Continental Divide Trail: Herman Gulch to Jones Pass, Herman Gulch Trailhead, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado
Continental Divide Trail: Herman Gulch to Jones Pass - 17.0 Miles
Herman Gulch Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||17.0 Miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||10,332' - 12,478' (13,232' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,146' net elevation gain (+5,569' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) stretches over 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada, 800 miles of which pass through Colorado. There are innumerable places to pick up the trail, many within an hour drive of the Denver metro area. One such point is Herman Gulch, located north of Bakerville, CO in the Clear Creek Ranger District of the Arapaho National Forest. This segment of the CDT climbs through two biologically rich drainages to reach the Divide, where it runs north at elevations between 12,500' - 13,300' to its next access point at Jones Pass.
This lengthy and challenging section is positioned well for a two car shuttle, but can be completed in a day with good physical conditioning and cooperative weather. Visitors will enjoy miles of open travel at exhilarating heights, unabated panoramas across the northeastern Rockies and diverse wildlife viewing opportunities throughout.
The Herman Gulch Trail begins on a mild grade through fir and aspen to the Watrous Gulch Trail split and bears north (.17 miles : 10,376'). It steepens considerably on a wide, rocky track to Herman Gulch, where it bends northwest and moderates along the creek and string of slender glades (.5 miles : 10,690'). The trail rises steadily beside the creek before emerging in a long, wide meadow in the lower gulch (1.05 miles : 10,940').
The grade relaxes up a widening valley with expanding views of the Continental Divide between Pettingell Peak (13,553') and Hagar Mountain (13,195'). Look for moose along the willow-lined creek below, and deer and elk on the broad slopes of Mount Bethel (12,705') to the south. The trail moves quickly up-valley with a picturesque backdrop, gaining only 300' between the first and second mile (2.0 miles : 11,288').
At 2.45 miles (11,464') it edges back into a healthy spruce forest and climbs steeply above the gulch, passing through treeline just before reaching the Jones Pass split (2.85 miles : 11,838'). The CDT bends sharply east and glides easily about the fringes of treeline to a crest separating Herman Gulch from the Woods Creek drainage (3.5 miles : 11,953'). Note that a well-worn spur branches east from this crest to reach nearby summits, a tempting excursion for those with time, and important navigational mark for the return trip.
Here the trail veers northwest and drops gently through a transitional landscape across Woods Creek; once over (3.95 miles : 11,878') it angles back on a northeast heading and steepens into the open tundra. Take your time across Woods Creek, a particularly good place to see deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep. The trail climbs steadily through open space to a cairn and sharp northwest turn for a strenuous push to the Divide (4.7 miles : 12,408').
The triangular summit of Pettingell Peak dominates the foreground as you come upon the Divide and first glimpse down the west side (5.15 miles : 12,807'). Another spur peels off to reach Pettingell, but you'll bear north on what become tightly wound switchbacks up to a pointy summit (5.5 miles : 13,143'). The trail continues down a short saddle and up a similar course to reach a second summit, and the route's highest point (5.75 miles : 13,232'). This is a an ideal turnaround point for those with limited time.
From the second summit, the trail drops and rises back on a notably rugged path that wraps just below the west side of a third summit. Tread cautiously through this sharp, uneven talus field. Once through (6.0 miles : 13,079'), trail conditions improve considerably on the final 2.5 mile run to Jones Pass. While grades are modest, they're cumulatively taxing at this elevation. Pace yourself accordingly, as the return from Jones Pass requires another 1,600' of climbing back to Herman Gulch.
The trail moves to the Divide's center, dipping and rising along lofty saddles with sensational views in every direction. Hassel Lake (11,335') can be seen immediately down the east slope, backed by countless summits of the Winter Park and James Peak Wilderness Area. To the west are full panoramas of the Gore Range, and everything in between. Look for ptarmigan, marmot, and mountain goat defying the highest ridges as you progress.
With Jones Pass in sight, the trail passes under power lines (7.8 miles : 12,581') and crosses a short talus field on the west side of a small summit (8.0 miles : 12,621'). Once over, it drops swiftly down a rocky path to the dirt road and parking area spanning Jones Pass (8.5 miles : 12,468').
GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84View these GPS points on a Google Map
- N39 42.151 W105 51.256 — Herman Gulch Trailhead
- N39 42.372 W105 51.374 — .5 miles : Trail bends northwest beside creek
- N39 42.712 W105 51.622 — 1.0 miles : Travel moderates beside a long meadow
- N39 42.964 W105 52.087 — 1.5 miles : Level travel through an expanding valley
- N39 43.202 W105 52.572 — 2.0 miles : Trail continues on more rugged course
- N39 43.276 W105 53.029 — 2.5 miles : Steep climb above lower gulch thru treeline
- N39 43.370 W105 53.274 — 2.85 miles : Herman Lake - Jones Pass Trail Split
- N39 43.441 W105 52.740 — 3.35 miles : Heading east on level path above Gulch
- N39 43.480 W105 52.639 — 3.5 miles : Crest above Wood Creek drainage
- N39 43.918 W105 52.688 — 4.25 miles : Travel above and north of Wood Creek
- N39 44.099 W105 53.074 — 5.15 miles : Bend NW on push to Divide
- N39 44.350 W105 52.958 — 5.5 miles : Top of first summit (13,144')
- N39 44.534 W105 52.941 — 5.75 miles : Top of second summit (13,232')
- N39 44.737 W105 52.927 — 6.0 miles : Travel levels on long saddle atop Divide
- N39 45.185 W105 53.067 — 6.5 miles : Moderate travel atop Divide
- N39 45.532 W105 52.853 — 7.2 miles : Net descent along Divide
- N39 45.837 W105 53.144 — 7.7 miles : Pass under power lines
- N39 46.425 W105 53.359 — 8.5 miles : Jones Pass
- The majority of the Herman Gulch - Continental Divide Trail runs above treeline and is highly exposed to the elements. Anticipate strong sun, wind and variable weather conditions throughout the day. Carry versatile layers and extra water. Extended travel at high elevations requires thorough hydration.
- Be mindful of changing weather conditions, and manage travel time wisely. There's little refuge in the event weather turns quickly. Check forecasts carefully before setting out. Travel is best on days with stable, high pressure. Late June and early September typically provide such conditions.
- Despite a net descent on the return from Jones Pass, there is significant climbing along the way. Plan travel time and resources accordingly.
- Those not wishing to complete the roundtrip hike can opt for a two-car shuttle with parking at Jones Pass.
- Though well maintained, lingering snow through mid-summer can obscure portions of the trail and create hazardous conditions on steep slopes and talus fields. Always call ahead for the latest travel conditions.
- Binoculars are highly recommended. Mountain goat and bighorn sheep inhabit this section of the CDT. Look for marmot and ptarmigan in the open tundra, and elk and moose down slope along the fringes of treeline.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Arapaho National Forest. No permit is necessary.
- Camping is prohibited within 100' of any lake or stream. Group size is limited to 15 individuals. There is suitable camping terrain between the Herman Gulch Trailhead and Wood Creek drainage.
- Campfires are permitted for dispersed camping in the backcountry, with potential seasonal restrictions. Contact the Clear Creek Ranger District for current conditions, use restrictions and fire regulations.
- Fishing is permitted along Herman Gulch and at Herman Lake with a valid Colorado fishing license. There is limited fishing north of the split to Herman Lake.
Rules and Regulations
- Dogs, Horses and Bikes are permitted on the Herman Gulch and Continental Divide Trail. Dogs must be leashed at all times.
- Mechanized vehicles are not permitted on the Herman Gulch and Continental Divide Trail.
The Herman Gulch Trailhead is located .1 mile north of exit #218 from I-70. It's located between Bakerville, CO and the Eisenhower Tunnel.
From westbound I-70, exit #218 and bear right (east) on the short service road that dead-ends at the Herman Gulch Trailhead.
Clear Creek Ranger District
101 Chicago Creek Road
P.O. Box 3307
Idaho Springs, Colorado 80452
Open daily 8-4:30, open holidays