Notch Mountain Trail, Half Moon - Fall Creek Trailhead, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado

Notch Mountain Trail - 10.4 miles

Half Moon - Fall Creek Trailhead

View from Notch Mountain of Mount of the Holy Cross and the Holy Cross Ridge

View from Notch Mountain of Mount of the Holy Cross and the Holy Cross Ridge

Round-Trip Length: 10.4 miles
Start-End Elevation: 10,325' - 13,077' (Notch Mountain Shelter)
Elevation Change: +2,752' net elevation gain (+2,955' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Notch Mountain Trail - 10.4 Miles Round-Trip

Mount of the Holy Cross (14,005') earned its name and fame when William Henry Jackson photographed a snow-filled couloir that resembled a cross on the peak's NE face in 1873. Adventurers soon followed on the trek to Notch Mountain, which is optimally positioned to view the cross.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The CCC was later commissioned to build Tigiwon Road, the Notch Mountain Trail and Notch Mountain Shelter for visitors expected to make the pilgrimage each year.

The Notch Mountain Trail doesn't reach the summit-proper, but leads to the shelter on a saddle just below it (13,077'). This airy expanse offers spectacular views of Mount of the Holy Cross and adjacent peaks on the Holy Cross Ridge.

Despite depictions of steep switchbacks on a map, the trail was constructed very well and travel is never too difficult. Visitors will enjoy open alpine landscapes and access to this historic shelter on the Notch Mountain Trail:

The trail begins on a moderate grade in a thick subalpine forest. It dips across a steep, open slope with rangy views over Fall Creek and peaks in the Gore and Ten Mile ranges (1.3 miles : 10,840').

It continues through a stream that bisects the trail (1.52 miles) and undulates to the Notch Mountain Trail split (2.34 miles : 11,225’). The Notch Mountain Trail turns away on switchbacks that climb methodically to the edge of treeline.

It emerges from the last tall stand of trees across a broad, south-facing slope that supports a brilliant collection of flowers (2.9 miles : 11,650’). The trail climbs steadily on long-leg switchbacks over treeline with expanding views across the valley (3.45 miles : 12,000’).

Switchbacks gradually shorten over rockier terrain past 3.95 miles (12,310’). Look for marmot and ptarmigan as you progress, and note the abundance of old-man-of-the-mountain sunflowers and cushion plants between talus slides.

The mountain’s eponymous ‘Notch’ is in sight much of the way, but the trail never aims for it. Peaks at the head of Fall Creek and a trio of tarns come in view on the final push to Notch Mountain Shelter (5.2 miles : 13,077’). 

The shelter is located on a broad saddle with thick tundra grasses that give it a backyard feel. The Holy Cross couloir and peaks of Holy Cross Ridge stand prominently across an unnamed basin.

Explore the saddle but remain on rock whenever possible to avoid trampling sensitive vegetation. Continue west along the Halo Ridge to see the Bowl of Tears basin and Cross Creek headwaters.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 30.018 W106 25.973 — 0.0 miles : Fall Creek Trailhead
  • N39 29.619 W106 26.012 — .5 miles : Fast travel in a thick forest
  • N39 29.256 W106 26.164 — 1.0 miles : Rocky-rooted path on moderate grade
  • N39 28.863 W106 26.241 — 1.5 miles : Dip and cross stream that bisects trail
  • N39 28.481 W106 26.467 — 2.0 miles : Occasional breaks in timber with views
  • N39 28.260 W106 26.563 — 2.34 miles : Notch Mountain Trail split
  • N39 28.260 W106 26.563 — 2.34 miles : Notch Mountain Trail split
  • N39 28.353 W106 26.826 — 2.95 miles : Trail crosses big open slope
  • N39 28.228 W106 26.889 — 3.25 miles : Clear balance of treeline
  • N39 28.176 W106 26.997 — 3.45 miles : Pass through 12,000'
  • N39 28.285 W106 27.188 — 3.95 miles : Begins series of switchbacks through talus
  • N39 28.269 W106 27.366 — 4.5 miles : Steady climb on switchbacks
  • N39 28.249 W106 27.491 — 5.0 miles : Approach 13,000'
  • N39 28.174 W106 27.558 — 5.2 miles : Notch Mountain Shelter

Worth Noting

  • The Notch Mountain Trail passes through particularly fecund habitat, and is a great trail for seeing wildlife. Deer and elk graze food-rich slopes at and above treeline; marmot and ptarmigan are common above 12,000'; mountain goat and bighorn sheep inhabit the highest ridges and crags.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Backcountry Camping

  • Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. Self-registration permits are available at the trailhead and/or Wilderness Boundary. There is no fee or limit to the number of permits issued. Backpackers must carry a completed registration form with them for the duration of the trip.

  • Camping is prohibited within 100' of any lake or stream. Group size is limited to 15 individuals.

  • Campfires are permitted for dispersed camping in the backcountry, with potential seasonal restrictions. Campfires are not permitted above or within .25 miles (440 yards) of treeline, or within 100' of any lake or stream in the Holy Cross Wilderness. Campfires are also prohibited all along the Mount of the Holy Cross Trail, and within the Bowl of Tears basin.

  • Contact the Holy Cross Ranger District (970.827.5715) for the latest weather, trail conditions and trail-specific guidelines when planning your trip. The office is open M - F from 8am - 4pm.

  • Half Moon Camp is a primitive campground located at the trailhead. Spaces are limited and fill up quickly, especially on weekends. There are also many undeveloped pull-offs along Tigiwon Road where camping is permitted. These are not marked but the turnoffs for each are fairly clear. Be mindful of adjacent private property.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted at Lake Constantine, the Tuhare Lakes and all related streams with a valid Colorado fishing license.

Rules and Regulations

  • Camping is strictly prohibited in the Notch Mountain Shelter.
  • Dogs must be leashed or under strict voice control at all times.

Directions to Trailhead

The Half Moon - Fall Creek Trailhead is located 8.2 miles west of Highway 24 on Tigiwon Road. Tigiwon Road is depicted on many maps as an improved dirt road, however it's very rough. High clearance vehicles are recommended. Call ahead for road conditions and access.

From I-70, take Exit 171 (just west of West Vail) and follow Highway 24 south 4.9 miles to Tigiwon Road (right turn). Anticipate this turn, as it comes quickly on a bend in the road.

Follow Tigiwon Road 8.2 miles to the trailhead. Spaces are limited, however roadside parking is permitted.

Contact Information

Holy Cross Ranger District
24747 US Highway 24
Minturn, CO 81645

White River National Forest
900 Grand Ave.
P.O. Box 948
Glenwood Springs CO 81602

Trip Reports

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