Mt. Princeton Road Trailhead
  

Location

Range: Sawatch Range
Coordinates: 38.73994, -106.17558
14ers: Mt. Princeton
Elevation: 8,900'
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Road Difficulty

Easy 4WD, good clearance recommended. 3   (0=Paved, 6=Very Difficult 4WD)
2WD dirt to the lower TH.
4WD access to 12,000'.

Driving Directions

From Buena Vista: From the center of town, drive west on the County Road (CR) 306 for 0.7 miles. Turn left on CR 321 and continue south for 7.2 miles. Turn right onto CR 322 at a large sign.From South of Buena Vista: Over 5 miles south of the U.S. 285 / 24 junction, turn west on County Road 162 in the town of Nathrop. Drive over 4 miles to a junction. Turn right on CR 321. After 1.2 miles, turn left on CR 322.

On CR 322, drive 0.8 miles and turn right into the Mt. Princeton trailhead. This trailhead is at 8,900' and there is a large parking area. If you have a good clearance 4WD, you can continue up the Mt. Princeton 322 road but BEWARE, it is narrow with few pull-offs and trying to pass oncoming vehicles on a busy weekend can be very frustrating. Follow the signs for the Mt. Princeton trail and start up the road. Drive/walk 3+ miles to the radio towers at 10,800' where you'll find parking for a couple of vehicles. Turn left and continue on the 322A road. At ~3.3 miles and near 11,000' reach a few small pull-offs with space for 5 or 6 vehicles. Not much room to set up tents but ok for vehicle camping. Beyond here the road gets more difficult and parking becomes scarce.

Winter Access

Closed at the lower TH.

More Info

Parking: Large parking at the lower, 2WD trailhead. A few vehicles can park at the radio towers. A few vehicles can park in the pull-offs just up the road from the towers. Above that, not much.
Camping: No camping at the 2WD trailhead. No camp spots along the 4WD road until you get above the radio towers, then you'll find a few small pull-offs.
Restrooms? No
Fees? No
Trailhead added by BillMiddlebrook
Status Updates 
  
Posted By: mtn14
Info: Minimal snow up to the cell towers - the Outback had zero problems. Tractor tracks continue a little further up from the towers for those wanting to park at the camp sites. Beyond that, its a no-go.
 
Posted By: conorpowderhunter
Info: Drove a z71 1/2 silverado up here easily. The road is subaruable for sure but the only issue is passing other vehicles coming up or down. 1 lane road with very few pulloffs. Came up here 8pm on a Monday so very little traffic.
 
Posted By: aldsw
Info: As others have said, the most difficult part of the road is that it’s only one lane 99% of the way up with very few places to pull over to pass.

I was able to easily make it to the parking at 11,200 in a Subaru Outback. Just past that there was a large rock in the trail that I probably could have made it past but decided we wanted to camp below treeline anyways so didn’t try. There were great spots to camp at 11,200 and the road walk is easy. If you drive all the way to 12k, you have to hike back down the road to get to the trailhead (and finish your hike back up that hill).

We witnessed a Jeep coming down the road around 11,500, with 4 FJ’s coming up the road at the same time. There was no place for anyone to pull over within 1/4 mile. We kept hiking so I don’t know how it worked out but I’m sure it wasn’t fun for anyone.

I had no regrets parking at 11,200.
 
Posted By: Pedro F
Info: Question is more a matter of ground clearance than steepness / traction. Drove a 2WD Acadia with standard road tires up to the parking spots past the radio towers. Only had a few spots with some wheelslip, which traction control quickly got under control -- no real issue. However, there were a handful of spots that either had rocks protruding up 4" or had a fairly prominent quickly undulating bump across the entirety of the road...and given the road’s well-documented narrowness, there isn’t always an opportunity to simply pick a different line and avoid the obstacle. If you have a vehicle that doesn’t have at least modest ground clearance, you may find yourself in a scrape situation
5 
Posted By: errinneh
Info: Drove up to the radio towers in a stock Subaru Ascent. Driving on a Sunday morning at 5am, nobody was coming down and luckily on our way down Sunday afternoon, nobody was coming up. The drive from the 2wd parking lot to the radio towers took 35 minutes. The 8.7 inch clearance of the Subaru was fine and the road was in pretty good condition all things considered. Glad we didn’t have to pass anyone as that would have been complicated.
 
