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black Mt. of the Holy Cross

  4.8 ( 19 )

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10.4 mile 16.8 kilometer out and back


Ascent: 5,312' 1,619 m
Descent: -5,311' -1,619 m
High: 13,968' 4,257 m
Low: 10,391' 3,167 m


Avg Grade: 19% (11°)
Max Grade: 61% (31°)


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Trail shared by Tyler Prince

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Mt. of the Holy Cross is one of the most rigorous Sawatch 14ers and also one of the most scenic.

Tyler Prince

Features Birding · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife

The Tigiwon Road is closed 8 miles below the trailhead for much of the year. For this reason, it is seldom climbed outside of summer.

The land manager requests dogs be leashed.


Although a Sawatch 14er, Holy Cross has a lot of character. After a long drive up Tigiwon Road, hike over Half Moon Pass and drop back down toward a stream. Camp here for the night or continue up. Reach boulder steps at around 12,000 ft and follow them up to a ridge along 13,600 ft. From here it's just a short class 2 scramble to the summit, which offers incredible views of the Sawatch, Gore, and Elk Ranges. This is truly one of the most scenic summits in the Sawatch Range.

This hike exclusively uses the USFS Half Moon Trail.

Need to Know

While a Sawatch peak with Sawatch terrain, this hike requires more vertical gain than many similar mountains and is also much steeper. Be prepared for a physical day.

As always, bring plenty of food, water, clothing, and sun protection, and be wary of bad weather above tree line.

Fast hikers can expect a roundtrip time of 5-6 hours although most folks will take 8-10 hours.


From the small town of Minturn, just outside of Vail, drive toward Leadville on Tennessee Pass (US 24). Just before the first switchback and about 2 miles outside of town, turn right onto Tigiwon Road (clearly marked). This is a bumpy dirt road, but just about any vehicle can make it to the top. Drive up a steep mountainside for 8 miles, gaining over 2,000 ft. Come to the Half Moon Trailhead and park.

The remaining description is the standard north ridge route up Holy Cross. Hike about 1.5 miles up a moderate dirt trail with some roots to reach Half Moon Pass at about 11,600 ft. 13er Notch Mountain is up and to your left; Holy Cross will come into view shortly after you start down the pass. Drop down the clear trail on the other side of Half Moon Pass, losing pretty much all of the elevation you just gained, and coming to a stream at about 2.5 miles. You may camp here, although Holy Cross is an excellent day hike. But remember, you'll have to hike back up the elevation you lost on the pass!

Continue along some flat, rocky terrain for a bit before the grade cranks up, taking you up a rocky path switchbacking through the trees. The trees begin to thin out, and, by 12,000 ft, you'll be hiking up a rocky path devoid of life. CFI has maintained this trail very well, and there are even rock steps built into much of the path. This area is steep and draining, but massive cairns make getting lost next to impossible, and the ridge is not that far away.

At about 4.5 miles in, the ridge begins to flatten out. Follow the trail up and to the left to reach the summit. You only have about 400 more feet to go. The path fades out fairly quickly, and it's more fun to simply scramble up the class 2+ terrain just below the summit than to waste time looking for the exact path. Reach the top and enjoy 360 degrees of world-class views!

Flora & Fauna

This peak boasts stunning wildflowers down low, and very noisy pika up high.

History & Background

Holy Cross was first climbed in 1873 by William Henry Jackson, a then famous explorer of the American West. He named the mountain after its unique northeastern couloirs, which, when filled with snow, form a cross in the side of the mountain.


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Sep 3, 2018
Vee Naru
Camped overnight along the way. It was cold on the campsite during the night. Snowed while coming down during the afternoon. 10.5mi — 32h 00m
Aug 29, 2018
Jordan Frdnmkr
An exceptionally challenging but rewarding hike 14.5mi
Aug 19, 2018
Paul A.
Brutal hike. 14.9mi
Aug 1, 2018
Mark Moss
Isabelle’s first 14er Camped in spot 3 Was great 12.5mi — 14h 00m
Aug 16, 2017
Guy Bruha
Aug 12, 2017
Emily H
A little longer of a hike. More like 13-14 miles
Jul 27, 2017
Michael Thomas
Our 3 GPS maps ranged from 12 to 13 miles and logged around 5,600 feet of climbing. Really nice trail with spectacular views. Very steep though 12.2mi — 8h 00m
Jul 9, 2017
Tucker Harding
My wife and I didn’t realize that the Half Moon Pass trail was so brutally steep! 70L packs to camp for days is ill-advised. 12mi

Trail Ratings

  4.8 from 19 votes


  4.8 from 19 votes
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Paul A.
Paul A.   Denver
This was my 12th 14'er, however, it was by far the most difficult. This is a black diamond for sure. Once past the tree line the beating began and didn't stop until back at the car drinking a Gatorade. Once past tree line the spine of the mountain is rocks and boulders all the way to the top. This mountain is certainly steep and will be a tough hike for just about anyone. Once you have bagged it, and off the trail is when you can feel good about the accomplishment. Aug 22, 2018

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