Hancock Pass

St. Elmo, Colorado (Chaffee County)

Last Updated: 08/08/2021
4.8 / 5 ( 19 reviews )
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Information
Nearby Trails
Status: Open
Typically Open: 06/15 - 10/31
Permit Information: Permit Required - Click Here
Length: 3.69 miles
Highest Elevation: 12140 feet
Duration: About 3 hours
Shape of Trail: Straight Through
Best Direction to Travel: N/A
Nearest Town: St. Elmo
Nearest Town w/ Services: Buena Vista
Official Road Name: 299, 266
Management Agency: San Isabel National Forest/GMUG National Forest
District: Salida Ranger District/Gunnison Ranger District

Highlights

Highlight: Hancock Pass
Situated near the famous ghost town of St. Elmo and within the San Isabel National Forest, this trail will lead you up and over Hancock Pass and the continental divide at an elevation of 12,140'. You will also travel through some of the most historic and beautiful country that Colorful Colorado has to offer. If alpine passes, turn of the century railroads, mining history, and ghost towns are what you are looking for; this entire area will not disappoint! It is a must-do.

Video

Route Information

Technical Rating

( MODERATE - DIFFICULT )

Read more about our rating system

Waypoints

1. Trailhead (0 mi)
Turn uphill to the right at Waypoint 2 of the Hancock Lake Trail onto FS 266.

Directions to Trailhead

Starting Point: Buena Vista

From Buena Vista side you must first drive the entire Alpine Tunnel East Trail and the first part of the Hancock Lake Trail. At Waypoint 2 of the Hancock Lake Trail you will turn uphill on FS 299 to start the Hancock Pass Trail. From the Pitkin side you will drive the Alpine Tunnel West Trail to Waypoint 6 and make a right-hand turn onto FS 266 to start the Hancock Pass Trail.

Camping

Dispersed

Trail Reviews (27)