Posted By: chin1997
Info: Drove the road yesterday in a 2013 Subaru Impreza with very low ground clearance. Took my sweet time but did manage to get up to the communication towers and park. While up there we saw a front wheel drive Toyota Camry. Anything with decent clearance can get up on a dry day with a good amount of maneuvering and time.
 
Posted By: silentsword3
Info: Road was clear for 4WD all the way up to the Lodge.
 
Posted By: bribaker2001
Info: Made it to radio towers in a stock 2006 V8 2WD 4Runner, no problem. Still some snow at trail break from the road.
 
Posted By: miecho
Info: Drove up past the radio towers and was able to park at the last switchback at ~11,600. There was a small patch of snow just past this last switchback, otherwise drivable 4WD almost to Lucky Mine. Stock 4x4 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
 
Posted By: sklumb
Info: There is still impassable snow just after the last switchback on the road before the trail breaks off it. There is no snow on the road anymore before this point. You can park at least one, maybe two cars at this switchback. We saw a truck parked there. There are a couple parking spots at various places between the radio towers and this last switchback, mostly only room for one, maybe two cars at each place. The road does get a bit rougher after the radio towers though. Had to pass a car at about 7:30am on our way up. Then had to pass a car just before the radio towers on our way down at 2pm, and two more cars right before returning to the 2WD trailhead. That was a bummer but for the most part, it all worked out better than I couldve hoped.
 
Posted By: CraigE
Info: Any crossover vehicle with clearance should be able to make it up to the radio towers and several hundred yards beyond. Lots of ruts and dips, but no snow and not very rocky. Theres a snow drift at the first sharp switchback above the towers, and a long stretch of impassable snow further up on the final switchback.
 
Posted By: MBosch27
Info: Easily passable to the towers in a Rav4 TRD. After the towers, the road quickly becomes choked with snow. About 1/4 mile past the trailhead, the snow cover up to 8’ deep uphill and down to the dirt on the far downhill side of the road, making it about a 40 degree angle... IF you can get past the first few snow drifts past the towers, there is ample parking before the big snow begins about 1/4 mile past the towers. Pics are of the big snow drifts about 1/4 mile past the towers.
2 
Posted By: Eagle Eye
Info: From yesterday 5/1/22. The lower trailhead is in great shape and there is a clean bathroom WITH tp! I just walked up the road, but someone did drive a truck up and parked at the radio towers. There are still quite a few risky places on the road where only your inside tires would be on the dirt or mud, the others on a hard ice or snow ’platform’. Hard drifts cover the road continuing up from, and the summer parking areas around the towers.
 
Posted By: KRBoyce
Info: About a half mile or so below the towers there was a larged downed tree. This morning some other hikers and I were able to leverage it out of the way just enough to make it passable all the way to the towers. There was modest amount of snow on the road, and one of the other hikers wasn’t able to make it up one of the switchbacks on his jeep. I was able to get all the way to the towers.
 
Posted By: etradio1
Info: Another than a small patch of ice that is easily avoided the road is completely dry.
 
Posted By: espressoself
Info: Road is dry all the way to 11,800. We parked at the towers in a 2018 Outback and had no major difficulties getting to that point. Good clearance is a must if you like your car. I wouldnt want to drive up this with any more than a light dusting of snow on the road, so pay attention to the weather, as it is set to change tomorrow afternoon.
 
Posted By: noob_hiker
Info: subaruable to 10,800. i turned left at 322A and found camping/parking shortly thereafter.
 
Posted By: Ed_Groves
Info: Mt. Princeton Road has big humps but they are smooth enough for four wheel or all wheel drive vehicles. I would have my doubts coming up with two wheel drive, but it could possibly be done with the right driver and ground clearance for the humps. (Don’t quote me on that though.) I drove to the towers with a four wheel drive V6 Tacoma and could have drove further up to additional camping and parking spaces beyond the towers. Two or three were still open when I hiked up from the towers. After completing the hike, another vehicle and mine encountered another upward-driving vehicle on our descent of the narrow one lane road. Fortunately with a bit of discussion, he found a place about 50 yards behind him where he was able to back his jeep up and allow us to pass. The only real problems with this road are how narrow it is, and the drop off on one side.
 
Posted By: Btuperkwh
Info: Road was dry all the way up. Drove a lifted Nissan Titan up to the radio towers (Fri 8/20 - 7AM) but could have easily driven my Cherokee Trailhawk up carefully. Interestingly enough there was a Honda Fit already parked at the radio towers - gone by the time I returned to my truck ~ 1:30p. Dispersed camping spots after the radio towers were mostly full - the high(er) one was empty. Road is OK but definitely very narrow and has very, very few spots where 2 vehicles can pass each other. I wouldn’t want to be coming down this road in weekend traffic.
 
