Cross Creek

Round Trip Distance: 1.6 - 13.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate - Strenuous
Elevation: 7723 - 8929 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 2+ hrs.
Trailhead: Sweetwater Campground
Fee: none ($8 camping)
Attractions: Scenic overlook, Ute pictographs

The Cross Creek trail is located in the southeast section of the White River National Forest near Dotsero, Colorado. Beginning off of the Ute trail near the Sweetwater Lake Campground the trail climbs its way for 6.8 miles through aspen and conifer forests, oakbrush, serviceberries and open meadows until it comes to an end at the Sweetwater trail. The highlight of the trail is the Sweetwater Indian Cave which is just under 1 mile from the trailhead. The cave is decorated with pictographs that were made by the Ancestral Ute Indians. This post follows the trail past the cave to a bare knobby hill  that is several miles from the campground before turning around.

From I-70 take Exit 133 at Dotsero and drive north on the Colorado River Road for 7 miles and turn west onto the Sweetwater Creek Road, CR# 40.

Follow the Sweetwater Creek Road for 9.8 miles and turn left into the Sweetwater Campground. The campground has 9 non-reservable sites that are available on a first come basis. Six of the sites can accommodate vehicle and RV lengths up to 30 feet.

Start out by following the Ute trail which begins off of the road behind the restroom.

The Ute trail climbs through oakbrush, serviceberries and conifers as it leaves the campground. Along the way there are some nice views of Sweetwater Lake.

Just past the quarter mile point the Sweetwater Nature trail branches off on the right while the Ute trail continues its climb.

Near the 0.4 mile point the trail passes through a gate where the Ute trail turns sharply to the left and the Cross Creek trail takes off straight ahead.

The trail makes a little dip into the Lake Creek drainage where the pine trees give way to stands of aspens.

As the trail climbs out of the Lake Creek drainage is passes under a limestone knob. On the right side of the trail there will be 2 aspen trees with orange markers where riders on horseback can tie off their mounts. A few yards on up the trail will be another tree with an orange marker where a primitive trail leads up to the Sweetwater Indian Cave.

The cave is said to be 160 feet deep with several 10-15 foot drop offs and a couple of low crawls.

Inside the entrance of the cave are scores of black charcoal pictographs of elk, bison and horses. Looking around you can also spot one or two Maricat'z (old Ute term for settlers) on horseback.

Other pictographs, like this shield, are red and orangish-yellow in color. There is a blue circle but that one matches a blue inscription on the outside of the cave that is dated Sept. 6th, 1897 with the names H. Hunt, R. Kennon and S. Deming followed by Leadville which we presume is where they were from.

Once past the cave the trail climbs steeply and offers several nice overlooks of Sweetwater Lake and the valley below.

We followed the Cross Creek trail as it continued to climb to a bare knoll near the 2.5 mile point. Our GPS track showed the trail angling off of to the right but it soon became very hard to follow. A guide on horseback mentioned that they were going to loop around to the left and cross the drainage before heading back down to their stable near Sweetwater Lake. We are guessing that they were going to follow the Prospect trail back over to the Ute trail and head back that way but the guide didn't refer to any of the trails by name. They had a lot of horses down at the stable and can probably do a good job outfitting anyone that would rather ride than hike. (The guide was super friendly.)

There are some nice multi day backpacking adventures that you can come up with by looking over a good map that shows all the interconnecting trails and roads. The original Ute trail went from the Grand (Colorado) River near Dotsero, all the way over the Flat Tops, to the White River east of Meeker. Most people only hike the Cross Creek trail to get to the Sweetwater Indian Cave which comes out to about 1.6 miles round trip. To see however much of it that suits you all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.