As the Sawatch range of Colorado reaches its northernmost stretch, the mountain range takes on a more rugged nature. This rugged area is known as the Holy Cross wilderness, named after a prominent peak and it’s famous cross shaped coulior.
The Holy Cross wilderness is known for it’s wild and scenic character. Here, high ridges, jagged peaks, glacier sculpted cirques, and densely forested intervening valleys form a formidable yet spectacular wilderness landscape. The Holy Cross wilderness is known for it’s abundance of snow fed lakes and streams. Cross Creek, Homestake Creek, Fall Creek and other neighboring streams begin their lives in alpine meadows and lakes high above tree line. Spring and winter snows sustain lush alpine meadows and the crystal clear streams that bring much needed water to the Colorado and Arkansas Rivers.
Located in the north are three ridges separated by long forested valleys. The easternmost of these ridges is known as the Holy Cross Ridge, a massive line of glacier cut peaks and cirques that tops out over fourteen thousand feet. On the northern end of this ridge lies the famous Mount of the Holy Cross and a cirque called the Bowl of Tears. Further toward the center of the wilderness is Homestake Creek Road that together with a popular 4×4 trail carves out a jagged portion of non-wilderness area. From Homestake Creek Road, trails head north into the wilderness to destinations such as scenic Fancy Pass, Treasure Vault Lake, and the glittering Missouri Lakes. For offroad enthusiasts, the Holy Cross City Jeep Road (map) departs from Homestake Creek Road to Holy Cross City, a ghost town left over from Colorado’s mining days.
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 are accessed from Hwy 24, on a stretch of road a few miles past Minturn.
Registration is required for hikers entering the wilderness via the Half Moon Pass trailhead.
This is not a complete list of the wilderness regulations. Please check the posted regulations at the trailhead.
Mount of the Holy Cross Ascent – The namesake of the wilderness area, an ascent of the Mount of the Holy Cross requires a difficult hike of 11 miles and 4,585 ft. of elevation gain via the Half Moon Pass Trail. This is a difficult fourteener due to the long distances covered and the large amount of elevation gain and loss.
Begin the ascent from the trailhead at the end of Tigiwon Rd. From I-70, head south 5 miles on Hwy 24, passing through Minturn to Tigiwon Road. Travel another 8 miles on maintained dirt road to the Half Moon Pass trailhead.
From the trailhead, Half Moon Trail ascends the shoulder of Notch Mountain to Half Moon Pass, then descends over a mile to East Cross Creek before the steep final ascent begins. For more information about the hike, the potential dangers, and the history of this area, visit SummitPost.com -Mount of the Holy Cross.
Missouri Lakes / Fancy Pass Loop – A 7 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. Head over to the full trail writeup here: Missouri Lakes / Fancy Pass Loop
For trail navigation in the wilderness, we recommend the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series of topographic trail maps. Tear resistant and water-proof, these maps are designed with the hiker in mind.
National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map of Holy Cross/Ruedi Reservoir. Contains a topographical map of the Holy Cross Wilderness area and portions of Hunter-Fryingpan wilderness area.