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 its 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 the 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 doing a two day trip, find an open site and setup 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 in the spring months when the water is running higher.
As you reach tree line beyond the creeek, 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 more rocky. 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 you continue 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 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!
Be sure to check the weather forecast several times before hiking Mount of the Holy Cross. Here are several good weather sources for forecasts of the Mt Holy Cross area.
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.
- 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.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
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 Mt of the Holy Cross route 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.
Alex is a mountaineer and blogger based in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others explore the mountains, stay safe, and preserve the peaks for the future. Subscribe to the Next Summit Newsletter here.