Author:
Status: Open
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Started about 9 am from St. Elmo side. Snow from earlier in the week still on the trail. Ran into one short hill that required a couple tries and some spotting due to loss of traction but otherwise fun trail run up and over the pass. The descent down the switchbacks was mostly clear of snow and dry.
Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
I loved this trail! Traveled from the East to the West. As others have noted, the trail has been chewed up and I would say the minimum rating should be upped to a 5. Everything was super green and lush from all of the rain; and the wildflowers were on point! I was surprised at how little traffic was on the trail for a Saturday.
Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
What a great day on the trail. Minimal traffic as in none!! Very rough from st elmo side. Left a few battle scar on my skid plates. We ran from Tomichi Pass to St Elmo side. ***Tomichi Pass is Open***
Author:
Social Media:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Rocky and slow, but scenic!
Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Ran east to west and took just over an hour. East side is much more rocky than the west side. Some bigger rocks to navigate through.
Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Another great day on the trail. Trail was rough but no surprises. Views were spectacular and a lot of cool history when coming down the west side. We camped right before waypoint 2 and it was the last spot below tree line. There is another camping spot above tree line after waypoint 3 that would be nice in good weather.
Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Drift on the east side is passable! Hancock is open!
Author: Official Crew
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Open on the St. Elmo side for 1 mile with deep snow.
Author:
Social Media:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
One of the our favorite trails in the Buena Vista/St Elmo area. We caught on the Hancock Pass from Tincup so it was quite a long day in the seat. But the views were very much worth it. Can be long and rocky in some places but nothing technical.
Author: Official Crew
Social Media:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
We ran Tin Cup, Napoleon, and Hancock passes in our RZR. Hot, dry day. Trails were busier than I expected for a Tuesday. And these trails are rough! Big rocks! But we had a blast.
Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Did Hancock from East to West in the morning. Pretty easy drive, however, the trail was surprisingly very rough and bumpy on East side due to large bowling ball sized boulders exposed from road use. Nice views at top of surrounding very high peaks. Traffic was light, with only a few vehicles coming from opposite direction. Alpine Tunnel on West side still closed to vehicles, as was Tomichi pass.
Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Ran this with a group along with Pomeroy Lake. Most of Hancock is fairly easy until you start getting above tree line and some spotting was needed for a couple of our rigs. Great trail and wasn't too much traffic for a Thursday.
Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Just ran the pass. Wide open. Only a few side-by-side vehicles- no other cars/jeeps. Was muddy, wet, and slippery- so needed some 4 low. Otherwise easy. Extremely bumpy and rocky around tree line - will beat you up a little and slow going. Took 2.5 hours to get over to Piktin. Then 1 hour to over Cumberland to Tin Cup. Then 2 hours over Tin Cup to St. Elmo. Full circle - about 5 hours.
Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
The pass is fully open for the 2020 summer trail season.
Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Trail is still currently open 100%. Not sure what this weekend's weather will bring. It was extremely dry and dusty. The trail is extremely rough and rocky on the St. Elmo side, but not difficult for a modified rig. Just rough and slow. An aggressive stock rig with good tires could easily do this trail. The Pitkin side of the pass is a whole lot smoother with some rocks here and there and some mild washout areas and they the tight switchback at waypoint 5 which in my opinion would be incredibly difficult for a low clearance vehicle, but no issues at all for any kind of high clearance vehicle. I watched numerous Jeeps go through no issues, down and back up.
Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Ran Hancock Pass from St. Elmo to Pitkin after completing Tincup. The trail is starting to move toward difficult from moderate after the last winter and spring. After the turn from the road to the Alpine Tunnel hiking trail, it is immediately rough from washouts around the boulders. It is a slow crawl up to the ledges at higher elevation with the off camber portions getting more pronounced. The ledges are much more pronounced than they have been in past years and you need to pick your lines carefully. Downhill past the Alpine Tunnel trail is still pretty rough, down to the water tower, but not nearly as bad as the upper portion near the pass. The trail to the Alpine Tunnel is still closed on the west side of the pass as is Tomichi Pass.
Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Fully open from Pitkin to St Elmo, with zero snow. As noted in some reviews below, this is a "moderate+" trail. Lots of variance in the moderate tag, but the needle is on right. One spot in particular on the west side is a no-joke, need serious depart/approach angle ability to get up a steep rock section.
Author: Official Crew
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
The trail is open to just before waypoint 2. As you come out of the trees snow is blocking the shelf road above timberline. It will be some time before enough snow has melted to make the trail passable.
Author: Official Crew
Status: Impassable
Offroaded on:
This trail is still impassable due to a heavy winter and avalanche issues. This trail will be updated when the status changes.
Author: Official Crew
Status: Impassable
Offroaded on:
Snow has fallen closing this trail for the season.
Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Being used to the "4" rated trails around Colorado Springs which are mostly 2's with one or two brief segments bumping it up, this was a little bit of a surprise being that most of the St Elmo-end of the trail earns the 4 consistently, but as a result it was a ton of fun. Met a stock TJ at the Pitkin end that had to get winched up on one of the ledges, so I wouldn't recommend trying it in something with less clearance than a stock TJ, and airing down will make the trip much more pleasant. Stunning view at the top was a great reward for the effort. All in all one of my favorite trails.
Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
This route /might/ be doable in a stock vehicle with very careful placement, but my stock 4Runner had trouble. Had to turn around at some pretty big rocks with no easily discernable line a bit below tree line. The route was fine until that point but it seemed foolish to try to get past with the amount we were scraping. This route was a lot more difficult than I was expecting from the description and reviews.
Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Ran this trail as part of the Set Them Free event. Overall, I think the east side of the trail is a little rougher than the "3 rating" leads on to be, but it's still suitable for a stock high clearance vehicle. The trail was very dry and really no mud to speak of at all. The west side in my opinion has way better views, but that could have also been just because I was facing the views rather than them being at my back. Good trip though for any beginning wheeler or anyone looking for some remoteness.
Author: Official Crew
Status: Permanently Closed
Offroaded on:
Snow has fallen making this trail impassable until next season
Author: Official Crew
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
I joined the Set Them Free Off-Road event and drove the Hancock Pass trail. We were able to complete the first half of the trail making it to just below the summit on the East side. A large snow field still adorned the trail near the top making the route impassible. The snow field sees direct sunlight as the passage is above timberline. Even so, it will probably take another week or two for the snow to clear from the trail. The lower part of the trail is dry and in good condition. The day was exceptionally enjoyable wheeling with new friends I encountered during the off-road event. We took time to explore the Mary Murphy Mine and Arial Tramway. This is some real Colorado history along this route.
Author: Official Crew
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
It was an extremely warm day around the Collegiate Peaks. 4 of us on 37s+ with dual lockers and around 5lbs of air in the tires, headed up Tincup from St Elmo. Just past the entrance to Iron Chest, snow started appearing on the trail. At the 1.8 mile mark, before you reach the trustle, the trail becomes nothing but snow 2'-3' deep. With our low tire pressure, we were able to continue on the snow past Hancock ghost town, the bridge, and up towards Hancock Lake. Once the trail started inclining, we were forced to turn around due to lack of traction. One of my photos shows the very top of a carsonite sign as a reference for the depth of the snow we were traveling on. There is a TON of snow up on the pass still. We were able to make it as far as we did because the snow was still very hard and our single digit tire pressures allowed us to float on top of the snow. Because of the amount of snow, I would not recommend traveling alone on this trail for the time being. Bring shovels and be prepared to get stuck as the snow softens with the warmer weather. Please stay on the trail and do not avoid snow drifts. If you cannot get through the snow on the trail, turn around and try a different day.
Author:
Status: Seasonal Closure
Offroaded on:
It was a beautiful day in August. Friends and family accompanied me, as we headed up Hancock from Pitkin. The road leading up to Hancock is pretty, and very tame. I only used 4wd because the roads were fairly wash boarded. There are many interesting signs, and even a porta -potty near the trailhead. As you start the trail, it is fairly steep and narrow. My FJ swiped plenty of tree branches, although not so bad that it pinstriped my paint. The road is fairly level and rocky, and we took it slow. As with other trails in Colorado, tire placement is key to keeping from puncturing a tire. DO TAKE NOTE that Tomichi pass spurs off from Hancock. The sign is a bit confusing, if you are not paying attention. Stay to the left to continue up Hancock. After 30 minutes or so, from the trailhead, the forest opened up to the side of the mountain. There are several switchbacks from this point forward. Among them is one fairly early in the sequence. I had to 5 point that turn in my FJ, on a switchback that ascends to the right. To the left is a series of ascending rock. In the middle is a pretty substantial rut. On the right is a smooth ridge. Even with tire placement on the rock and ridge, we were fairly off camber. In the included video, the footage starts right before the switchback. You can nervously hear my wife telling me that there was plenty of room to the right (ridge side). Past that was maybe one or two more switchbacks, that weren't terribly difficult. The last stretch to the top is nice and easy. We continued down a very rocky road, which is nice and wide. All four of us bottomed out pretty hard along one part of the drive. Wildflowers on this side of the pass were stunning. After a bit, on your right, you will notice a fairly steep side road. This stops at a marvelous established (primitive) campsite. However, the old farts wanted to camp near water, so we continued down the pass. At the bottom of a rocky section, you can either take a left in to Hancock, or take a right and head up to Hancock Lake. The road to Hancock lake was fairly narrow, and continued with some nice rocky spots. Other than some elevation gain, it was a fairly flat road. It is a pretty lake, above timberline, with majestic peaks surrounding you to the left, front, and right. The peak to the left is the most interesting, as it is very steep and rocky. There is a short hike to the lake, but I would advise taking it. The land around the lake is muddy and mushy. You can't technically camp around the lake, but I hear people have done so. We stayed at the lake a while, took pictures, and then headed back down to find a place to camp.

