Pets allowed
Elevation Gain
4,132.00 ft (1,259.43 m)
Trail type
22.20 mi (35.73 km)
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The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail spans nearly 3,100 miles across 5 states from Mexico to Canada, exploring a vast array of different environments and landscapes along the way. The CDT can be completed as a single thru-hike that will take 4 to 6 months, or by section-hiking smaller segments. The Colorado portion of the CDT features 800 miles of stunning and challenging high altitude hiking. Highlights include the South San Juans, Collegiate Peaks, 14,270 foot Grays Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Mount Zirkel Wilderness. In this guide we’ll take a closer look at one of the alternate options, know as the Mirror Lake Alternate.

The Mirror Lake Alternate begins at the same rugged 4x4 road that CDT Section 21 begins from. While most hikers will choose to stay on the official route, the alternate is a good choice if the weather is looking bad, or if hikers are looking for a slightly easier and different route.

You’ll begin by following the 4x4 road to the left as it ascends steadily up to Tin Cup Pass. The views from here are excellent, but you’ll likely share them with motorists who have driven here. You’ll then make the surprisingly gentle descent down to Mirror Lake. The road skirts around the east side of the lake. There is also a nice USFS campground on the north side of the lake.

Soon you’ll turn right on the Timberline Trail. This is the trail that you’ll follow for the reminder of the alternate. Don’t be surprised if you see ATVs or dirt bikes on the trail, as they are allowed.

The trail ascends up to a high point with great views. You’ll contour around the hillside, then begin the big descent down to the Sanford Creek valley. You’ll have a bit of a climb after leaving the creek, but then the trail turns relatively mellow for the rest of the way.

You’ll pass through large areas with tons of blowdown, thankfully the trail has been cleared out and is good to hike! As you near the Timberline Trailhead there is a large area with some good camping. The trail then parallels alongside Cottonwood Pass Road for a while before crossing it.

Continue descending until you get to the Texas Creek Valley. Cross the creek via bridge, or cut cross country and ford the creek to save a couple miles (the trail does a bit of a pointless loop to hit the bridge).

You’ll then follow the 4x4 road upstream until you reach the junction with the official CDT. Turn left and you’ll be back on track.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass


Open Year-round



A nice lake, and some good views. Less exposure than official CDT.


Follows 4x4 road for first stretch. ATV and dirt bike traffic. Not as scenic as official CDT.

Trailhead Elevation

11,091.00 ft (3,380.54 m)

Highest point

12,166.00 ft (3,708.20 m)


Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
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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