Holy Cross Wilderness

Area Status: Open

Holy Cross Wilderness, established in 1980, now encompasses a total of 122,918 acres spanning San Isabel and White River National Forests. Its name comes from the 14,007-foot Mount of the Holy Cross, which dominates the northern end of the Sawatch Range, so named because of the 1,150-foot tall "cross" of snow facing northwest.

The area is characterized by rugged ridgelines and glacier-carved valleys complete with spruce-fir forests, cascading streams and dozens of lakes. Many small lakes and streams are stocked with trout or have native trout populations. The area is graced with abundant wildlife, dense forests, wildflowers and magnificent vistas.

Over 150 miles of trail traverse the area, providing excellent opportunities for day hiking and backpacking trips.

Please help keep wilderness wild by following Leave No Trace practices.

At a Glance

Permit Info: Wilderness permits are required for overnight stays. Self-issuing permits are available at trailheads free of charge.
Usage: Medium-Heavy
Busiest Season: June-September
Restrictions: Wilderness regulations apply.
Closest Towns: Leadville, Eagle & Minturn, CO
Water: Treat all non-potable water before consuming.
Operated By: Forest Service
Information Center:

General Information

General Notes:


Please stay on trails. Cutting switchbacks and avoiding wet and muddy sections can cause severe erosion and multiple trail systems. For individuals travelling cross country, remember that alpine tundra is very susceptible to damage. Walk on durable routes of rock or talus when possible. In areas where this is not possible, disperse use so that no two footsteps land on the same spot. In keeping with the character of wilderness, where risk and self-reliance are part of the experience, map and route finding skills are essential.

Camping & Campfires

Take some time when you reach your destination to find the most appropriate site for you and your group. Try not to pick the first site you see, even if you're tired. Look around, choose a site that is protected, not visible from the trail, and is at least 100 feet from any water source. To minimize impacts, please use an existing site. If you choose to have a campfire, consider the following:

  • Keep it small and limit it to evening and early morning hours.
  • Build your fire in an existing fire scar that is at least 100 feet from water. Do not build fire rings.
  • Avoid having fires above treeline. Dead wood removed from Krummholz (dwarf trees near timberline) affects their survival.


Secure packstock 100 to 200 feet away from lakes, streams, or trails. Use a picket line and move stock often to prevent resource damage. Please remember, dogs must be on a leash at all times.

Water & Waste

All water can carry giardia (a protozoa that affects human intestinal systems and can cause serious illness). Boiling water for at least 5 minutes, using iodine tablets, or filtering can treat water.

Soap, even biodegradable, pollutes the water. Dispose of wash water at least 100 feet away from any water source. Bury human waste in a hole 6" deep and 200 feet away from any water source, trail or campsite. Pack out toilet paper, feminine products, and left over food. Please Practice Leave No Trace Principles.


Trailheads off Highway 24:

  • West Tennessee Trailhead - off Forest Service Road 211 at gate, north of Leadville, Colorado and west of Highway 24.
  • End of Longs Gulch / Morton Lake Road, north of Leadville, Colorado and west of Highway 24.
  • Bear Lake Trailhead - Access to Bear Lake via Colorado #1776 (Timberline Lake Trail). From Leadville, Colorado head west to Lake County Road 9, take a right on Forest Service Road 107 and follow to the end.
  • Timberline Lake Trailhead - Access to Colorado #1776 (Timberline Lake Trail). From Leadville, Colorado head west to Lake County Road 9 and follow to the Timberline Lake Trailhead.

See also:

White River National Forest Holy Cross Wilderness information.

Forest maps

White River National Forest Visitor Map 1991 (Eastern Portion)

Topo maps

Forest Service Topography Maps: These maps overlay Forest Service assets, such as roads, trails, and campgrounds, on USGS's topographic maps. They are available for download by quadrangle.

Buy maps online

National Forest Store: Offers a full, nationwide selection of National Forest, Ranger District, Wilderness, and Specialty Maps for purchase online or by phone, fax, and mail.


Go to Wilderness.net for additional maps and information about Wilderness.


Day Hiking


Horse Riding

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities


  • 'Queen of the 14ers' Link opens in a new window

    She is the agency’s Colorado Fourteeners Program manager; others simply refer to her as ‘Queen of the 14ers’.