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Trout Creek Pass

Trout Creek Pass is the easy exit from South Park on the west side. Despite the lack of a big climb, the pass marks a major separation of drainages, not between the Atlantic and the Pacific, but still major. Water falling on the arid high plains of South Park eventually ends up in the South Platte. Rain to the west falls into the valley of the Arkanasas (heading for the state Arkansas). Not until a couple of hundred miles north of New Orleans, that a split rain drop, falling on top of the pass, finds itself theoretically reunited in the Mississippi River.

This used to be a great bike ride and a scenically fascinating experience in a "big sky kind of way", especially heading east to west. The route marks the exit from the highest of Colorado's dry mountain parks, and rolls down to the foot of the 14 thousand foot spine of the continent int the valley of the Arkansas.

Presently much of the shoulder contains some rumble strips and traffic is so heavy that it is advisable to choose the time to cross very carefully.

click on profile for more detail
1. (mile00,9947ft) START-END EAST ALTERNATE : Fairplay
2. (mile05,9649ft) turnoff to Weston Pass road is on right
3. (mile17,8993ft) START-END EAST : low point, Antero Reservoir is in distant left
4. (mile21,9219ft) Antero Junction
5. (mile22, 9487ft) TOP: Trout Creek Pass
6. (mile35,7886ft) START-END WEST Johnson Village


From East. The starting point of the profile is actually at a higher elevation than the top of the pass, and the starting point is still in South Park. Still, there is a discernible climb over 500ft between the low point and the top.

As you leave South Park the shoulder begins to have rumble strips (June 2011). They leave just barely enough room to cycle to the right of them, unless you are towing a trailer or don't like rocks and sand - or unless you are going downhill. The only safe spots are where the rumble strips have been discontinued, apparently because of the presence of a guard rail. ( Yes - I suppose crashing into the guard rail would also wake up sleeping drivers)

From West. (also described upwards) Heading away from Johnson Village, the road soon enters sandstone bluffs and low rocky ridges. There are great views of Mount Princeton (14197ft), Mount Yale (14194ft) and Mount Harvard (14420ft), obtainable from a small distance off the main road, before the highway surrounds itself with low hills. The pass crossing itself offers no views, and is really perceived as part of South Park.

There are no rumble strips on this side, but also barely a shoulder that could hold them. Traffic can be dangerous during vacation or holidays.


Trout Creek Pass is historically the exit of South Park. The pioneers who crossed, always were searching for something. Pike was looking for the Red River - not very good prospects of finding it here. Miners were searching for gold. They had better luck. Railroads were looking for business. They too, found what they were looking for, but not for long.

Pike (<Currant Creek Pass|Medano Pass>): The pass was crossed by Pike during his futile search for the Red River. He arrived in the winter of 1806  by way of Currant Creek Pass. Having mistaken Currant Creek for the Arkansas, he concluded that the Arkansas ended on the east side of the pass. Still on the same side,  he found another river just a few miles away. From previous visits with Pawnee Indians, he concluded the river was part of the Platte drainage. He was right about the Platte, but wrong about the Arkansas. Pike's correct identification of the Platte drainage is remarkable, considering the geographic misconceptions of the time, such as expecting the Yellowstone drainage just over a pass to the north. Pike was right about the Platte, wrong about the Arkansas, and still looking for the Red.

Rather than looking for the Red River where it exited the Rockies, he expected to find it further west. Consequently he traversed South Park, and found the shallow gap in the Mosquito Range to lead him down to his "Red River Valley". At least that was what he hoped for. Ironically his Red River was the Arkansas, which he had previously attempted to follow to its source, but went up Currant Creek instead. But Pike did not know that yet. To him, it was the Red, at least for now. If all that seems confusing, just think how Pike must have felt.

Pike and company moved up and down the Arkansas (their Red River) valley during that cold winter, noting many passes, but staying busy just trying to staying alive. Their mission was accomplished - Red found. They proceeded down it in dugout canoes. Several days later the canyon became to difficult to navigate, and Pike by himself climbed a nearby peak to get the lay of the land. It was Noonans Peak, and below it was their old camp on the Arkansas, when they still were right about being on the Arkansas.

That must have been quite a shock ! Rather than return to east of the mountains, Pike's wrecklessness and disregard for the life of his companions led him to continue the search for the Red in the mountains. He built a block house at the old Canyon City Camp Site, and then headed up the Arkansas again, the identity of which he had so painfully discovered. They were not equipped for the winter. Pike had the only hat in the group. The rest wore breachcloth, slabs of buffalo hides for shoes, no stockings, the rest made up of deerskin, blankets and bits of canvas. In this condition they reached the Wet Mountain Valley near present day West Cliff. They spent a horrible January camped near the Promontory Divide, near present day Westcliffe, and then explored Medano Pass.


