“Arguably the most popular route to the top of Handies Peak, this is one of the peak's Class 2 routes”
— Tom Robson
River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Grizzly Gulch is arguably the most popular trail to Handies Peak, one of the five 14,000 ft. peaks in the area. From this trailhead, three Fourteeners can be visited in two days. The best time to visit is late July and early August when the tundra basin below the peak is carpeted with wildflowers. A small alpine lake in the eastern spur of the basin can be reached as an interesting 1/2-mile side trip. To boot, the top of Handies Peak offers a spectacular view of the San Juan Mountains.
Need to Know
Loose talus may be encountered along the upper trail around the switchback ridge. Please watch your footing. It is important to be prepared for typical July and August afternoon thunder showers. It is best to get an early start and plan to be off the peak by noon or 1:00 pm. Be sure to bring sunscreen, rain gear and drinking 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.
From Lake City, take highway 149 south, 2.5 miles. Turn right onto the road to Lake San Cristobal. Follow the paved road about 4 miles then continue on dirt road for 12.6 miles. The trail sign, located on the left, indicates Handies Peak.
From the trailhead, follow the trail that starts behind the restroom to a bridge crossing the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Climbing steadily, the trail passes through spruce, fir and aspen. Through this area, the trail is clearly marked and well maintained. At timberline, the trail continues up the basin then climbs the ridge to the west. Across the open tundra, the trail may not always be clearly visible, but is marked with rock cairns for hikers to follow. The trail leads straight up valley for about 3/4 mile. A sign points to a long switchback that turns to a ridge leading to Handies Peak. Be sure to look over your shoulder on the way up for some beautiful views of the Silver Creek Valley.
If you're looking for a longer journey, once on the ridge, a hike to the northeast will lead to the top of 13,542-foot White Cross Mountain. A map may be useful as the trail is not maintained. From Handies Peak you can also return via the American Basin Trail (Handies Peak) then follow the main road or hitchhike back down to your car.