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Collegiate Peaks Wilderness

By Nancy Prichard - October 8th, 2001

Elevation: 3,560 feet (Missouri Gulch Trailhead to Elk Head Pass)
Days: 1
Difficulty: moderate to strenuous
Distance: about 7.5 miles from Missouri Gulch Trailhead to Pine Creek Trail
Visitor Information: Leadville Ranger District, 719-486-0749
Maps: The only map with the entire trail is the Buena Vista, Collegiate Peaks Map by National Geographic Trails Illustrated (800-962-1643), www.trailsillustrated.com.

Much of the Colorado Rocky Mountains has more foot traffic than Central Park, but the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness is still a bastion of pristine alpine splendor. The Missouri Gulch Trail over the Elk Head Pass affords spectacular views of cirques, lakes, deep valleys and lofty peaks, as well as glimpses of bighorn sheep, elk, and raptors.

The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness covers more than 159,000 acres, and includes eight peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation. The Missouri Gulch Trailhead is at 9,640 feet. A short, steep hike brings you into the Gulch. This is a camping Shangri-la, with secluded flat tent sites scattered across an alpine meadow. It is also a great place for base camp, especially if you are interested in day trips up Mt. Belford (14,197), Oxford (14,153) or Missouri (14,067). Belford and Oxford are simple walk-ups; Missouri is a bit more difficult, but still possible without technical equipment. From Missouri Gulch, the trail heads over Elk Head Pass (13,200) and drops into Pine Creek Basin. Your best bet is to have a pick-up vehicle waiting at the Pine Creek Trailhead. Even backcountry experts should consider buying a $1 Colorado Hiking Certificate thatÕs good for a year and covers the cost of search and rescue. The Wilderness also includes a 40-mile stretch of the Colorado Trail.


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