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Holy Cross
Eagle County, Colorado
View this on the Colorado Trailheads Map

Trail Type: Out and Back
Nearby Towns: Minturn, Leadville, Vail
Nearby Trails: Shrine Pass, Weston Pass
Season: Year Round
Trail Length: 9.85 miles
Elevation: 9,365 to 11,798 feet
Named Obstacles: Notch, Slab, Steep Rock, French Creek, Tippy Tree, Cleveland Rock, Cleveland 1, Cleveland 2, Cleveland 3

Recommended by Dane
Recommended by Dave R.
Recommended by Ed C.
Recommended by Fred
Recommended by Joe P.
Recommended by Kendall
Recommended by Mike B.
Recommended by Patrick D.
Recommended by Wayne

One of the most fun and challenging trails in Colorado, you can keep this trail quite a bit easier if you turn around at Holy Cross City and skip Cleveland Rock. Still, French Creek is a very challenging obstacle and if you complete it the trail still has a fairly high rating. Also, the trail is almost always crowded on the weekends, so expect to be on the trail all day if you aren't there during the week.

There is a sign at the entrance noting the equipment your vehicle will need to complete the trail. It should be taken seriously, though you should note that you can almost always turn around and go back down if the trail becomes too difficult.

There are signs throughout the trail noting each time the trail gets more difficult. They also note how much it costs to get your vehicle towed from that spot on.

The trail starts with some rocky, smaller obstacles. There is a moderate rock garden that gets the fun started early. You can make things quite difficult through here if you tackle the bigger rocks. This portion of the trail is one-way only, so you won't come across any vehicles on their way down.

The end of the rocky section is marked with an intersection. This is the exit from the trail and you will come back to this point later. Continue straight and uphill to do the rest of the trail.

The first obstacle is the Notch. The line on the left has a crack in the rock that is fun to play in, and you can get some impressive wheelstands here. If you take the high line to the right it is steep and bumpy. This obstacle is not particularly difficult no matter which way you go.

Soon after the Notch is the Slab. There is an easy bypass to the right, or you can tackle the obstacle on the left. It is a steep ledge that is difficult when dry and could be impossible when muddy and wet unless you have very large tires. It is easy to slide sideways in mud here and get stuck between the obstacle and a rock behind you.

After these two obstacles you continue uphill on a bumpy trail. You can start to see Whitney Peak in front of you. You will eventually pass the old "Tippy Tree" obstacle that used to be difficult to get through without damage (formerly called "First Obstacle"). The tree died in 2002 and now it is just another rocky section. You can still see the tree to the side of the trail.

The first big obstacle is Steep Rock (formerly called "Second Obstacle"). There are many lines through this obstacle. The line on the right is the easiest as you straddle a crack, but it is still challenging. The lines on the middle and the left side are very steep and rocky, and you could get into trouble here if you slip off of your line. Everyone must cross the shallow creek at the top of Steep Rock where it is surprisingly bumpy.

Soon after Steep Rock is French Creek, the first difficult obstacle. It changes every year, and it seems to get harder with each passing season. The line that was easiest before may no longer be the easiest one. If it is muddy, French Creek could require a winch. If you do not have lockers you may need to winch the entire obstacle. If there is traffic on the trail, this is usually where it is backed up. If you can plan to have lunch here that is usually a good idea, because you may be here awhile.

The trail continues past French Creek and soon you come to the true Tippy Tree obstacle (formerly called "Third Obstacle"). The rock ledge is diagonal across the trail, with a big tree on the right and a drop-off on the left. It makes you tippy and you could slide around a little, but it's more intimidating than it is dangerous.

You'll pass by the old mud bogs (closed and fenced off many years ago) and finally come to Holy Cross City. There is ample parking here. Take the time to walk around the area to see the old buildings, but leave things as you found them. Take only pictures, and do not deface any of the property.

Many people turn around here, because the next obstacle is extreme. You could easily walk from Holy Cross City to the overlook above Hunky Dory Lake, and you may want to do this unless you have a buggy. Cleveland Rock is just past the city, after a few rocky sections. It is big and there is no bypass. The line on the right is full of holes to tip you over, and the line on the left is steep and slick. There is often water and mud at the bottom and in the middle to keep your tires wet and slick. Many vehicles (even buggies) will find it impossible to continue up this obstacle without winching.

After Cleveland Rock are three smaller obstacles, Cleveland 1, Cleveland 2 and Cleveland 3. They are challenging but not nearly as difficult as Cleveland Rock or French Creek. At the end, there is an area where you can park or turn around.

The 4x4 trail from this point was closed many years ago, but you can still walk along it. If you hike about 1/4 of a mile you can see where the old trail continues into a swampy area. Leave the trail here and work your way to the right of the trail and you will end at the edge of a cliff overlooking Hunky Dory Lake. It is a beautiful sight. You can see other trails around the lake as well.

Continue back out the way you came in, taking the right turn at the intersection. After this point it is four miles of an easy dirt road to get back out to the main road where you soon pass the Holy Cross trailhead again on your way back out to the pavement.

Information last updated on September 5th, 2014.

Member Reports

Driving Directions

Take I-70 to exit 171 marked U.S. 24. Just after the Hornsilver Campground turn right on 703. You will see signs to Blodgett Campground and Homestake Reservoir. The trail is about 9 miles down 703 on the right marked FS 759. It is just past the Gold Park Forest Service Campground.

Alternatively, you can drive north from Leadville on U.S. 24 past Camp Hale. Turn left on 703 just past some switchbacks.

Meeting Places

Meet in Downieville at the Starbucks or Burger King at I-70 exit 234.

Low-End Rating: 7
High-End Rating: 9
Rock Crawling:
Dirt & Mud:
Water Crossings:
Cliffs & Ledges:
Climbs & Descents:
Other Activities:
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Trail Photographs

Holy Cross City Steep Rock Down French Creek
View from French Creek Cleveland Rock Start of the Trail

Trail Movies
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Maps and Coordinates
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Trail in Red with Hiking Trail in Blue and Exit Road in Black
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Holy Cross (GPS Exchange File)
Holy Cross Hike Track (Google Earth Track)
Holy Cross Exit Track (Google Earth Track)
Holy Cross Track (Google Earth Track)
Cleveland 2 (Google Earth Placemark)
Holy Cross City (Google Earth Placemark)
French Creek (Google Earth Placemark)
Old Tippy Tree (Google Earth Placemark)
Slab (Google Earth Placemark)
Cleveland Rock (Google Earth Placemark)
Notch (Google Earth Placemark)
Cleveland 3 (Google Earth Placemark)
Cleveland 1 (Google Earth Placemark)
Tippy Tree (Google Earth Placemark)
Steep Rock (Google Earth Placemark)
Holy Cross Trailhead (Google Earth Placemark)

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Trail information is only accurate on the date posted. Trails may have changed or closed since that date. Use this information for historical purposes only. Contact the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management for up-to-date trail information.

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