempting the Halo Ridge Route should take the Fall Creek Trail which leads to Notch Mountain and/or Lake Constantine in the adjacent drainage. Get directions to the trailhead below:

To reach the Half Moon Trailhead you’ll take I-70 to exit 171 towards Minturn. From the highway exit, it is a five-mile drive past the town of Minturn to Tigiwon Road, which you’ll take to reach the trailhead.

From Highway 24 you’ll want to keep an eye out for Tigiwon Road, which leads to the trailhead.

 

It is an approximate 8.3-mile drive up Tigiwon Road to the Half Moon Trailhead. The dirt road is rough in some places but can be driven in a passenger car with care. If possible, we recommend a 4WD, AWD, or vehicle with higher clearance to ensure you don’t have any issues reaching the trailhead.

Keep in mind that Tigiwon Road is closed to motor vehicles annually from May 1st – June 21st. This generally shouldn’t impact those looking to hike Mt. of the Holy Cross, as the trail is unlikely to be free from snow until later in the summer anyways.

At the end of Tigiwon Road there is a small parking area that serves the trailhead. On busy summer weekends, you can expect this parking area to be at capacity given the popularity of the trail. However, there is abundant overflow parking available along Tigiwon Road leading up to the trailhead. If you do have to park along the road be sure to leave enough space for other cars to pass!

If the Half Moon trailhead parking lot is full, there is overflow parking available along Tigiwon Road.

 

Hiking Mt. of the Holy Cross

There are several different routes all leading to the summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross. For most hikers, your best bet is to take the North Ridge Route described below. This is the standard route up Mt. of the Holy Cross and by far the most popular. For those looking for alternative routes (with significantly more difficulty), you can also complete the Halo Ridge Route with its spectacular views of the cross couloir. 

Map of different routes to hike Mt. of the Holy Cross

The North Ridge Route and Halo Ridge Route are the most popular options for hiking Mt. of the Holy Cross. Map courtesy of USFS.

 

The North Ridge Route and the Halo Ridge Route up Mt. of the Holy Cross.

 

Mt. of the Holy Cross North Ridge Route

Distance: 10.46 miles (round-trip)
Elevation Gain/Loss:
+ 5,616 feet / -5,616 feet
Starting point:
Half Moon Trailhead

The North Ridge Route up Mt. of the Holy Cross.

 

The North Ridge Route is the standard and most popular route up Mt. of the Holy Cross. The route has a Class 2 difficulty according to 14ers.com, and most hikers will find the distance and elevation gain make this a very challenging hike. The route crosses Half Moon Pass (elevation 11,650′) within the first three miles before descending down again to East Cross Creek, at which point the ascent to the top of Mt. of the Holy Cross begins. This results in a staggering total elevation gain of over 5,600 feet. For this reason it is popular to split the climb into two days and spend a night camping at East Cross Creek.

Keep in mind that you won’t get any views of the Cross Couloir on the North Ridge Route. If that is important to you we recommend completing the Halo Ridge Route described below, or hiking adjacent Notch Mountain.

Mount of the Holy Cross from Half Moon Pass

Mount of the Holy Cross from Half Moon Pass.

 

Description:

From the Half Moon Trailhead, you’ll begin with a gentle ascent on the Half Moon Trail through pine forest towards the top of Half Moon Pass. The top of the pass is at treeline, so you’ll enjoy some beautiful views of the Gore Range behind you. As you begin the descent, Mt. of the Holy Cross will dominate the horizon – you’ll struggle to believe you’re climbing all the way to the top!

Views of the Gore Range from Half Moon Pass.

Views of the Gore Range from Half Moon Pass.

 

Approximately 3 miles into the hike, you’ll reach East Cross Creek where you’ll set up camp if you’re splitting the hike into two days. From here, the climb to the top of Mt. of the Holy Cross begins in earnest. After a steady ascent through the trees, you’ll eventually reach treeline and the beginning of Mt. of the Holy Cross’ north ridge. The terrain from here on out becomes much more rugged, so be sure to tread carefully. At this point, the trail also disappears and you’ll need to closely follow the large cairns as you make your way up. It is not especially difficult to stay on course, but be sure to exercise caution as you are walking very near to the ridgeline.

Sunrise on the North Ridge Route – Mt. of the Holy Cross.

