Pets allowed
Elevation Gain
3,532.00 ft (1,076.55 m)
Trail type
15.90 mi (25.59 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Completed in 1987, the Colorado Trail stretches 485 magnificent miles from Denver to Durango. Along the way it meanders through high alpine mountains and valleys, offering a glimpse at some of the finest terrain Colorado has to offer. It traverses eight mountain ranges, six wilderness areas and stays above 10,000’ for the majority of the trail. Highlights include the Collegiate Range, where multiple 14ers are just off trail and can easily be climbed, and the San Juans, where the trail remains above tree line for days at a time and climbs to elevations of over 13,000’. There is also abundant wildlife along the Colorado Trail, ranging in size from small pika and marmot, to bear and moose.

The trail is divided into 28 different segments, each beginning at a trailhead accessible by vehicle. This accessibility is what makes the Colorado Trail special. Day hikers and section hikers can easily find their way to new segments of trail, while thru hikers can still enjoy a wild and rugged four to six week journey. Below is a description for Colorado Trail Collegiate West Segment 3.

Collegiate West Segment 3 is one of the most spectacular segments of the entire Colorado Trail. It features stunning high alpine terrain and stays above treeline for essentially the entire way. Unfortunately this means that if the weather is bad, segment 3 may not be much fun! Camping is also very limited along this segment.

Segment 3 begins from Cottonwood Pass, where hikers can hitch east into Buena Vista if needed. The trail then climbs to a small summit, a popular day hike for the tourists that drove here. You’ll have jaw dropping views from here, and they only get better as you continue.

You’ll then leave the tourists behind as you follow near, but usually not directly atop the ridge of the mountains. This segment seems to repeat a pattern of skirting around mountains, climbing a high ridge/pass, and then descending a bit toward a new valley. You’ll pass through the shadows of a few impressive peaks, including 13,533’ Emma Burr Mountain.

The trail continues through this high and beautiful mountain terrain until dropping down a massive set of switchbacks. You’ll be thankful you’re hiking southbound as you descend these switchbacks, ultimately entering the forest and soon coming to Tin Cup Pass Road. This marks the end of Collegiate West Segment 3.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass


Open Year-round



Spectacular high mountain views.


Exposed hiking and few camping options.

Trailhead Elevation

12,133.00 ft (3,698.14 m)

Highest point

12,856.00 ft (3,918.51 m)


Big vistas

Typically multi-day


Permit required



Nearby Lodging + Camping

Grand Mesa Uncompahgre + Gunnison National Forests
Sawatch Range + Elk Mountains, Colorado
Sawatch Range + Elk Mountains, Colorado


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