Mornings rays hit the peaks behind backpackers camping in the Holy Cross Wilderness
Named after a cross shaped colouir on Mount of the Holy Cross, the only fourteener here, the northern portion of the Sawatch range rises to jagged ridge lines unlike those to the south. Because of the ruggedness of these mountains, the Holy Cross wilderness and the surrounding area has a reputation for being treacherously difficult to navigate, and hikers have become lost.
Due to the presence of a fourteener, the wilderness is popular with mountain climbers. The Holy Cross wilderness contains myriads of mountain lakes and tarns perched in high altitude basins that feed tumbling streams and rivers including Cross Creek and Homestake Creek. Located in the center of the wilderness is the Mt. of the Holy Cross. Near the southern edge is Homestake Reservoir, erected to store water for the cities of the Front Range.
The Holy Cross Wilderness is located south of the town of Vail and immediately west of Hwy 24 between the towns of Minturn and Leadville. From Vail, heading west on I-70, exit at the Minturn exit 171 (Hwy 24). The Homestake or Tigiwon Forest Service roads are the most popular access roads. Both offer access from Hwy 24, between Leadville and Minturn.
Holy Cross Wilderness Regulations
The Holy Cross wilderness is extremely popular with backpackers, day hikers, and peak baggers. The Half Moon Trail, Missouri Lakes, Fancy Pass, and the Fall Creek trails are often crowded on weekends and holidays. Please remain on the trail and do not cut switchbacks. Do not camp next to lakes or streams. Campfires are illegal above tree line and 100 ft from lakes and streams.
Mount of the Holy Cross Ascent
The namesake of the wilderness area, an ascent of the Mount of the Holy Cross requires a strenuous hike of 18 miles and 5,200 ft. of elevation gain. This is a difficult fourteener due to the long distances covered. For more information about the hike, the potential dangers, and the history of this area, visit SummitPost.com -Mount of the Holy Cross. Access the Holy Cross trailhead using Tigiwon Rd, on Hwy 24, south of Minturn.
Fancy Pass – Missouri Lakes Loop
A 7.2 mile loop hike over Fancy Pass and a visit to the Missouri Lakes area is an excellent way to experience the Holy Cross wilderness. A sidetrip to Holy Cross city (a ghost town) is an extra 1.3 miles on foot. From US Hwy 24, travel west on Homestake Creek Rd. to the Fancy Pass trailhead.
The topographical trail map shows the location of the Fancy Pass and Missouri Lakes trails along with the trailheads, access road and wilderness boundaries.
Download the trail map here or by clicking on the image.