 

As you reach the end of the ridge, the ‘trail’ will turn to the southeast as you make your final approach to the summit. The area is covered in large talus so you’ll find the large wooden posts that have been erected to be helpful for navigation. The last 500 feet or so are difficult hiking, but the route to the summit should be straightforward.

Finish your last bit of climbing and you’ll be standing on the summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross!

Enjoy expansive views from the summit.

 

Mt. of the Holy Cross Halo Ridge Route

Distance: 15.2 miles (roundtrip, out-and-back) // 12.83 miles (descending via the North Ridge route)
Elevation Gain/Loss:
+ 4,658 feet / -4,658 feet (round-trip retracing the route)
Starting point:
Half Moon Trailhead

The Halo Ridge route to the top of Mt. of the Holy Cross adds another layer of difficulty to summitting this beautiful mountain. For this effort, hikers will be rewarded with stunning views of the Cross Couloir and the opportunity to visit the Notch Mountain Shelter, a truly beautiful structure. As with the North Ridge Route, this is a serious undertaking with between 13 – 15 miles of hiking depending on your chosen descent. It is advisable to start very early.

The Halo Ridge Route up Mt. of the Holy Cross.

 

Description:

The Halo Ridge Route begins at the Half Moon Trailhead where you’ll begin your hike along the Fall Creek Trail. It is important to note that this is not the same trail as those hiking via the standard North Ridge Route will take. The trail climbs gently through forest for the first 2.25 miles before coming to the junction with the Notch Mountain Shelter Trail.

From here, you’ll begin the ascent to the Notch Mountain Shelter via a steep, but well-maintained trail. The shelter sits at an elevation of 13,084 feet and was built in 1933 as a place to stay for those on a pilgrimage to see the famous Mt. of the Holy Cross. Unfortunately, you are no longer allowed to camp in the shelter. You can view the Forest Service information on the shelter here.

Take a moment at this point to soak in the incredible views of the Cross Couloir!

From the shelter, you’ll trace your way along the ridgeline towards the summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross. Take great care on this section as the route is very exposed. You’ll first climb to Point 13,248, which will allow you to claim to have summited a 13er and a 14er all in the same day! From here you’ll set your sights on another 13er, Point 13,373, before reaching a flatter portion of the ridgeline.

Continuing on, you’ll ascend to the summit of the Holy Cross Ridge at 13,830 feet above sea level. From here, you’ll descend slightly before tackling the final climb to the summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross!

We highly recommend reading the route description on 14ers.com for a more in-depth discussion on the Halo Ridge Route.

 

Mt. of the Holy Cross Camping

There are several options available for those looking to camp before, during, and after their hike of Mt. of the Holy Cross, all of which are described below. Be sure to check in with the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District prior to camping to check current regulations.

Camping near Mt of the Holy Cross

Camping options are abundant near Mt. of the Holy Cross.

 

Tigiwon Road Camping

The first option for camping near Mt. of the Holy Cross is to pitch your tent at one of the many dispersed campsites available along Tigiwon Road. These campsites are perfect for those who may arrive later in the evening and want to set up a base camp before setting out the next day. The campsites start a few miles along the road (be sure you are in the National Forest and not on private property) and continue most of the way up to the trailhead. The final 0.5 miles of Tigiwon Road does not allow camping, so be sure you’ve found a site before getting to the trailhead.

Campsite along Tigiwon Road.

Make sure you camp only at designated spots with a fire ring along Tigiwon Road.

 

You should only camp at designated campsites along the road, which will be indicated by the presence of a fire ring. Be sure and check local regulations before having a campfire, as this area of the state is often under fire restrictions. Also, keep in mind that there are no water sources available at the campsites along Tigiwon Road. It is very important to bring enough water not only for your camping needs, but also enough for your hike of Mt of the Holy Cross.

These campgrounds receive quite a bit of use, so we can’t stress enough how important it is to practice Leave No Trace principles when camping along Tigiwon Road. Be sure and leave your site in better shape than you found it!

 

Halfmoon Campground

The Halfmoon Campground is located adjacent to the trailhead at the top of Tigiwon Road. This is a formal campground operated by the Forest Service and features seven campsites, vault toilets, campfire rings with grates, and tables. The campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so be sure to get there early if you’re looking to snag a site. The fee is $15/night.

