Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
3,515.00 ft (1,071.37 m)
Trail type
Shuttle
Distance
15.90 mi (25.59 km)
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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 Segment 23.

 

Colorado Trail Segment 23

Carson Saddle to Stony Pass Trailhead

 

Segment 23 is arguably one of the best segments of the entire Colorado Trail. It remains above tree line the entire way, and passes by some breathtaking terrain including stunning peaks, gorgeous valleys and a few lovely lakes. Segment 23 begins at Carson Saddle. Note that you’ll need a 4WD vehicle to reach here. From the saddle, the Colorado Trail briefly follows a dirt road until it veers off onto singletrack. The trail then heads uphill though a gorgeous valley, passes some interesting rock formations, and eventually reaches the top of a ridge just shy of 13,000 feet.

The trail then works its way down into a spectacular valley. Many lakes are located here including Cataract Lake (the largest) just to the north of trail. Another smaller lake is located right next to the trail here and makes for a fantastic place to spend the night. If you do end up camping here, be sure to make an effort to wake early as moose are often seen around the lake in the morning.

Continuing onward, the trail skirts around the lake before repeating a series of climbs and descents, including one to a high point of 12,996 feet. The views from this high point are simply amazing. The last climb of this segment will provide you a glimpse into yet another beautiful valley, one in which you will often find sheep grazing. This valley is also home to the headwaters of the Rio Grande River. It’s amazing that this small stream will eventually turn into a mighty river as it flows 1,900 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. 

Finally the trail comes to a junction where you’ll follow Stony Pass Road uphill for about half a mile. This will lead to a small parking area and the end of segment 23. If you are shuttling from here be aware that you’ll likely need a 4WD vehicle to access this trailhead.

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Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Stunning high alpine views. Beautiful lakes.

Cons

None.

Trailhead Elevation

12,352.00 ft (3,764.89 m)

Highest point

13,002.00 ft (3,963.01 m)

Features

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

Typically multi-day

Yes

Suitable for

Biking
Horseback

Permit required

No

Location

Comments

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