Length: 4.1 miles to the Continental Divide
Difficulty: Moderate walking at high altitude
Season of use: July through October
Amount of Use: Moderate hiking
Beginning: 9,630 ft.
Ending: 12,200 ft.
How to Get There: From Lake City take highway 149 south, 2.5 miles. Turn right onto the road to Lake San Cristobal. Follow paved road approximately 4 miles, then continue on dirt road for about 8.3 miles. Turn left at the fork toward Sherman; go 1.4 miles. A sign marks the trailhead to the left of the road.
Trailhead Parking/Camping: Parking, camping and toilet facilities are available just off the road at the trailhead. Camping is also available at several pullouts on the road just west of the trailhead.
Attractions: This trail offers a popular, scenic hike along Cataract Gulch with several small waterfalls along the way. Beginning in dense woods, the trail passes through alpine meadows and arrives at the Cataract Lakes near the Continental Divide. A potential off-trail connection to Cuba Gulch extends the trip over night.
Narrative: Cottonwood Creek is crossed by a bridge at the beginning of the trail. Several times along the trail, Cataract Creek will be crossed without bridges. Water levels at these points are relatively low making wading across safe and easy. The trail climbs at a moderate rate through dense stands of spruce and fir forests. Waterfalls and an old miners cabin add variety to the trip. Near timberline, the trail becomes easier but less defined. Look for the trail by continuing up the drainage and across alpine meadows scattered with beaver ponds. At the head of the drainage are several tundra lakes acting as sources for Cataract Creek. Although fish cannot usually be found in these lakes, the ever present marmot can be spotted from the trail along with ptarmigan and picas. The Continental Divide is just south of the largest lake at an elevation of 12,200 feet.
Hazards/Considerations: When crossing the creeks, watch for slippery rocks. It is important to be prepared for typical July and August afternoon thundershowers. Stay off ridges and away from open ground to avoid lightening strikes. Be sure to bring sunscreen, rain gear and drinking water. Remember, hiking at high altitude requires more time and energy. Take your time, enjoy the scenery and avoid overexertion. Be sure someone knows where you are going and when you plan to return.
Additional Information: It is possible to join the Cuba Gulch Trail from this trail by going west cross country. Finding a way across this 2 miles of tundra will require a map. This loop, totaling about 14 miles, would be best done as an overnight trip.
Created by the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado
Point of Contact: Jim Lovelace
Last modified: January 6, 2011