Chaffee County, Colorado
San Isabel National Forest
Salida Ranger District
View this on the Colorado Trailheads Map
Forest Service Roads: 295, 299
Trail Type: Out and Back
Nearby Towns: St. Elmo, Nathrop, Buena Vista
Nearby Trails: Iron Chest, Grizzly Lake, Tincup Pass, Pomeroy Lakes, Williams Pass
Trail Length: 14.34 miles
Elevation: 10,054 to 12,156 feet
There are many different terrains and views along this trail, and it is traveled by many people on their way to other trails. You must ride on at least part of Hancock Pass to get to Grizzly Lake, Iron Chest, Pomeroy Lakes and Williams Pass.
If you start at the north end, you will travel along a mellow dirt road and pass the Mount Antero trailhead. When you get to the "Y" in the road, take the leftmost spur to Hancock Pass. The right spur straight ahead goes to the town of St. Elmo.
Hancock Pass starts out fairly mellow, though there are potholes here and there. You pass the trailhead for Grizzly Lake immediately, followed right after by the trailhead for Iron Chest. Continue just a bit further to find the trailhead for Pomeroy Lakes.
The first bit of scenery is found at the Allie Belle Mine. This mine is a sight to see, though you should explore it only through pictures taken from the road. The bottom half of the mine has separated from the top half, and it looks like it could collapse into the road at any minute. However, the mine has looked just like this for many years.
Continue to the townsite of Hancock, where there is a sign, what little remains of a cabin, and a large parking area. This is just before a small bridge. This is where the trail changes from a fairly mellow one to a narrow and bumpy one.
Just after the bridge, Williams Pass continues to the right. Just past Williams Pass is the road to Hancock Pass, also to the right at a sign. If you want to take the side trip to Hancock Lake, continue straight ahead and come back to this spot to go to Hancock Pass.
The trip to Hancock Lake is a nice one, with a rocky road on the way there. You pass an old building and outhouse as you travel along the valley. It is about 1.5 miles to the parking area for the lake, which is wide and can accomodate many vehicles.
The hike to the lake is very short and easy. Getting to Hancock Lake is not difficult at all, and there are fish in the lake. You can continue hiking just a bit further to the much smaller Upper Hancock Lake, as well. The area is very scenic, with Sewanee Peak to the east and Van Wirt Mountain to the west.
Return to the intersection with the Hancock Pass trail, and turn left to go up the hill. This section is rocky and steep in places. As you climb above timberline, the trail gets rockier. There are a couple of switchbacks that are especially rocky. This is probably the most challenging section of the trail.
Hancock Pass itself is marked with a continental divide sign. There is plenty of room to park and take in the views, which are spectacular. The views on the other side of the pass are even better. Cross the continental divide here and start heading down the mountain. This side is much smoother, though there are some dips that can surprise you.
Pass the trailhead for Tomichi Pass and continue down the hill. The trail suddenly becomes very smooth and easy when you intersect with the road that goes to the town of Pitkin. Instead of heading this way, follow the sign to the Alpine Tunnel.
Though the train tunnel is no longer in use, it is worth the trip. You follow a railroad grade that is very smooth and nearly flat, though it is next to a very big drop-off. This provides some spectacular views.
Pass the trailhead for Williams Pass, barely noticeable in the rocks on your right. Just after the next curve is the Palisades, an area that was built with stone over 100 years ago and still holds the road intact today.
There is a large parking area at the end, with a pit toilet. The hike to the Alpine Station and other railroad buildings is an easy one, and the hike to the collapsed Alpine Tunnel is just a short distance further. There is much to explore, and everything is well-marked with signs.
Continue back the way you came, following the easy road out to Pitkin.
Information last updated on August 8th, 2008.
Take Highway 285 from Denver to Route 162 near Nathrop. Take 162 west 15 miles to turn left on Hancock Road marked 295.
Meet in Conifer on Highway 285 at the Loaf N' Jug gas station. Those coming from Colorado Springs will want to meet at Johnson's Village instead and not come that far north.