- 75 miles southwest of Gunnison
- Trailhead Elevation:
- 9600 feet
- Elevation Change:
- -1400 feet
- June - October
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. While the trail stops at the first switchback, hikers with energy to spare may wish to continue up into the upper Snare Creek basin to reach several tundra ponds at the top.
You'll pass through aspen and spruce stands with frequent views of the surrounding cliffs during the first section of the trail. After a rain, waterfalls can be seen decorating the cliffs. Beyond Boulder Gulch, the valley opens to large willow flats dotted with beaver ponds. About 3/4 mile up the trail from Boulder Gulch is the road to the Cuba Gulch Trailhead. Continuing on the main road for another 3/4 mile leads to the beginning of a steep set of switchbacks. The easy part of the trail ends here. Vehicles are prohibited from driving any further. If you'd like to continue, leave the road and follow the Snare Creek drainage to the west. There is no developed trail, but it should be possible to pick your way along for 2 more miles. You'll end up in a rarely visited alpine basin with numerous small lakes.
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, raingear 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.
Lake City is 60 miles southwest of Gunnison on Hwy 149.
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." Cottonwood Creek Trail is to the right, a continuation of the road.