Hiking through the Colorado Rockies

Hiking in Buena Vista

Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area

Fresh air, blue skies and a true Colorado experience awaits you in our Rocky Mountains. Buena Vista is renowned for its Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area with its 165,864 acres, much of which lies within the San Isabel National Forest. This wilderness area holds a collection of Sawatch Range Mountains and is set in the Buena Vista valley. The Sawatch Range contains some of Colorado’s highest peaks and provides magnificent views that inspire both visitors and local residents every day. Many of these peaks are named after universities, such as Mount Princeton, Mount Columbia, Mount Harvard and Mount Yale, earning the title “Collegiate Peaks”.  Enjoy this book “Hiking Buena Vista, CO.

 

Fourteeners

Sometimes you’ll hear the Collegiate Peaks called “fourteeners” which is a reference to the mountains that have an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. Buena Vista is a popular area for mountaineering, especially since Chaffee County the highest concentration of fourteeners in Colorado. In fact, there are 12 fourteeners in our county all within an easy distance from Buena Vista.  For more information consider this book “The Colorado Fourteeners.”

Summiting a fourteener is a noteworthy feat, and many travel to Buena Vista just to attain their very own mountaintop experience.  For information on hiking a fourteener visit www.fourteenernet.com/fourteeners

 

Continental Divide

The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area forms part of the Continental Divide where snow melts to the Atlantic Ocean on one side and to the Pacific Ocean on the other side of the pass. This divide is marked at the saddle of Cottonwood Pass, a popular hiking, cycling and driving destination. Since the Sawatch Mountains reach such high elevation, snow typically lasts until July, which means the best mountain climbing months are usually July through September.  Here is a great book “Colorado Trail Guidebook.”

Abundance of Hiking Trails

If advanced mountaineering isn’t your aim, numerous beginner and intermediate hikes are available in the Buena Vista area and serve as great family options. These hikes offer stunning views of the Collegiate Peaks. The many lakes near Buena Vista also offer beautiful hiking destinations, such as Ptarmigan Lake, Hartenstein Lake, Clear Creek Reservoir, and Twin Lakes. You can even hike the amazing trails at the end of East Main Street in downtown Buena Vista, such as the Arkansas River Trail or the Midland Trail; both are good options for families and those who don’t want to trek far out of town.  They offer amazing views of the Collegiate Peaks and the Arkansas River. Purchase a copy of “Hiking in Buena Vista” book for your own variety of hiking trails.  

The Colorado Trail is accessible from different spots within out area.  Check out the State’s Colorado Trail Explorer website for more information on the Colorado Trail.

No matter the trail difficulty level, hiking in Buena Vista can be challenging at first because of the high altitude. But with proper hydration, nutrition, gear and attire, you’ll be ready for a fun adventure in the Colorado Rockies.

Barbara Whipple Trail and Midland Hill

The Barbara Whipple Trail (known usually as the “Whipple Trail”) is a moderately easy hike in Buena Vista, Colorado. The trail provides Amazing views of the Collegiate Peaks and the Arkansas river.  It also connects to the Mildland Hill hike which allows one to climb to the top of “Sleeping Indian” 9,555 feet above sea level.  Stop in at the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center for a map!

The Whipple trail is located east of Buena Vista on Main Street – drive down to where Main St. dead ends, then take a quick left and park at the soccer fields. There is a bridge that crosses the Arkansas River and the trail begins at the bridge. The Barbara Whipple Trail has a loop that runs through pinions, with a route leading to the old Midland Railroad grade. Throughout the trail, there are kiosks with interesting historic information about the Arkansas River Valley.  A great hike for one and all.

Kroenke Lake Trail

 Very enjoyable and popular day hike or overnighter. The lake is very picturesque and well known for Cutthroat Trout fishing. There are many side hike opportunities from the trail.
Directions: to Cty. Rd. 365: From Main St./Hwy. 24 Stoplight in Buena Vista, travel North .3 mile; West (L) on Crossman Ave./Cty. Rd 350. Drive 2.1 miles to Cty. Rd. 361; turn North (R) and travel 1.0 mile. Turn West (L) onto Cty. Rd. 365; travel 5.5 miles to the Trailhead. Park.
#1448 Trail Info: Cross North Cottonwood Creek on wooden bridge at .12 miles; cross small stream at 1.44 miles; make a second crossing of North Cottonwood Creek on wooden bridge at 1.58 miles. At 1.64 miles trail splits; take left trail to Kroenke Lake. At 2.59 miles cross stream on log bridge. Make two more stream crossings to sub-alpine valley at 4.0 miles. Kroenke Lake is at 4.3 miles.
Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 8.6 miles round trip
Starting Elevation: 9,935 ft.
Elevation Gain: 1660 ft. 