The campground is about as convenient as you can get for those who are looking to car camp the night before climbing Mt. of the Holy Cross, as you’ll wake up mere steps from the trailhead.

As with the campsites along Tigiwon Road, there is no drinking water available at the Halfmoon Campground, so be sure to bring all you’ll need.

Map of Halfmoon Campground near Mt. of the Holy Cross

Halfmoon Campground provides great access to Mt. of the Holy Cross.

 

East Cross Creek Camping

The backcountry campsites at East Cross Creek are utilized by those who are splitting their hike into two days. As described above, this allows hikers to avoid having to cross Half Moon Pass twice in a single day and spread out the elevation gain of the trek. We recommend anyone concerned about the length or difficulty of the North Ridge Route to overnight at East Cross Creek in order to make the hike more manageable.

The East Cross Creek campsites are located approximately 3 miles into the hike up Mt. of the Holy Cross.

 

East Cross Creek is reached by hiking approximately 3 miles in from the Half Moon trailhead and requires crossing Half Moon Pass. The area has 10 designated campsites that are all well-marked. If a campsite marker has a stone placed on top of it, it means the campsite is occupied. It is very likely that all 10 sites will be occupied on any given night. If this is the case, it is best to politely ask if you can share a site with one of the groups already there. Yes, this may mean getting cozy with a few fellow hikers, but it is a much better option than camping outside of the designated area. Given the popularity of Mt. of the Holy Cross it is important to minimize your impact as much as possible at East Cross Creek. 

Water can be taken from the creek, though do be sure to filter it before drinking. Also, there are no campfires allowed at any time at the campsites, so be sure to pack in stove fuel if you need it.

Map of campsites at East Cross Creek

There are 10 designated campsites at East Cross Creek.

 

Mt. of the Holy Cross Weather

As with all fourteeners, it is paramount to keep an eye on the weather when attempting to climb Mt. of the Holy Cross. Given the altitude, exposed nature of the hike, and significant length, we highly recommend starting very early in the morning to give yourself the best chance of avoiding afternoon thunderstorms.

mountain storm

Be prepared for storms to roll in at any time.

 

You can use the link here to get a sense of the weather forecast for Mt. of the Holy Cross. However, conditions can change at any time, so any forecast for a 14,000′ peak should be taken with a grain of salt. It is also advisable to check in with the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District to get current conditions.

Wrap-up & Resources

That’s it! We hope you found the information in this post useful for planning your Mt. of the Holy Cross adventure! As always, be sure to check out some of the helpful resources below for planning your hike:

Mount of the Holy Cross from Half Moon Pass

 

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The Complete Guide to Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

  If you’ve read any of our other posts on this blog, you’ve probably figured out by now that we really love to hike.  If you ask me, there’s only…

A frozen and snow covered Dream Lake, seen while snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake in all of its frozen beauty.

 

If you’ve read any of our other posts on this blog, you’ve probably figured out by now that we really love to hike.  If you ask me, there’s only one thing more fun than hiking…hiking in the snow! And the only thing better than hiking in the snow? Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park! You might be thinking, “Well, no… It’s cold and difficult and boring.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “She’s crazy. Skiing is WAY better.” Before you click over to one of the six other tabs you have open right now, hear me out. 

Snowshoeing allows you to see familiar trails in a completely new way, it’s a challenging and rewarding workout, and it gives you the opportunity to experience popular hikes without the crowds. Oh, and unlike skiing, you don’t have to get up at 4am to battle traffic for hours just to get there. You can rent or buy snowshoes for a very reasonable cost, especially when compared to skis.  Snowshoeing for the win!

As I’ve gotten into the sport in recent years, I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to find good information about snowshoeing near the Front Range, especially snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In this post, I’ll share everything you need to know in order to have a fantastic snowshoe outing in one of our favorite places: Rocky Mountain National Park.

But first, a few reasons why you should showshoe in Rocky Mountain National Park…

-It has a pretty consistent snowpack throughout the winter months.

-It is significantly less crowded in the off-season, allowing you to enjoy its natural wonders in peace and solitude.

-It has a wealth of trails of varying lengths, difficulty levels, and terrain types, making it a great destination for snowshoers of every ability and experience level.

Also, be sure to check out our Snowshoeing Packing List to be prepared for any winter adventure!

