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Collegiate West Alternative

The nearly 500-mile Colorado Trail between Denver and Durango, already a crown jewel among long-distance hikers, bikers and horse riders as well as thousands of day users, was expanded in 2012 to include 80 additional miles of trail through the spectacular Collegiate Peaks, home to a dozen of the state's 14,000-foot mountains.

The new "Collegiate West" forms a western complement to the classic 80-mile stretch of Colorado Trail on the eastern side of the Collegiate Peaks from Twin Lakes, southwest of Leadville, to south of Monarch Pass, southwest of Salida. It also creates a 160-mile loop, the "Collegiate Loop," we expect to become one of Colorado's most popular multi-day hikes/rides.

Loop hikers can park at access points anywhere along the east or west trail and not have to worry about shuttling vehicles. There are also good resupply spots – Twin Lakes, Buena Vista, Mount Princeton Hot Springs, Monarch Pass, and Salida – along the route.  

The new 80 miles, which also are part of the 3,000-mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST) that runs from Canada to Mexico, won't add to the 486-mile distance for hikers and other enthusiasts tackling The Colorado Trail, but will provide a high-elevation alternative that features such landmarks as the beautiful Hope Pass and Lake Ann. Familiar CT confidence markers and other new signs to aid users have already been placed by CTF volunteers.

The Colorado Trail has long shared 234 miles of trail with the CDNST. After the Continental Divide Trail Alliance, which oversaw the building and maintenance of the CDNST, dissolved in early 2012, The Colorado Trail Foundation responded and agreed to provide CTF volunteer stewardship on 80 additional miles as well as add this scenic and fun alternative route to the heart of The Colorado Trail. Another result is that the CTF volunteers now maintain 314 miles of the CDNST (we are mighty proud of this) and we value our partnership with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition.

The Collegiate West, much of which now follows old logging and mining roads, is being rerouted and rehabilitated as part of a multi-year project involving crews from The Colorado Trail Foundation, U.S. Forest Service, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, Southwest Conservation Corps, and even the Buena Vista Correctional Facility. Many miles of spectacular new singletrack have been built to replace sections along roads and volunteers will continue this work each summer until complete.

One of the lengthier, Collegiate West reroutes opened in 2014. It is a 23-mile shift in the CT/CDT alignment and has generated great excitement. It closely follows the Continental Divide and is absolutely spectacular, one of the most scenic pieces on The Colorado Trail. Of the 23 miles, 16 are newly constructed singletrack between Cottonwood Pass and Tincup Pass Road, plus 7 miles of old singletrack in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness between Texas Creek and Cottonwood Pass. Besides the enhanced scenery, another benefit is the original, pre-2006 impetus for the reroute project; this trail enhancement takes the place of similar mileage that followed roads and motorcycle trail. Bottom line, this 23-mile reroute is a major enhancement to the 80-mile Collegiate West. All of the CT guides available through the CT Store cover the CT Collegiate West nicely, including this 23-mile reroute:

Cyclists have been asking about the Collegiate West and which portions they're allowed to bike. CW01 is open to cycling, though difficult due to the abrupt and substantial elevation of Hope Pass. The majority of CW02 lies in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area where possessing a bicycle is prohibited. CW03 is not in Wilderness but is closed to bicyclists under terms of an Environmental Assessment Decision in 2006 that predates CTF involvement. CW04 and CW05 are open to cyclists as far as we know. A cyclist detour between south end CW01 and north end CW04 is possible but inconvenient; southbound from Sheep Gulch TH, bicyclists would travel east on 391, south along 24 to Nathrop (or choose non-highway alternatives), and west on 162 then 267 to where the CT Collegiate West crosses Tincup PassRoad. 

Read more, "Volunteers add 80 MIles to the Iconic Colorado Trail" in the American Trails September 2013 E-Newsletter.

5 Segments (revised 2016) that make up the CT Collegiate West:

  • CW01 Twin Lakes to Sheep Gulch, 9.8 miles
  • CW02 Sheep Gulch to Cottonwood Pass, 25.9 miles
  • CW03 Cottonwood Pass to Tincup Pass Road, 15.9 miles
  • CW04 Tincup Pass Road to Boss Lake Trailhead, 15.9 miles
  • CW05 Boss Lake Trailhead to Ridge above South Fooses Creek, 15.7 miles

Highlights of Collegiate West:

  • Elevation gain: (roughly) 19,800 ft.
  • Hope Pass
  • Lake Ann and Lake Ann Pass
  • Higher route (and sometimes more exposed)
  • Top-of-the-World views, including along the newly rerouted 23 miles
  • Tunnel Gulch - Alpine Tunnel Historical Railroad Site
  • Nearby 14ers: Mounts La Plata, Huron
  • Resupply locations: Twin Lakes, Buena Vista, Monarch Pass, Salida

Highlights of Collegiate East:

  • Elevation gain: (roughly) 17,800 ft.
  • Harvard Lakes
  • Cottonwood Hot Springs and Mount Princeton Hot Springs
  • Chalk Cliffs
  • Long used, classic route
  • Lower average elevation
  • Nearby 14ers: Mounts Yale, Princeton, Shavano, Tabeguache
  • Resupply locations: Twin Lakes, Buena Vista, Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, Salida

Resources for Collegiate West available in the CT Store:

Other Resources (Collegiate West and entire Colorado Trail)


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