Harvard Lakes

Very scenic valley and mountain views and beautiful alpine lakes. After some elevation gain, trail becomes level.
Directions: to Cty. Rd. 365: From Main St./Hwy. 24 Stoplight in Buena Vista, travel North .3 mile; West (L) on Crossman Ave./Cty. Rd 350. Drive 2.1 miles to Cty. Rd. 361; turn North (R) and travel 1.0 mile. Turn West (L) onto Cty. Rd. 365; travel 3.5 miles to the Trailhead. Park.
#1776 (N) Trail Info: You will be hiking the Colorado Trail (N) to Harvard Lakes. First .75 miles is 600 feet of elevation gain, followed by a small ascents/descents. At .26 miles, switchbacks offer great views of Mt. Harvard. Hike through alpine forests of pine and aspen continuing uphill. At 1.31 miles enter open clearing to view Mt. Princeton and the Upper Arkansas River Valley. At 2.35 miles, cross small stream, continue ascent. At 2.55 miles, cross a second stream, continue ascent. The larger Harvard Lake is at 2.80 miles and the smaller one is at 2.99 miles.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 6 miles round trip 
Starting Elevation:  9,400′ ft.
Elevation Gain: 896 ft.

North Cottonwood Trail

Popular and picturesque hike following beautiful North Cottonwood Creek; waterfalls and rushing rapids. This short mountain hike is the start for both Kroenke and Bear Lake Trails.
Directions: to Cty. Rd. 365: From Main St./Hwy. 24 Stoplight in Buena Vista, travel North .3 mile; West (L) on Crossman Ave./Cty. Rd 350. Drive 2.1 miles to Cty. Rd. 361; turn North (R) and travel 1.0 mile. Turn West (L) onto Cty. Rd. 365; travel 5.5 miles to the Trailhead. Park.
Trail Info: Cross North Cottonwood Creek on wooden bridge at .12 miles; cross small stream at 1.44 miles; make a second crossing of North Cottonwood Creek on wooden bridge at 1.58 miles. Turn around or continue on trail where it splits to Kroenke or Bear Lake.
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 3.2 miles round trip
Starting Elevation: 9,935 ft.
Elevation Gain: 415 ft. 

Green Timber Gulch Trail

Scenic trail with views of the Swatch Mountain Range. Blue Spruce forests and wildflowers follow Green Timber Gulch; cascading water and small waterfalls.
Directions:  From Main St./Hwy. 24 Stoplight in Buena Vista, turn West
on Cty. Rd.306/Cottonwood Pass. Travel 6.8 miles to left turn onto Cty. Rd. 344; proceed 6.8 miles to Trailhead on left; need high clearance vehicle for last .8 mile.  
Trail Info: Cross the bridge over South Cottonwood Creek at .40 forge Green Tree Gulch stream. At 1.28 miles the trail opens up to a stunning view of Green Tree Gulch. At 1.48 miles where you forge a second stream the trail turns immediately LEFT, do not take the trail up the stream. At 2.0 miles enter the sub-alpine meadows that are full of willows, spruce and shrubs. At 2.40 miles you will begin your final ascent to the pass which is a glacial formed valley. You will see great views of Mt. Elbert (14,439’), the highest 14er in our area. At 2.67 miles the Green Timber Gulch Trail connects with Poplar Gulch Trail.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 5.3 miles round trip 
Starting Elevation:  10,300′ ft.
Elevation Gain: 1,935 ft.

Lake Ann

The path to Lake Ann offers hikers a serene experience, with impressive views of various mountain peaks. On the way, you’ll view the Three Apostles peaks and Mount Huron, both of which are noteworthy sights. Remember to bring lunch and or some snacks so you can stop at the lake to soak in the Rocky Mountain views and shimmering turquoise water. Lake Ann is also a good fishing spot, with 8-16″ native cutthroats that are ready to bite a dry fly.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 7.6 miles round trip (from 4WD trailhead)
Elevation: 10,560 ft. – 11,811 ft.
Elevation Gain: 1,251 ft.
Directions: To reach Lake Ann, head north out of Buena Vista on Highway 24 North for about 15 miles as you head toward Clear Creek Reservoir. Turn left to travel west on County Road 390 and continue for about 11.6 miles. Once you reach the ghost town of Winfield, turn left onto a small dirt road (FR 390.2B). After 0.1 miles, you’ll see a parking and camping area to your left. If you don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle, you’ll have to park here and hike about 2 miles to the trailhead. If you do have a four-wheel drive vehicle, continue 2.1 miles on a rough section of road to the trailhead (when you reach 0.7 miles past Winfield, the road becomes a junction where you must turn right). Stay on this road until you see the parking lot.