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
CAUTION: This Route is Hazardous!
You are responsible for your personal safety in the backcountry.
These peaks can be unpredictable and dangerous. Help is often hours or days away: your safety is primarily your responsibility. Prepare for your trek, understand your limits, be aware of the risks, and equip yourself with the necessary skills and gear.
Hiking Mount of the Holy Cross: North Ridge Route
Prepare for your hike by reviewing my route description and map. You should also check out the weather forecast and current conditions on Mount of the Holy Cross using the links below. There are directions for reaching the trailhead, safety and leave no trace tips, information about the mountain, and some USFS guidelines and permit details. If you are travelling, you might enjoy my camping and motel recommendations in the area too. Safe travels on the trails!
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!
The following websites and social media groups are good places to search for recent condition updates and trip reports for Mount of the Holy Cross and other nearby mountains. This is helpful for understanding the current snow and terrain conditions on the route. Remember, we do not vet individual reports on these sites – take them each with a grain of salt.
Both routes begin at the Halfmoon trailhead, which is usually closed from November into 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:
The Tigiwon road is closed each year between November 22nd and June 21st but biking or hiking the road is allowed. Call the local USFS office to check if the road is accessible
Bringing the right gear you will make your hike safer and increase your chances of reaching the summit successfully. Here is what I recommend bringing with you to climb Mount of the Holy Cross.
Hiking Boots: Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX Boots
Power through uphills and descents in any weather with Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX men’s hiking boots. They give you the stability and grip you need, plus a higher cut for extra ankle support.
Backpack: Osprey Talon 22 Pack
The Osprey Talon 22 is the perfect size for those hiking Mount of the Holy Cross. With trek pole clasps to secure them to your pack, a pocket for your hydration bladder, and great comfort, you cannot beat this backpack.
Trek Poles: REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles
Trek poles provide stability while hiking and help you use your upper body strength while moving to give your legs a break. These award-winning poles from REI are lightweight, strong, and adjustable for rugged terrain.
Always Pack the Ten Essentials
The ten essentials are the most important pieces of gear you need to survive in an emergency in the backcountry. They empower you to actively respond to a crisis instead of passively waiting for search and rescue to respond. You should tweak the specific equipment you bring on each hike according to conditions, but you should always have something for each of these ten categories.
1. Navigation Gear
I recommend bringing a map and compass. If you want to use GPS, get a dedicated unit. Phone batteries die quickly in the cold on a 14er. This 14er map pack works well for hiking Mount of the Holy Cross.
2. Headlamp and Batteries
Even if you don’t plan to be out until dark, you can’t plan for everything. If you’re running behind, having the ability to see – and be seen – is everything.
3. Emergency Shelter
When bad weather strikes without warning or someone falls and is injured, a shelter to get out of the elements can save your life.
4. Extra Water
Bring 2 liters of water per person on your hike – if not more. You also want to bring a purification system to get more if you get stuck outside.
5. Extra Food
I recommend packing 1,000-2,000 extra calories while hiking Mount Bierstadt. If you do get stuck out there longer than expected, some extra power gel or energy bars will make a big difference.
6. Knife or Multi-tool
The benefits of having this around in an emergency are self-evident: You can prepare firewood, create a shelter, fix gear, and solve other problems. I recommend a leatherman multitool, which is so much more helpful than just a knife.
7. Sunglasses and Sunscreen
The solar radiation is powerful when you are above the tree line. Bringing strong sunscren (60+ SPF) is recommended to avoid sunburn. Bring a pair of polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes too.
8. Fire-Starting Kit
If you get stuck outdoors in the mountains, the cold is one of the biggest immediate threats to your life. Being able to start a fire can keep you alive through a cold night. Bring a small kit like this that includes matches and tinder for starting an emergency fire.
9. First Aid Kit
For hiking Mount of the Holy Cross you don’t need to go overboard. Some bandages, moleskin, and pain relief medication is more than enough to deal with falls and scrapes, blisters, and altitude sickness.
10. Extra Layers
Bring one layer beyond what you expect to wear. In summer, that usually means bringing an extra coat or jacket you keep packed away in your bag. If you end up stuck outside overnight with a broken ankle, you will be very happy you brought it with you.
Satellite Messenger/SOS Device: Garmin InReach+
When something goes wrong out on the trail, it is immensely helpful to be able to contact search and rescue teams quickly. Most areas of Mount Bierstadt do not have dependable cell service. A satellite messenger or personal locator beacon allows you to call for help in an emergency in almost any location. They are expensive and require a subscription, but they have saved many lives.
I recommend the Garmin InReach Mini 2, with also offers premium GPS mapping in addition to text and SOS features.
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.
Note: As a Booking.com affiliate, I receive a small commission for reservations made using links from my site at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting The Next Summit!
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.
Stay safe while hiking Mount of the Holy Cross by following these essential mountain safety best practices for the Colorado 14ers.