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Guide to Hiking Chasm Lake

Length: 8.5 Miles. Moderate to Strenuous. Approximate Time: 6-8 hours. Nestled against the granite wall that forms the Eastern face of Longs Peak, pristine Chasm Lake is a truly spectacular…

Length: 8.5 Miles. Moderate to Strenuous. Approximate Time: 6-8 hours.

Nestled against the granite wall that forms the Eastern face of Longs Peak, pristine Chasm Lake is a truly spectacular sight to behold. Getting there is pretty incredible too.  The trail climbs gently through varied terrains, offering spectacular views, waterfalls, and plenty of marmot sightings. This hike is only steep and moderately technical in the last half-mile or so; the rest of it should be quite manageable for most fit(ish) hikers.

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike starts at the Longs Peak Ranger Station in Rocky Mountain National Park, which is accessed via CO-7, either from Estes Park or Allenspark. If you are coming from the Front Range, head to Lyons, then turn left onto CO-7. Stay on that road past Allenspark, and keep an eye out for signs for the Longs Peak trailhead.  When you see the turn-off (just after you enter into Larimer County), take a left. You’ll follow this road until it reaches the ranger station and trailhead. If you are hiking on a busy weekend or holiday in the summer, expect to park along the road, as the lot fills up very early. Although the hike is within Rocky Mountain National Park, visitors do not need to pay an entrance fee at this location.

The Hike

Begin your hike by following the East Longs Peak Trail.  You’ll be on this trail for most of the hike, and all of the junctions are very well marked. For the first mile or so, you’ll climb at a mellow grade through lovely pine forests. At the first junction, follow the signage and veer left.  From here, you’ll traverse a few switchbacks as you start to see and hear a stream that courses alongside the trail in several places.  A bit higher up, you’ll cross the stream (there is a bridge), and the views open up towards the forest below.  This peaceful, shady spot is a great place to stop for a snack or a short break. As you keep hiking past the stream crossing, the pine forest dwindles until the only trees left are krumholz, the short, wind-sculpted trees found at higher elevations. As you get above treeline, the views really open up.

The first stream crossing en route to Chasm Lake.

Looking to the east, you get big vistas of the entire Front Range, and to the west Longs Peak looms large. The rest of the hike winds through alpine tundra. Make sure to keep an eye out for the wide array of delicate and colorful wildflowers that dot this landscape in the summer months. The trail continues to climb steadily (and a bit more steeply) until it reaches the next junction at about mile 2.5.  The right-hand fork will take you up Battle Mountain, while the left will continue towards Longs Peak and Chasm Lake. After another mile, you’ll reach a rocky ridge.  There’s an outhouse here, and this is another nice spot to take a break. This is where you’ll leave the Longs Peak Trail (that’s an adventure for another day), and make your final push towards Chasm Lake.

From the junction, the trail hugs the side of the ridge, narrowly in some places, as it curves towards the lake. We hiked in late June and encountered a small amount of snow in this section. While it wasn’t too difficult, traversing the snow on this narrow section of trail might be a bit unsettling for some hikers.  Use hiking poles and keep your weight leaned in towards the mountain, and you should be just fine.  As you approach Chasm Lake, you’ll be treated to stunning views of Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls.  Just before reaching the lake, you will encounter a steep section that contains large boulders.  You’ll need to do some scrambling in a few places, but this tricky section is very short (and very fun!).  Spectacular Chasm Lake is waiting for you at the top.  Grab a seat on one of the many large rocks ringing the lake, relax, and enjoy this beautiful little pocket of  earth. Make sure to head down early enough in the day to avoid being above tree line when afternoon thunderstorms roll in. We capped off this perfect summer day with a post-hike ice cream outing, and we’d highly recommend you do the same.

The final approach to Chasm Lake.

Enjoy the breathtaking views of Longs Peak!

