This easily became one of my favorite hikes I did while spending some time in Colorado. I had heard of the Mount of the Holy Cross from one of my favorite skiers, Cody Townsend, who had skied the Holy Cross couloir a couple years back. Since then, I poured over beta on how best to hike this mountain, and also bag my first 14er. When it was all said and done, I never ended up hiking up the Holy Cross. Instead, I opted for Notch Mountain, which lies directly across from the Mount of the Holy Cross, and gives a spectacular vantage point of the mountain.
- Mileage: 11.5 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,881 ft
- Highest Point: 13,202 ft
- Best time to visit: Late May through mid-October
- Total hiking time: 6.5 hours
- Number of Lakes: 0 (viewpoints of 3)
- Kid friendly: No.
- Dog-friendly: Yes, although the scramble is difficult.
- Gear to bring: Solid hiking boots, hiking poles, extra layers, 3 liters of water, food (beef jerky, protein bars, dried apricots), first aid kit, sunscreen, and camera with two lenses. Since it was cold, I also brought a winter inner shell, gloves, and a winter hat.
This hike is difficult to reach for most people, and the hike is even harder. You start along the 8-mile Notch Mountain Road (also called Forest Service Road 707), although the road from US Highway 24 (USH 24) is called “Tigwon Road”. This road is pretty bumpy and rutted, but should be no problem for most cars – my 2004 Honda Civic made it up just fine; it did take upwards of 45 minutes at my speed.
At the end of the road, you’ll reach a parking lot, as well as a developed campground. Your trailhead for Notch Mountain will be off to the left, with the Mount of the Holy Cross trail on the right. The first 2.5 miles involve a gradual uphill through a scenic forest, with some sweeping views looking into the canyon that USH 24 runs through. It’s quite the spectacle! There’s a small stream crossing about 1.75 miles in, and after 2.5 miles, you reach your turnoff for Notch Mountain.
From here, the trail winds up a series of switchbacks, starting out gradual and shaded at first. After about a mile on these switchbacks, the hike opens up into a sun-exposed meadow, and you’re greeted with spectacular views of the Colorado Mountains. Another small stream crossing later, and you’re into the steep switchbacks that lead up towards Notch Mountain. The trail becomes rockier, and steeper; take your poles out if you have them!
Then, after about 5 miles, you’ll reach the Notch Mountain Hut, and you’ll be greeted with views all-around, and a spectacular view of the Mount of the Holy Cross. This is probably the high point of the trip! As you peer down into the valley below Notch and Holy Cross, mountain goats can often be spotted grazing and drinking in the marshy meadow below. As you turn your back to Holy Cross, the backside bowl of Vail Mountain can be seen off to the left.
Need to Know
This is a hard hike, and it heats up pretty quickly. While this hike isn’t as popular as the Mount of the Holy Cross, it’s located at the same trailhead, so parking can be tricky oftentimes. Arrive early to this hike, and make sure you leave plenty of time to drive up the road. Most of the cars I saw at the trailhead were 4WD or AWD overlander vehicles, with a bunch of Subaru’s and other smaller cars. My Civic was the only sedan up there.
There are spots to filter water along the trail, so if you do have a filter, consider bringing it to minimize the amount you need to carry.
In Colorado, afternoon thunderstorms are frequent in the mountains and mountain passes. Be sure to be headed down well before early afternoon, ideally summiting between 9am and 11am. I checked the weather, and as you can see, there was hardly a cloud in the sky. It’s hard to predict!
I think it’s best to camp out on Tigwon Road the night before so you can get an early start. Dispersed campsites are pretty plentiful along the 8-mile road, and it’s pretty easy to find some good spots. Arrive earlier in the day to nab one before more people arrive. Then, try to dark start your hike (before 6am if possible) to ensure you summit in good time, and avoid any potential afternoon thunderstorms.
Take A Hike!
Have fun on this one!! It’s a great hike that has some length, some steepness, and spectacular views. I was lucky enough to be able to visit it in fall, when the colors were popping like no other! I’ll be posting more about Colorado in the coming days and weeks.
Stay tuned for more!
Next blog: More Colorado. A couple of lakes, and another beautiful peak.