Questions & Answers (4)

Q: I’m on a KTM 500. How challenging will this be on a motorcycle? Doesn’t look bad from the pictures and it is fairly short.
–Michael (07/23/2021)
–Marcus Trusty (07/24/2021)
Q: Tomochi pass is open. May want to fix the description from waypoint 7.
–Kevin (07/16/2021)
–Marcus Trusty (07/24/2021)
Q: Not sure where to put this (It is next pass over from Hancock) but why is there not a thread/ trail report for Williams Pass. I know if it opens at all it is just for August, but weird to have nothing on this trail that I hope to run this year.
–Steve Dohnal (07/21/2020)
–Marcus Trusty (07/21/2020)
Q: Looking for clarification on the timeframe it takes to trail jeep this 3.75 miles. Above it notes 3 hours which seems much longer than expected? Is that also account for both West and East Alpine trails?
–Dan Wise (09/26/2018)
–Marcus Trusty (09/27/2018)

Writer Information

Marcus Trusty

Mapping Crew - Colorado

Marcus is a 3rd generation Buena Vista, Colorado native who grew up bouncing around the central Colorado mountains in the back of his dad's CJ5. During his younger years, Marcus grew to appreciate public lands and the recreation opportunities backroads and 4-wheel drive trails offer. Marcus has been wheeling for 20 years now and has wheeled in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and California. Until a few years ago Marcus had just been a participant in the wheeling community, but he has become much more active in preserving trails and working to make sure the wheeling community has their access maintained for future generations. Marcus helped to found Colorado Off Road Enterprise - CORE, based out of Buena Vista. CORE has worked with the Forest Service and BLM and has volunteer agreements in place with both organizations. CORE also has a Forest Service trail adoption agreement in place for Grizzly Lake, Pomeroy Lake, Hancock Lake, Hancock Pass, and Tincup Pass, Tomichi Pass, Williams Pass, Ptarmigan Lake, Mineral Basin, Clohesy Lake, Lost Canyon, Champion Mill, Iron Mike Mine, and Slide Lake. If Marcus is not working you can generally find him somewhere out on the trails around Buena Vista.
For individual use only, not to be shared.