- Research your route: Choose an appropriate route based on your skill level, fitness, and the current conditions. Obtain trail maps and read up on trail descriptions, elevation gains, and potential hazards.
- Check the weather: Weather conditions in the mountains can change rapidly, so check the forecast before heading out and be prepared for sudden changes.
- Start early: Aim to begin your hike at or before sunrise to avoid being caught out in the afternoon thunderstorms, which are common in the mountains.
- Dress in layers: Wear moisture-wicking clothing and pack extra layers, including a waterproof jacket and pants, to adapt to changing weather conditions.
- Hydrate and eat well: Bring plenty of water and high-energy snacks to stay hydrated and maintain energy levels during your hike.
- Acclimate to altitude: Spend time at higher elevations in the days leading up to your hike to help your body adjust to the thinner air and reduce the risk of altitude sickness.
- Know the signs of altitude sickness: Be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness, which can include headaches, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath. If you experience these symptoms, descend to a lower altitude and rest.
- Pace yourself: Hiking at high altitudes can be challenging, so take your time, listen to your body, and don’t be afraid to take breaks.
- Stay on the trail: Following established trails helps protect the environment and reduces the chance of getting lost.
- Carry the Ten Essentials: Bring navigation tools, sun protection, extra clothing, a headlamp, first aid supplies, a knife or multi-tool, a firestarter, shelter, extra food, and extra water.
- Hike with a buddy: Whenever possible, hike with a partner or a group for added safety and support.
- Know your limits: Be honest about your fitness level and experience, and turn back if you’re feeling unwell or conditions become unsafe.
- Leave No Trace: Practice responsible hiking by packing out all trash, respecting wildlife, and staying on designated trails.
- Share your plans: Inform someone of your intended route and expected return time, and check in with them once you’ve safely completed your hike.
Mount of the Holy Cross, located in the northern Sawatch Range of the Colorado Rockies, is renowned for its natural cross-shaped snowfield. This iconic mountain stands tall at 14,005 feet, qualifying it as a “Fourteener,” a designation given to peaks reaching elevations of over 14,000 feet in the Rocky Mountain region. The name “Mount of the Holy Cross” was bestowed upon this peak due to its distinctive east-facing cross of snow, a natural feature that remains visible well into the late summer months, which led to its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
The mountain’s rich history extends beyond its distinctive physical characteristics. The Mount of the Holy Cross was held sacred by local Ute Tribes before European settlers arrived. In 1873, renowned photographer William Henry Jackson captured the first photograph of the mountain’s cross, which quickly captured the national imagination and contributed to the area’s popularity with early climbers and explorers. In 1929, it was designated as a national monument by President Herbert Hoover, though this status was rescinded in 1950 due to the lack of development and visitation.
Despite the harsh alpine conditions, Mount of the Holy Cross supports a diverse range of flora and fauna. Vegetation on the mountain transitions from montane forest ecosystems dominated by Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir at lower elevations to alpine ecosystems characterized by dwarf shrubs, grasses, and forbs towards the summit. These ecosystems host a variety of wildlife including mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and numerous bird species such as the white-tailed ptarmigan and Clark’s nutcracker. The challenging terrain and isolated location of the mountain also contribute to the overall biodiversity, as they provide habitats that are relatively undisturbed by human activity. The sheer beauty and intriguing history of Mount of the Holy Cross continue to attract mountaineers, naturalists, and tourists alike, marking it as a gem in Colorado’s landscape.
There are no permits or reservations required to climb Mount of the Holy Cross.
Cross Wilderness – White River National Forest
The Holy Cross Wilderness area is a prized natural space, and as such, it requires careful stewardship from visitors to preserve its unique environment for future generations. Strict adherence to the Leave No Trace principles and the following specific regulations is expected of all visitors:
Camping is restricted to previously impacted sites, ideally located at least 100 feet away from trails, lakes, and streams to minimize damage to the local ecosystem. This area is home to ten designated camping sites along the Halfmoon Trail near East Cross Creek, available on a first-come, first-served basis. If these sites are full, visitors are required to share a site with another party. To protect the surrounding riparian areas, camping outside of these designated sites is strictly prohibited. Also note, campfires are not permitted in this region.
Waste management is critical for maintaining the cleanliness and sanitary conditions of the Wilderness. All trash must be packed out; burning of garbage is not an acceptable disposal method. Given the rising sanitation issues at popular destinations, visitors are strongly encouraged to pack out their human waste as well.
For those bringing dogs, it’s important to keep pets under control at all times. Dogs should not harass wildlife or disrupt the experience of other visitors.
Climbing Mount of the Holy Cross, particularly via the Halfmoon Trail from Tigiwon Road, is a challenging endeavor. This route requires a strenuous hike with over 8,000 vertical feet of elevation change, several miles of rock walking in each direction, and the potential for adverse weather conditions. Preparedness is crucial for a safe and enjoyable visit.
Visit the Holy Cross Wilderness website to learn more.