Gunnison County, Colorado
Gunnison & San Isabel National Forests
Gunnison & Salida Ranger Districts
View this on the Colorado Trailheads Map
Forest Service Roads: 298, 298.A
Trail Type: Straight Through
Nearby Towns: St. Elmo, Nathrop, Buena Vista
Nearby Trails: Hancock Pass, Pomeroy Lakes
Season: August ONLY
Trail Length: 3.51 miles
Elevation: 11,089 to 11,809 feet
Williams Pass is proof that trails can be reopened once they have been closed. The trail was closed for 12 years and reopened again in 1997, though it is only open for the month of August each year (weather permitting). It is a short trail filled with challenges and awesome scenery.
Though you can start at either end, the trail is a bit more fun and exciting if you start at the west end near the Alpine Tunnel on Hancock Pass. The trailhead is barely noticeable, and just south of the Palisades. It is marked with a brown sign, and you can easily see the seasonal forest service gate just a few yards from the Hancock Pass trail.
Williams Pass starts as a climb over big rocks, and it can be challenging right away. You climb up to a grassy trail and around a switchback, and soon you find yourself in a large meadow. In front of you, there are rocks made red by the water crossing over them. Have fun on these wet rocks as you climb.
You can see Williams Pass almost straight ahead, a saddle between Mount Poor on the left and Mount Arps on the right. Williams Pass marks the continental divide, and this is where you're headed.
The red rocks soon end, and then the trail turns to soggy rocks that are often muddy and loose. Many of the big rocks are unavoidable, because the trail is narrow. There is thick brush to either side. Be sure to stay on the trail at all times.
This rocky climb is a lot of fun, and finding the big rocks in the trail can make it quite challenging. The pass itself is marked with a 4x4 post, and the rocky section has ended.
Just past the pass, however, is the mud. This mud changes from year to year, but it is almost always there. It can be deep and sticky, and the ruts themselves can be very deep. Be sure to stay on the trail and stay in the mud.
After the mud, you start downhill. This side of the pass is bumpy in places but fairly easy. You circle around and come to the inner gate, and then soon to the final gate.
Between the inner and final gates is a hiking trail that provides access to the Alpine Tunnel from the other side. It is a steep hike, but not particularly rough. The final gate is often open when the initial and inner gates are still closed, to allow access for hikers.
Williams Pass is a rare treat because it is not open for very long every year, if at all. It makes a great loop with Hancock Pass.
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. Follow the Hancock Pass trail almost to the Alpine Tunnel, where you can find the trailhead on the right.
Alternatively, you can take Highway 285 to Highway 50 west. Turn right on County Road 888, then left on County Road 887 through the town of Whitepine. Follow this road to County Road 763 north through the town of Pitkin where it turns into County Road 765. Follow signs to the Alpine Tunnel and County Road 839.
Meet in Conifer on Highway 285 at the Loaf N' Jug gas station. Those coming from Colorado Springs will want to meet at Johnson Village instead and not come that far north.