Fremont (<Currant Creek Pass|Tennessee Pass>): Professional hero of manifest destiny, Charles Fremont, also crossed Trout Creek Pass, albeit in a hurry. During his third expedition, the primary objective of finding military and emigration routes for westward expansion had been replaced by the more urgent objective of military action in California. But rather than taking the Oregon Trail route, Fremont opted for Pike's old route over Trout Creek Pass. From there Fremont's route diverted north,  leading to an official discovery Tennessee Pass.

Colorado Gold Rush of 1859/60(<Currant Creek Pass|Red Hill Pass>): Digging for gold in South Park was all the rage in South Park in 1859. Currant Creek Pass was one of the passes used to enter South Park. Trout Creek Pass was also one of the first passes used to move on, in search of more colorful hills promising more precious metal. Once in the Arkansas valley, they were less impressed with the magnificence of their suroundings than the gold they found to the north as far as the Twin Lakes area.

Railroads(<Kenosha Pass|Fremont Pass>): Trout Creek Pass was crossed by the Denver and South Park (DSP)  railroad after they had entered South Park over Kenosha Pass. The race to the next pot of gold was Leadville. The race had two participants: the pass climbing DSP and the valley railroad, the Denver Rio Grande (DRG), which built its line up from Canon City.

Once across Trout Creek Pass, the DSP was in the same valley as Leadville, and it still lost the race. You could build and engineer as hard as you might, the real decisions were still made by the mogul owners. UP's Jay Gould managed to obtain a right of way to Leadville and gave it to DRG, as a reward for keeping a bigger enemy, the SF (Santa Fe), out of Royal Gorge. It would be the last time the DRG would obtain a favor from the corrupt boss of the UP, Jay Gould.

Not all ore that had to be moved came out of Leadville. Buena Vista was the exit of a funnel of ore routes down from the Sawatch Range. Traffic arrived over Cottonwood Pass and Taylor Pass from Aspen, over Tincup Pass from Taylor Park, over Hancock Pass from Pitkin. That is the business the DSP picked up over its Trout Creek and Kenosha Pass line.

The Arkansas valley was now serviced by two railroads. The DSP and DRG had managed to divide the valley between themselves. Both of the railroads were narrow gauge lines. But in other aspects they coudn't have been more different. The DRG's route was a stretched southern bow. It traversed the rugged Arkansas canyon. It was the first railroad to cross a Colorado pass, but after that stayed low in the valleys. The DSP's route was a direct shot from Denver to Leadville, reasonably direct anyway, not over Loveland Pass, but over Kenosha and Trout Creek. The destiny of the brave little DSP was to forever to cling to the cliffs above the riches

The DSP line over two passes was a preparation for bigger things to come. The railroad had its sights set on the next pot of gold, the ore traffic from the Gunnison Basin. The DSP started building a line up direction Williams Pass to the mining towns Saint Elmo and Hancock, direction Gunnison. But before the tracks managed to overcome the mighty Sawatch Range, two years would go by, and a lot of valley rail would be hammered into place. In the end, the valley routes won out. The DRG also won the race to Gunnison. But following the passes in chronological order, we have to go back to the beginning of the previous paragraph, the time when the DRG won its first big race, the competition to lay track to Leadville.

While the DSP was engaged in a two year struggle to tunnel through the Sawatch Range below Williams and Altman Pass, new DRG tracks crossed less challenging passes to feed business into Leadville. One of them is Fremont Pass.

(<Ute Pass|Hagerman Pass>) Later Trout Creek Pass was crossed again, this time by a standard gauge railroad on its way from Colorado Springs to Leadville. The DRG had grown to monopolize the Colorado railroad traffic, and this line was an attempt to break the monopoly. Hagerman's Colorado Midland railroad reached Leadville by the end of the summer of 1887. From there his rails pointed west to a new crossing of the Sawatch Range, up Hagerman Pass.

Modern Highways (<Wilkerson Pass|Tennesee Pass>): In 1913 Trout Creek Pass became part of the second designated cross country automobile route. In the east the traveler had an atlas of roads to choose from. In the west the "National Old Trails Road" reached Colorado Springs over Raton Pass then continued over Ute Pass, Wilkerson Pass, Trout Creek Pass, Tennesee  Pass onwards to Grand Junction, Utah and Los Angeles.

Cycling-Ride the Rockies:(<Hoosier Pass|Independence Pass>): Between 1986 and 2005 Trout Creek Pass has been crossed once by the Denver Post's "Ride the Rockies", during 87, on a stage between Buena Vista and Breckenridge, which also included  Hoosier Pass. The previous day  crossed Monarch Pass, while the following day was spent riding over Loveland Pass. The links under this heading follow passes in order of how often they have been crossed by the Denver Post sponsored ride.

Trout Creek Pass (Summary)

Elevation/Highest Point: 9346 ft

Eastern Approach:

from Fairplay (9947ft)
-601 ft
22 1/2 miles
from low point between Fairplay and pass (8993ft)
353 ft
5 miles
Western Approach:

from Johnson Village (7886ft)
1460 ft
13 miles


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