N. Cottonwood Creek Trailhead


Range: Sawatch Range
Coordinates: 38.87057, -106.2658
14ers: Mt. Harvard, Mt. Columbia
Elevation: 9,900'
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Road Difficulty

2WD, rough dirt road 2   (0=Paved, 6=Very Difficult 4WD)
Rough 2WD dirt to the TH. It may require 4WD in early summer.

Driving Directions

Turn west on County Road (CR) 350 (Crossman Ave.) near the center of Buena Vista. This road is less than 1/2 mile north of the stoplight in the center of town. Continue on CR 350 for 2 miles and turn right onto CR 361. After almost 1 mile, turn left onto CR 365 (dirt). Continue on this road for over 5 miles to the trailhead at the end of the road. Turn right into the wooded parking area which loops around counter-clockwise. The trail starts on the west side of the parking area.

Winter Access

Closed near 9,200 feet - over 3 miles below the TH.

More Info

Parking: Parking for ~25 vehicles then it's a battle to find a place to pull off the road.
Camping: Very few options to set up a tent at the trailhead. A couple of spots to do so along the road. Most people pack up and camp in Horn Fork Basin.
Restrooms? Maybe. They have started to provide porta potties
Fees? No
Trailhead added by BillMiddlebrook
Status Updates 
Posted By: shapovalovm
Info: Doable by any car. The parking lot was mostly full when I arrived at ~7:00am, but I managed to find the spot. I think you can park a bit lower, if you are not that lucky, though.
Posted By: madmattd
Info: Been up here twice in the last couple weeks, as past reports state, most any vehicle should be fine with a little care in a couple spots. Honestly the right-hand turn into the upper parking lot area is far and away the worst spot of the road.

I got one of the last semi-creative parking spots in the lot area this morning around 5:30AM (glad I opted to finish the drive up 30min earlier than planned!), road in was lined with at least 50 additional vehicles in the early afternoon. The road is relatively narrow just below the lot, doesn’t leave a ton of room to get by those cars but not sure what else can be done. Shoutout to the "genuis" that parked on the opposite side of the road from everyone else in the middle of this, causing some tight maneuvering to get around.
Posted By: CommanderDawn
Info: Easiest unpaved trailhead road I’ve experienced so far. Wide and clean. A few potholes to avoid or steer directly over, one or two ruts to slow down for, all of these things visible at a distance, even in the dark.
Posted By: FlipFlap55
Info: Made it to the trailhead in my low clearance 2WD hatchback with no problems, some segments had mild washboarding but nothing that couldn’t be negotiated by taking it slow. There’s ample room to pass on 99% of the road and I’m fairly confident nearly any passenger vehicle could make it to the trailhead.
Posted By: Charles6000
Info: High clearance wasn’t needed. There are a few minor washboard spots on the road, but decent condition for a dirt road.

