Cross Mountain

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 6.8 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 10,039 - 11,943 feet
Elevation gain: 1,888 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 4 hrs.
Trailhead: Cross Mountain
Fee: none
Attractions: Forest/Alpine hike




The Cross Mountain trail is located in the San Juan National Forest on Lizard Head Pass near Telluride, Colorado. The trail begins off of Highway 145 and climbs at a moderate pace for about 3.4 miles where it comes to an end at a junction with the Lizard Head trail. Several campgrounds as well as some primitive camping spots make the Lizard Head Pass area popular with vacationing tourists as well as hikers from all over the Western Slope of Colorado. The Cross Mountain trail is shorter and easier than most of the other hikes in the area so it tends to get a little more use.




The trailhead is 14 miles west of Telluride on Highway 145. While there isn't a restroom available at the trailhead there is one close by near the Lizard Head trailhead.


The trail crosses Snow Spur Creek on a wooden bridge and begins a gentle climb. All of the creeks and streams in the area form the headwaters for the Dolores River.


At the  0.62 mile point from the trailhead is a trail junction where the Groundhog Stock Trail branches off on the left. Mountain bikes aren't allowed past this point on the Cross Mountain trail but they can continue on the Groundhog Stock trail.


The trail continues its steady climb through a thick forest of tall conifers with moss and various wildflowers amply filling the open spaces where sunlight is able to penetrate the towering canopy. On this day a light rain was falling. As the trees and the carpet of both growing and decomposing ground cover soaked up the moisture the air was filled with an aromatic bouquet of all the pleasing fragrances of the forest.


Several small seasonal springs and other wet areas that tend to collect water may require navigation in order to keep your feet dry.


Just past the 2 mile point the Cross Mountain trail enters the Lizard Head Wilderness Area.


The trees block the views along the lower portion of the trail and it's not until the trail passes through an open meadow that the first good look at Lizard Head Peak comes into view.


Once the trail passes above the treeline to the alpine tundra Cross Mountain can be seen with the masses of El Diente, Mount Wilson and Wilson Peak providing sky piercing scenes above the 14,000 foot elevation. The environment at this altitude can be harsh over the course of much of the year yet there always seems to be something alluring about it. While it was raining during the trip that we made for this post it is coming from a gray overcast sky and not from thunderstorms. To avoid becoming a lightning fatality it is advised to not venture out into the open above treeline anytime that you hear thunder. Due to quickly changing weather conditions backpackers are advised to never camp above treeline.


The last stretch of the trail crosses the rolling mountainsides of the higher peaks as it nears its upper end.


Around the 3.5 mile point of the hike the Cross Mountain trail comes to an end at the base of Lizard Head Peak and its junction with the Lizard Head trail.


You will have to click on the above picture to get a good look but on the day we were here for this post there was a herd of elk that was strung out for over a mile passing along the base of Cross Mountain. If you zoom in you can see many cows, calves and bulls in the parade. We counted 37 in one bunched up group so the total count was probably at least 100 head.


As you can see from all of the vehicles in the parking lot nobody was letting a little rain keep them from hiking. Afternoon thunderstorms can occur almost daily during July and August. The Cross Mountain trail is sometimes combined with the Lizard Head trail and the Old Railroad Bed to create a long but fun loop hike. Backpackers should set up camp at least 100 feet from the trail and preferably out of sight from passers-by. The Cross Mountain trail is easy to get to and a popular destination for anyone hiking in the Lizard Head Pass area. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.