Chaffee County, Colorado
San Isabel National Forest
Salida Ranger District
View this on the Colorado Trailheads Map
Forest Service Roads: 322, 322.A
Trail Type: Out and Back
Nearby Towns: Buena Vista, Nathrop
Nearby Trails: Chinaman Gulch, Iron Chest, Mount Antero, Grizzly Lake
Trail Length: 5.3 miles
Elevation: 8,994 to 12,137 feet
Most of the trail at the lower elevations is extremely smooth and easy enough for a passenger car. It is only the last half mile or so that gives this trail its higher rating.
The turn off of county road 162 at the Mount Princeton Hot Springs. You are still on pavement as you climb up county road 321. Turn left on county road 322 and circle back around. When you go through a parking area (perfect for airing down and up) you will take the dirt road at the very end that follows the fence. This is the start of the trail.
It is a soft, nice trail that is often wide enough for vehicles to pass. You will most likely find other vehicles going both directions, some of them larger SUVs and trucks. Make sure you always know how far it will be to back up if you need to let someone by.
The last few switchbacks have some rocky areas, and passenger cars may park on the side and hike the rest of the way up. It is a steep hike.
The last switchback is very exposed above timberline, and is a shelf road that may be difficult for people afraid of heights. You can finally see the whole valley, including where Chinaman's Gulch starts.
The top has plenty of room for parking, and the views are amazing. Watch for a hiking trail that starts just before the last small hill that takes you to the top. It is a short hike from here to the Bristlecone Park USFS Chalet.
This lodge is one of the most complete and comfortable lodges we have seen on a trail, by far. The public can stay there for free (first come, first served) and it is much like staying in a cabin where you pay a fee. The floors are cement, which would make it cold at night, but the walls are filled in and the vaulted ceilings are nice. It has a front and back door, windows, a fireplace, a patio, and an outdoor grill on the patio. The views are incredible and the guestbook in the lodge shows that many people stay there.
This is a nice, short trail that you could easily run if you have extra time. It shouldn't take more than two hours to go up and back, even if you hike to the lodge.
- August 20, 2010: ran by Marcus, Mark U., Matt K., Terry and Walt
- September 17, 2005: ran by Austin, Gary, Michael, Mike S., Monica, Rob C. and Walt
From Denver, take Highway 285 to Nathrop. Turn right on county road 162 and head for the Mount Princeton Hot Springs. Long before the road turns to dirt you turn right on county road 321. Turn left on county road 322, then go to where the pavement ends at a dirt parking lot. The trail starts at the dirt road immediately ahead that follows the fence.
Meet in Conifer on Highway 285 at the Bradley gas station. Those coming from Colorado Springs will want to meet at Johnson's Village instead and not come that far north.