There are 2 portapotties at the trailhead.
Posted By: dwoodward13
Info: Easy 2wd. Comfortably made it in a Camry
Posted By: amnesia
Info: The road appears to have been worked on recently and the ruts described in the previous reports are no longer present. I suspect the ruts will reform over the course of the summer as the road sees more traffic/rain but for now it is not an issue.
Posted By: dennywitte
Info: Two port-a-potties at the N Cottonwood TH!
Posted By: rudi32
Info: Rough 2WD to TH
Posted By: MBosch27
Info: Easily passable in a Rav4. An F-150 however was having problems in the snow just (about .1 miles) before the trailhead. I also noticed a Subaru had to ditch, and park off the road before the slight bumpy incline about 3 miles before the trailhead. Not sure why these 2 had problems as there was a 2wd Ford that (like a mini version of an Escape? I had never seen its kind before and I cannot recall the name... it doesn’t exist on Ford’s website so IDK!! ) was at the trailhead... I think ANY CUV, SUV, or truck could easily make it.
Posted By: 14ercooper
Info: Road was pretty much bone dry up to just before Harvard Lakes TH; and was passable up to Silver Creek TH. Would not attempt to drive past that point, and the tire tracks stopped pretty soon after - still a fair bit of snow. Restroom at Silver Creek was unlocked, but was not restocked with toilet paper. The ruts that formed just after getting into the national forest are still there (better than in the fall, I should note), but with a little bit of care basically any vehicle could make it past them and up to Silver Creek TH.
Posted By: dennywitte
Info: I just hiked and snowshoed the FS365 road from the NF boundary 3 miles back to the N Cottonwood TH. 4WD is helpful to drive CR365 to the NF boundary. Past the NF boundary the road gets difficult in a hurry. Around .7 miles into the NF stock 4WD trucks were getting stuck in multiple locations. The only way to get a vehicle to the Harvard Lakes or Silver Creek TH is to have very high clearance and very aggressive tires. The only vehicle I saw at Harvard Lakes and SIlver Creek was a Polaris side-by-side with 18 inches of ground clearance and very aggressive tires. From the NF boundary to Silver Creek I used microspikes. Past the Silver Creek TH there is a single snowmobile track that works well for snowshoeing. Recommendation: park at the NF boundary!
Posted By: joshgrundy
Info: Drove the road with an Outback today. Based on the previous reports, I think the obstacle .2 miles into the national forest has been repaired at least somewhat. It’s still noteworthy, but was easily doable in an Outback. The Grays/Torreys road definitely has worse obstacles than this currently is. Snow covered for the last mile and a half as of 12/17, but I was able to make it to the trailhead as a fairly conservative driver.
Posted By: dennywitte
Info: The FS365 road to the N Cottonwood trailhead is open and snow covered. The main obstacle continues to be the deep holes at .2 miles into the national forest. High clearance and 4wd is advised. There is 4-5" of snow at the trailhead.
Posted By: Wentzl
Info: The holes in the road about 2.5 miles before the trailhead are getting worse. Would like to hear from someone with a subaru who has been up there lately to know if still passable by a sedan.
Posted By: bangerth
Info: Easily drivable all the way to the top with the exception of the big holes about 2.5 miles from the top that were mentioned in previous reports. But no problem at all with a Subi Outback if you took it slow -- just take your time finding a way through and around.
Posted By: RWSchaffer
Info: The road was dry to trailhead. 4WD and at least eight inches clearance would be desirable for the still unrepaired obstacle (pictured) about 2.5 miles below trailhead.
Posted By: scottda
Info: The rough patch in the road, 3 miles before the North Cottonwood TH, is surprisingly bad. The attached photo (shot from above on the way out) does not do it justice. We made it through with our 4Runner, but the depressions are really deep.
Posted By: TZDWyo
Info: Can confirm that 4-5’ stretch is worse now. Couldn’t figure out a good way to get my Liberty past it. Watched several SUVs and a pickup think better of it.
Posted By: JasonCrane
Info: Road is okay until one 4-5’ section that has deep, massive potholes located on an upward sloping ramp portion. There’s no way around it. I watched an ATV pass through okay, then 2 other vehicles (Subaru Outback & an SUV) bottom-out & with tires contorting in all different directions. It was violent. I tried to pass through with a Ford Escape & temporarily got the front tires stuck in the abyss before deciding to back down the slope. My SUV is a rental & just decided to turn around & preserve the vehicle w/out making it to the TH.
Posted By: jyoumans
Info: There’s roughly a 4’-5’ section of road that was washed out, it’s been "patched" with rocks but the dips are still large & very difficult to traverse. If you’re unable to proceed, you’ll need to budget an additional 3-4mi (one-way) just to get to the TH.
Posted By: telecast09
Info: Beware, the road is rough 2WD except for one 4WD section 2.4-2.6 miles from TH which is deteriorating quickly. The short 4WD section has a handful of wide and 1 ft deep potholes spanning the road. We had 8-9 inches of clearance (without skid plates) and needed to add more rocks to the potholes to avoid scraping. Even with the rock "patches", the section worsened over the course of the day.
Posted By: ae_gentry
Info: I drove to the trailhead on 10 September, and agree that the one section is very sketchy. Some kind folks put some rocks in some of the deepest potholes, but there are a bunch of really deep ones, and it’s not easy to thread your way through them. Although I did get my Subaru to the trailhead, I don’t recommend it.
Posted By: psa954hiker
Info: Agree with the previous status report. On Aug 20 I took a 2WD Camry to the trailhead, but at the aforementioned potholes (in the dark) it was rough. When I go back again this weekend I’m going to borrow someone’s truck.
Posted By: dennywitte
Info: I live along this road. The CR365/FS365 had major work done on it last fall with all ruts and washboarding repaired. However, with the heavy rains and heavy traffic this summer the road has gradually deteriorated. About 1/10 of a mile into the Natl Forest there are at least three potholes about a foot deep. Without careful tire placement cars will get themselves in trouble. Beware.
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