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!
In this Post
- Mt. of the Holy Cross Elevation
- Mt. of the Holy Cross trailheads
- Hiking Mt. of the Holy Cross
- Mt. of the Holy Cross camping
- Mt. of the Holy Cross Weather
- Wrap-up and Resources
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 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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Colorado 14ers Maps & Resources
- 14ers.com – Great resources with in-depth route descriptions
- White River National Forest – Holy Cross Wilderness Information
- Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District
- National Weather Service forecast for Mt. of the Holy Cross
- Backpacking Gear List
- Backpacking Gear on a Budget