Washington Gulch

Round Trip Distance: 3 - 8.6 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
MTB Skill level:
Elevation: 9,622 - 11,396 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 5 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Washington Gulch/Gothic
Fee: none
Attractions: Forest hike, scenic views

The Washington Gulch trail, aka Trail #403, is located in the Gunnison National Forest near Crested Butte, Colorado. With one trailhead along the Washington Gulch Road, CR-811, and another along the Gothic Road, CR-317, the trail stretches up and over a ridge between Gothic Mountain (12,625 ft.) and Mount Baldy (12,805 ft.). Most hikers begin at the trailhead along CR-811 where the elevation is already at 11,000 feet and the round trip distance comes out to around 3 miles with an elevation gain of a little more than 400 feet. Mountain bikers begin at the same trailhead where after the initial uphill climb to around 11,400 feet they get to enjoy two and a half continuous miles of downhill.

To get to either trailhead you follow CR-317 from Crested Butte for about 1 mile and either turn left on CR-811 for 9 more miles or keep going straight on CR-317 for 9 more miles. For this post we began at the Washington Gulch trailhead along CR-317 that is a quarter mile past the Gothic Campground. On our map it is labeled Gothic, referring to the campground.

The parking area is large enough for horse trailers including room to turn around.

Hiking up the east slopes of the mountain will guarantee you a good workout. The trail climbs steeply for the first mile where there is a brief reprieve before it starts a more gentle climb.

The trail is a delight as it alternates between dark timber and sunlit meadows.

Around the 1.6 mile point the trail crosses Rock Creek where the water level will vary depending upon the runoff. There is an unmarked trail that branches off on the left a short distance after crossing the creek. One of our old maps shows that trail taking a straight course down to the Washington Gulch Road.

After a little more easy hiking the trail makes its final assault up the mountain by climbing a ridge where in short order it gains 300 more feet of elevation. The nicest thing about it is that it is less than a quarter mile before it levels off.

The reward for your efforts is a good workout and stunning views in all directions. On this day there was quite a bit of smoke from distant fires in the air giving a whole new meaning to the phrase 'breathtaking view'. Left of center in this photo is Maroon Peak (14,163 feet) and further to the right is Pyramid Peak (14,026 feet). Even further to the right and out of this photo is Castle Peak (14,278 feet).

From the high point on the ridge around 11,400 feet the trail begins a gradual descent down the Washington Gulch side of the mountain.

About a mile and a half from the top the trail reaches the Washington Gulch Road where the elevation is still close to 11,00 feet. This trailhead had a couple dozen vehicles stretched out along the road while there were only 3 on the Gothic side.

This elevation profile taken from Caltopo has the round trip elevation gain at 2,498 feet while our Delorme GPS software calculated 2,843 feet using the actual GPX file that was created on the hike.

Hiking round trip from trailhead to trailhead like we did doesn't seem to be how anyone else is doing the Washington Gulch trail. On the day that we took these photos there were only 2 people that hiked from the Gothic side all the way to the ridge summit but there were several dozen that hiked there from the west side where the elevation is already up around 11,000 feet to begin with. Many of them had young children including 1 that couldn't have been more than a month or two old. Other than that there were a half dozen mountain bikers one of which had a nasty wreck and dislocated a shoulder. Hiking through the forest and open meadows is very pleasant and those that persevere up to the overlook will have some beautiful scenery to enjoy. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.