Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
19,760.00 ft (6,022.85 m)
Trail type
Shuttle
Distance
83.20 mi (133.90 km)
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The Collegiate West Route runs 80 miles across the western slope of the Collegiate Peaks and is highly regarded as one of the most scenic stretches of trail in the state. It is commonly hiked in combination with the Collegiate East Route to form the 160 mile Collegiate Loop. In addition it is an official part of the Continental Divide Trail and an official alternate route of the Colorado Trail. It passes through stunning alpine terrain including high mountain passes, beautiful valleys and gorgeous lakes. There is also abundant wildlife along the Collegiate West Route including everything from pika and marmot to moose and bear. The Collegiate West Route is officially divided into 5 different segments as follows:

 

Twin Lakes to Sheep Gulch - 9.8 Miles

The official start of the Collegiate West Route begins at Twin Lakes near the middle of segment 11 of the Colorado Trail. The nearest parking is located about a mile (via trail) to the east on Road 25. Perhaps a better option for those looking to start here is the Willis Gulch Trailhead to the west. The small resort town of Twin Lakes is also nearby for those looking to stock up on supplies before heading out. 

Once on trail you’ll follow close to the lakes for a while before heading south and beginning the steep climb up to Hope Pass. You’ll follow the Willis Gulch Trail the entire way. Once you reach Hope Pass the views are spectacular. You can see many of the impressive peaks in the Collegiates including Mount Hope looming just up the ridge to your right. The trail then descends, steeply in sections, until it passes close to the Sheep Gulch Trailhead.

 

Sheep Gulch to Cottonwood Pass Trailhead - 25.9 Miles

The next stretch of trail is fairly mellow and enjoyable as it parallels a nearby road and passes close to some historic mining areas. The trail begins to climb as it follows the South Fork of Clear Creek up a valley. Eventually you’ll rise above tree line and see a short spur trail to Lake Ann. Be sure to take the time to check out this stunningly beautiful lake and, if the weather is good, take advantage of this special place to camp for the night.

Continuing on, the trail climbs steeply up to Lake Ann Pass. The rocky ascent is challenging and time consuming. Hikers are also often met by a snow bank near the top of the pass that can linger late into the season. Although easy to cross after hikers have formed a track, early season backpackers may consider bringing micro spikes and/or an ice axe depending on conditions.

The trail then begins a long descent. Don’t be surprised if you see or hear dirt bikers on this stretch of trail as they are (surprisingly) allowed here. Next you’ll come to a meadow/wetland area along Texas Creek. The following few miles are relatively flat and enjoyable until you begin the climb toward Cottonwood Pass. Along the climb be sure to keep an eye out for the resident moose, often seen chomping on willows just off trail.

Upon reaching Cottonwood Pass you are sure to be met by large groups of tourists and day hikers. This is only one of two paved roads that the Collegiate West Route crosses. From here hikers can try hitching east into Buena Vista if in need of resupply or rest.

 

Cottonwood Pass Trailhead to Tincup Pass Road - 15.9 Miles

After leaving behind Cottonwood Pass, you'll be starting on the third segment of the West Collegiate Route. Here the trail climbs briefly to a summit where you’ll leave the tourists behind and be rewarded with jaw dropping views. In fact, this entire next stretch of trail is simply stunning with incredible vistas and rugged mountains as far as the eye can see. Throughout this segment the trail closely follows the Continental Divide and stays almost entirely above tree line. 

On the way to Tincup Pass Road the trail seems to repeat a pattern of skirting around mountains, climbing a high ridge, and then descending down into a new valley. Although stunningly beautiful, this stretch of trail is physically demanding and very exposed to the elements. Be sure to keep an eye on the weather and don’t be afraid to wait things out if the skies look ominous.

 

Tincup Pass Road to Boss Lake Trailhead - 15.9 Miles

From Tincup Pass Road the trail climbs above tree line yet again and crosses two more high passes. It then descends and follows a well graded old railroad bed down to a road. Along the way are a few informative signs covering the interesting history of the railroad. The trail then follows a rough gravel road up to Hancock Lake. You’re likely to run into vehicles on this road so use caution, especially on weekends.

The trail returns to singletrack at the lake and continues up to a pass. It then drops into a beautiful valley where there are a few more small lakes and a stream. The trail continues down, following the Middle Fork of the South Arkansas River until it arrives at Boss Lake Trailhead and the end of the segment.

 

Boss Lake Trailhead to Collegiate West/East Junction - 15.7 Miles

The last segment of the Collegiate West Route begins by crossing over the Middle Fork of the South Arkansas River before ascending up to Boss Lake Reservoir. The trail then climbs steeply as it passes two more small lakes before rejoining the Continental Divide on a ridge just north of Bald Mountain. The views are fantastic from here.

The trail continues to closely follow the Divide as it works its way down the waterless ridge, past Monarch Mountain Ski Resort and eventually down to Monarch Pass. After crossing the highway you’ll come to a food and gift store. They stock an impressive selection of food (although mostly snacks) and have a small dining area where they serve a few items including hot dogs, popcorn and ice cream. Many hikers choose to hitch into Salida from here, a medium sized town with more resupply options, as well as two hostels and numerous shops and restaurants.

If carrying on, the last few miles are relatively easy and follow the Monarch Crest Trail. You’ll soon come to the junction with the Colorado Trail/Collegiate East Route. If you are hiking the Collegiate Loop (or looking to take a different route back to Monarch Pass) turn left here. If you are continuing south on the CT/CDT then turn right.

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Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Breathtaking high mountain passes and spectacular scenery.

Cons

Few resupply options

Trailhead Elevation

9,270.00 ft (2,825.50 m)

Highest point

12,853.00 ft (3,917.59 m)

Features

Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Wildlife
Fishing
Big vistas
Big Game Watching
Wildflowers
Bird watching

Typically multi-day

Yes

Suitable for

Horseback

Permit required

No

Location

Nearby Adventures

Sawatch Range + Elk Mountains, Colorado
Sawatch Range + Elk Mountains, Colorado
Sawatch Range + Elk Mountains, Colorado

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