Hiking Project Logo

Cottonwood Pass Trail



2.5 mile 4.0 kilometer point to point


Ascent: 2,036' 621 m
Descent: -3' -1 m
High: 13,323' 4,061 m
Low: 11,287' 3,440 m


Avg Grade: 16% (9°)
Max Grade: 72% (36°)


Driving directions Take a virtual tour
Zoom in to see details
Map Key

Trail shared by Rodger Greer

Follow cairns to 13,300' Cottonwood Pass. The views of the !Crestone Peaks are spectacular.

Rodger Greer

Features Views · Wildlife


This hike is a unique day-trip that can be taken right from the campsite! This trail offers route-finding along a primitive trail marked by cairns. The views of the peaks to the west are dramatic. Cottonwood Pass may also be referred to as Milwaukee Pass, as it comes within a few hundred feet of the summit of Milwaukee Peak.

We parked at the Music Pass Trailhead (high clearance is recommended, but there is always a Subaru up there) and headed toward Upper Sand Creek Lake via the Music Pass Trail to Upper Sand Creek Lake.

1. A mile or so before the lake, there is a fork to the right that leads to some decent campsites. This track begins from this fork.

2. There are signs that say "Follow the Cairns". The placement of the cairns is adequate, but they can be difficult to distinguish from the conglomerate outcrops and boulders that dot the drainage.

3. The major "reveal" occurs at a saddle prior to reaching the actual pass and is very dramatic. You could stop here and have had a spectacular hike. We have done this before beginning at Upper Sand Creek, but there is more bushwhacking and side-slope travel along that route.

4. Continue UP to the left (south) toward Milwaukee Peak. The trail is good, but you might not think so from this vantage point. When we took it, there had been a significant hail storm a day or two prior, so it was a bit difficult to follow and there was some post-holing required.

5. We continued just beyond the pass and then headed back the way we came. Our group didn't want to get caught in a hail storm, but we would have been fine to continue into the drainage on the Rio Grande side.

Please read Andy Wellman's excellent description of this pass, which can be incorporated into a 30-mile loop.

CAUTION: This forest along Sand Creek has been infested by beetles, and trees will be falling for years to come. Be mindful of snags and think about where you place your campsite, especially if it is windy.

Flora & Fauna

You'll have a decent chance of seeing bighorn, and of course, there are always marmots.

Hiked this trail?

We need help with the following missing trail information:

Family Friendly, ADA Accessible, Need to Know


Rate This Trail

Rate Quality

   Clear Rating

Rate Difficulty

Share This Trail

Check In


Jan 8, 2017
Dana Pearson

Trail Ratings

  5.0 from 1 vote


  5.0 from 1 vote
5 Star
4 Star
3 Star
2 Star
1 Star
Trail Rankings


in Colorado


13 Views Last Month
1,622 Since Sep 8, 2016



Headed back down from Cottonwood Pass.
Sep 8, 2016 near Crestone, CO
Milwaukee Peak from Cottonwood Pass.
Sep 8, 2016 near Crestone, CO
Deer near the campsite.
Sep 8, 2016 near Crestone, CO
Traversing the slope toward Cottonwood Pass.
Sep 8, 2016 near Crestone, CO


Hiking Project is part of the REI Co-op family,
where a life outdoors is a life well lived.

Shop REI Hiking