How to Get There: From Lake City, take Highway 149 south 2.5 miles. Turn right on the road to Lake San Cristobal. Follow the paved road about 4 miles, then continue on the dirt road for about 8.3 miles. Turn left at the fork and travel 1.4 miles. The trailhead sign reads "Cataract Gulch Trail." It is best to park at that trailhead. Cottonwood Creek Trail follows the road on up the valley.
Trailhead Parking & Camping: A parking area and restroom are located at the Cataract Gulch Trailhead. Camping is permitted at the Cataract Gulch Trailhead and at several pullouts along the road to the west.
Attractions: The Cottonwood Creek Road doesn't get much vehicle traffic because it is so rough. Still, it's gentle grade and spectacular scenery makes it a good choice for an easy hike. If you keep your eye on the cliffs to the north, you might be lucky enough to see the small herd of bighorn sheep that lives there. Motorized use must stop at the first switchback but hikers with energy to spare may wish to continue up the switchbacks for the old road into the upper Snare Creek basin to reach several tundra ponds at the top.
Narrative: In the first section of the trail you'll pass through aspen and spruce stands with frequent views of the surrounding cliffs. After a rain, waterfalls can be seen decorating the cliffs. Beyond Boulder Gulch, the valley opens to large willow flats dotted with beaver ponds. Vehicle and bike access ends at that point an may not continue up the road into the Handies Peak Wilderness Study Area. A good turn around spot is the Cuba Gulch Trailhead.
Hazards/Considerations: Watch your footing on the loose rocks along the trail. It is important to be prepared for typical July and August afternoon thundershowers. Stay off ridges and away from open ground to avoid lightning strikes during storms. Be sure to bring sunscreen, rain gear and 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: The Cottonwood Creek Trail may be used in conjunction with the Cataract Gulch Trail and Cuba Gulch Trail for overnight hiking trips.
Created by the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado
Point of Contact: Jim Lovelace
Last modified: January 6, 2011