The crisp bite of the cold fall air high in the Rocky Mountains lets four-wheelers know the next snowfall may bring an end to trail adventure for the season. This time of year the trails are open and passage is usually unobstructed except for the usual daunting and famous Colorado obstacles. This is perhaps the best time of year to explore these trails because of the mild weather and fall colors. Hitting a perfect fall day on the trail requires good timing and monitoring the weather-sudden, severe storms make passage more difficult and dangerous due to heavy rain and snow. However, when the sublime autumn day happens, wheeling these trails doesn't get any better.
Looking for high-county adventure, we hit Holy Cross Trail just after the year's first dusting of snow. The trail is located between Vail and Leadville, Colorado, off Interstate 70. The trailhead starts at approximately 9,000 feet of elevation and ascends to about 11,500 feet. Overall, Holy Cross is moderately difficult, with a few tough obstacles and easy sections of scenic trail in between.
Unlike other trails in the Rockies, Holy Cross isn't a shelf road with hair-raising off-chamber leans into oblivion. However, some narrow points will force a driver to pay attention. This is predominantly a Jeep trail, but we ended up wheeling our '09 Ultimate Adventure Super Duty on its return voyage to California, which made the trail run more exciting on the narrow sections of the road.
The Big Horn Jeep Club of Denver adopted Holy Cross Trail in the late '70s. Club members maintain the trail and keep it open for others to enjoy. We just missed them on the trail that day; they had gone up earlier with the Forest Service and were already on their way back down the mountain when we neared Holy Cross City. As we passed we noticed their hard work. They had bridged a swampy wet area to help maintain and protect the environment surrounding the trail.
Holy Cross has many challenges. If you are in the area we recommend a trail run.