Posted By: sctbke
Info: Drove up the road yesterday to check in after the heavy rains, it is still in good condition. Couple of small washouts but nothing that can’t be navigated. Subarus can still make it to the radio towers and about 1/4 mile beyond them. 5 or so parking spots 1/4 mile up from the radio towers, majority of the parking is at the radio towers.

Road after that has some large exposed rocks, but they can be navigated with good line choice. Most difficult part of the trail in my opinion is around 100 yards above the 5 parking spots. Minimum 8" ground clearance and decent torque needed to make it. 07 Honda Pilot with bigger A/T’s can still make it to the trail with spot-on line choice, cutting it close over a rock in one spot.

Beyond the 5 parking spots 1/4 mile beyond the radio towers, there is very limited parking. There are 3 tight switchbacks with a spot or two on the lower 2, and 3 spots on the highest, left turning (uphill) switchback. When I hiked Princeton, I car camped at this upper switchback. It has a spectacular view! Beyond this upper switchback, there isn’t any parking that I would call reasonable, and nowhere to camp that’s flat. Hopefully that provides some good road info for those looking. Get out there and hike!
 
Posted By: keatonmoney
Info: Drove up to the radio towers in my Subaru Crosstrek with A/T tires. Road is steep and loose, on the harder end of subaruable. Saw several other Subarus near the towers. Beyond the towers, the road gets very rocky and more challenging. Only saw Jeeps and OHVs beyond this point. There are 2 fire rings just past the towers, but parking is challenging if you want your vehicle right next to camp. I barely made it up the embankment (see photo). Another 1/4 mile up the road I counted 3 defined campsites, each with good parking options.
1 
Posted By: Chelsorado
Info: I hiked Mount Princeton on July 6th. I started around 4:30 from the towers and was back at my car around 10:45. This included breaks and 20 mins at the summit. I have a stock 4Runner. Based on all of the reviews I stopped at the towers. There are a handful of spots past the towers that I could have made it to. The further up switch backs allowed for almost 2 car spots as well. Knowing that I would have parked up further. The road up to the towers is definitely a one lane for majority of the way. I was hoping this jeep and small school bus coming down would have adhered to the right of way but I ended up backing up on the side of a hill. The small school bus made it up to the towers for reference. I saw 2 Jeep Renegades and 1 Subaru parked above the towers. One of the Jeeps that was lifted made it all the way to where the road splits to the trail. I personally enjoyed Princeton and found the rocks to be mostly stable. I loved having my poles on this one. It was pretty amazing to see the people heading up after 9 a.m. with clouds rolling in and a chance of rain around 10 a.m. on the weather app. Plenty of people hiked with their dogs. The views are always worth it.
 
Posted By: Isross97
Info: Drove to the radio towers in my 2009 outback. Probably could have gotten further but I wasnt sure about the parking situation. Road was better than I had expected, although the tight switchbacks were a bit tricky in the dark on my way up.
 
Posted By: kimbuk2
Info: Completely clear, 4WD recommended. During the week this didn’t feel as sketchy (arrived 6pm on Tuesday, left 12pm Wednesday). It is a very narrow road with very few pull-offs and tight switchbacks, but once at the radio towers (not a ton of parking), if you have a 4WD you can probably make it .8 miles past that and still find camping/parking options. I would make a decision to do that vs. stay at the radio towers based on the traffic, time of day, day.
 
Posted By: ssowalskie
Info: The road to the radio towers (and even a little beyond that) is completely free of snow and easily doable in a stock Subaru or other AWD/4WD vehicle with slight clearance. However, as mentioned by others, the road is pretty sketchy, as it’s a one-lane road with very few spots to pass another vehicle, which may result in you or another vehicle having to drive backwards until you reach one of those spots if you end up meeting a vehicle going the opposite direction on the road. There is not much parking at the radio towers, maybe enough for 15-20 cars if you count the parking areas past the radio towers along the road. Since we didn’t know about the further parking, and the parking at the radio towers was pretty full, we ended up parking at the switchback right before the radio towers around 10,600 feet. If I had to do it again, I’d probably just start at the lower trailhead and prepare for a longer hike.
 
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