Considerations:

  • If hiking in June, check the snow conditions before you go.  July and August are the best months to complete this hike.
  • The alpine section of this hike is quite exposed, which makes it a dangerous place to be in the event of a thunderstorm. Start early to avoid getting caught up there when weather moves in.
  • If hiking on a weekend, plan for an extra mile or so of walking along the road, as the parking lot fills up very early with hikers attempting to summit Longs Peak.
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Guide to Heart Lake Snowshoeing

This is the snowshoeing adventure that has it all: easy proximity to the Front Range, minimal crowds in the wintertime, challenging climbs, spectacular views, and long peaceful stretches of trail…

This is the snowshoeing adventure that has it all: easy proximity to the Front Range, minimal crowds in the wintertime, challenging climbs, spectacular views, and long peaceful stretches of trail flanked by towering pines.  Getting to Heart Lake on snowshoes is not an easy task.  The hike is strenuous, and will likely take up the better part of your day.  However, the challenge of the trek makes the stunning views of the lake and the Continental Divide that much more rewarding.  Read on as we share all the essentials for planning your own Heart Lake snowshoe outing.

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Guide to Conundrum Hot Springs

Conundrum Hot Springs, located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness just outside of Aspen, Colorado is a truly incredible backcountry experience. The 8.5-mile long hike along Conundrum Creek leads you to…

Conundrum Hot Springs, located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness just outside of Aspen, Colorado is a truly incredible backcountry experience. The 8.5-mile long hike along Conundrum Creek leads you to natural hot springs with fantastic views of the entire valley. This is a one-of-a-kind hike is an experience that you’ll never forget. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to plan your very own Conundrum Hot Springs trip.

(Note: The Conundrum Hot Springs trail and backcountry area experience very heavy usage, and have suffered in recent years as a result. The Forest Service is implementing a reservation system beginning in 2018, which will hopefully help to keep this wilderness area pristine. Please do your part by abiding by the Leave No Trace backcountry practices.)

Conundrum Hot Springs

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Guide to Lake Verna/East Inlet Backpacking

Lake Verna, located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and accessible via the East Inlet trailhead, offers some of the most spectacular backpacking in the region. Less…

Lake Verna, located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and accessible via the East Inlet trailhead, offers some of the most spectacular backpacking in the region. Less crowded than other areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, Lake Verna and the East Inlet trail make for a fantastic backcountry adventure in Colorado’s most famous national park. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to plan your own Lake Verna backpacking trip.

Lake Verna

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Guide to Backpacking to Craig Meadows

Craig Meadows, located just south the town of Bailey, offers a great Colorado weekend backpacking trip. Reachable in less than an hour from Denver and often free of snow early…

Craig Meadows, located just south the town of Bailey, offers a great Colorado weekend backpacking trip. Reachable in less than an hour from Denver and often free of snow early in the season, Craig Meadows makes for an easy backpacking escape from Colorado’s Front Range. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to plan your own trip to Craig Meadows.

Backpack to Craig Meadows

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Colorado’s Best City Hikes

Recently, I took a trip to Palm Springs, California to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family.  We’re spread out all over the country, so the desert city is always…

Sunset over Palm Springs. CA

Recently, I took a trip to Palm Springs, California to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family.  We’re spread out all over the country, so the desert city is always the perfect place to meet up and get some early winter sun.  One of our favorite traditions is to hike the iconic Museum Trail.  This trail winds straight up from the parking lot of the local art museum (hence the name), and is accessed from the center of downtown.  We like to do the hike late in the afternoon so we can watch the sun set and the city lights turn on below us as we descend.  My family likes to cap off this annual hike with a trip to the Mexican joint a few blocks from the trailhead for margaritas.  This year, I came to an important realization: city hikes are awesome. Don’t get me wrong, I love and appreciate the solitude of trekking the remote backcountry as much as any nature fanatic.  However, there is also something fabulous about walking or biking to a trailhead, savoring spectacular urban views, and having an array of apres-hike venues mere steps from your finishing point. In this post, I’ll share my five favorite city hikes right here in Colorado. I hope they’ll make you love urban hiking as much as I do.

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Guide to Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte

If you’ve lived in Colorado for a year or thirty, you’ve likely heard of the hike between Aspen and Crested Butte.  While it’s a nearly 200-mile drive between posh Aspen…

If you’ve lived in Colorado for a year or thirty, you’ve likely heard of the hike between Aspen and Crested Butte.  While it’s a nearly 200-mile drive between posh Aspen and laid-back Crested Butte, the two mountain towns are actually only a couple dozen miles apart as the crow flies (if you’ve lived in Colorado awhile, you’ve probably heard this expression a bunch too).  Not only can you hike between Aspen and Crested Butte in one day, but the hike itself is one for the ages. Be sure to check out our other Aspen to Crested Butte resources below:

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