Hiking Mount of the Holy Cross | A Famous Colorado 14er
Of all the fourteeners, Mount of the Holy Cross has one of the strongest spiritual connections. Famous for the snow-filled gullies on its face that form a cross, it’s been a site of pilgrimage for Christians for over 100 years. Many climb to Notch Mountain to view the cross from across the valley, while others opt for hiking Mount of the Holy Cross itself. The Standard Route to climb the peak takes the North Ridge, avoiding the famous view of the cross, but providing the chance to camp near Holy Cross Creek as part of a two-day ascent. Plan your trip with my route guide and resources below.
Hiking Mount of the Holy Cross: Fast Facts
Hiking Mount of the Holy Cross: North Ridge Route
Your trip hiking Mount of the Holy Cross begins at the Half Moon Trailhead. Head out from the trail (ensure you’re on the correct trail and not heading to Notch Mountain & Halo Ridge). The well-maintained trail will quickly begin to rise to climb up Half Moon Pass – be warned; you’ll have to re-climb this pass, and it’s 600 feet on your way out.
Once you’ve reached the crest of the Pass, you’ll see the Mount of the Holy Cross rising dramatically above you. Begin a quicker descent down to the valley floor. There are several steep sections here of switchbacks, but the trail is solid and easy to follow. You will need to regain these switchbacks on your way back to the trailhead.
As you near the creek at the base of the valley, you’ll reach an area that has a sign with marked campsites. Due to a large amount of traffic this area receives, you must camp in one of these designated campsites instead of camping out on your own. This helps limit the impact on the Creek area. If you are making a two-day trip, find an open site and set up camp. If there are no open spots, you can try to ask groups to share a spot, but you may need to hike back out. Getting here as early as possible is highly recommended.
When you’re ready to continue hiking Mount of the Holy Cross, take a log bridge over Holy Cross Creek. It’s a good opportunity to refill your water bottles as you won’t come across any major water sources again without melting snow. The creek is a bit more difficult to cross when the water is running higher in the spring months.
As you reach the tree line beyond the creek, the route ahead along the ridge becomes more obvious. Continue following the trail up the North Ridge of Mt of the Holy Cross.
Near 12,200 feet, the trail becomes rockier. Cairns, small rock piles may help mark the path if you have problems following it. Watch for others ahead of you to find your way back, and take your time to save your strength.
Near 13,350 feet, pass the top of a large gully that holds snow late into the summer. Traverse across its top and turn left for the final crux. This is a good place to stop and check the weather before hiking Mount of the Holy Cross.
From here, the final 600 feet crux of the climb lies before you – a scramble on a loosely defined trail up to the summit. Up here, the oxygen is thin and takes its toll. Take your time, so you don’t trip and make your way up to the summit itself.
Once you make it to the top, enjoy your accomplishment! Take that summit photo and enjoy amazing views in all directions, especially the Gore Range to the East. Make sure you head back with plenty of time to reach the tree line before afternoon thunderstorms become a hazard. I hope you found this Mt of the Holy Cross Route Guide helpful and informative. Good luck hiking Mount of the Holy Cross, and safe travels on the trail!
If you plan on hiking Mount of the Holy Cross, I recommend you download this topographic map on your phone and print out a backup paper copy in case anything happens to your electronics. It’s also important to know how to read and use it, or it won’t be any use to you out in the wilderness!
Both routes begins at the Halfmoon trailhead, which is usually closed November intoo May. The dirt road can be driven carefully by most 2WD passenger vehicles, but more clearance is better than less.
DIRECTIONS TO THE MOUNT OF THE HOLY CROSS TRAILHEAD:
Mount of the Holy Cross is a long trip. There are many miles of hiking and a significant amount of scrambling at high altitude. A good pair of hiking boots are ideal for this kind of trek. Here are my top hiking boot recommendations.
You should always bring the ten essentials with you on your trip (see the infographic below). To carry them all, bring a backpack with 20-30 liters capacity. These are several good backpack options that won’t break the bank.
While trekking poles are not a necessity on this mountain, I use them myself as they offer many benefits and make hiking easier. If you want a pair, I share my personal favorites here.
Don’t forget to bring 2 liters of water, and a good bit of snacks and food for the trail. Learn more about packing for a 14er here.
Camping near Mount of the Holy Cross:
There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads near the trailhead ideal for those hiking Mount of the Holy Cross. Note that camping is not allowed at the trailhead. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.
Lodging near Mount of the Holy Cross:
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Minturn, and the surrounding area, ideal for those hiking Mount of the Holy Cross.
Mount of the Holy Cross sees a lot of traffic coming from Buena Vista and Leadville. Numbers are expected to rise dramatically in the next decade. Help protect the area while hiking Mount of the Holy Cross by following these key Leave No Trace practices:
- Plan ahead, review the route and pick a weekday or day in September to hike.
- Stay on the trail, and keep dogs leashed on and off-trail to reduce trampling of alpine grass.
- Leave your Bluetooth speaker at home and let nature’s sound reign.
- Urinate off-trail, and pack out your waste – a cathole won’t work at high altitude.
- Give wildlife a wide berth – 100 meters if possible. If they approach, back up to keep space.
- Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.
Safe travels, and good luck hiking Mount of the Holy Cross! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.
Info coming soon.
Hiking Mount of the Holy Cross is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.
Hiking Mount of the Holy Cross is an inherently high-risk, dangerous activity. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits at your own risk.