If you are looking for trailer parking to start your day, please read the "Directions to Trailhead" section above.
The trail starts off quickly climbing the mountainside with a handful of small boulder obstacles that you will need to traverse. The first 1.3 miles is one-way uphill only, so you should not run into any other traffic on this section. You come to an intersection on your left, which is the exit for the trail. You will return to this point at the end of your trip. This intersection is also used as an entry point for groups coming up to recover damaged or disabled vehicles, as well as hikers hiking to the city. Continue past this intersection where the trail gets increasingly harder with forest service signs announcing the same statement. There are a number of small, slightly off-camber rock ledge obstacles within the trees that you will make your way over starting with the Knotch just past the exit. Eventually, you make your way to a wide clearing with a much larger ledge obstacle called the Steep Rock.
Steep Rock is the first major obstacle on the trail and has a number of different lines, all of which are challenging. Once above this rock, French Creek is the next obstacle you encounter. French Creek is a major bottleneck if there is any traffic on the trail. This obstacle changes every year and the easy line from a prior year may look nothing like it did before. Do not park your vehicle in the creek if waiting in line for your turn to complete the obstacle
. Without lockers or a winch, this obstacle will be impossible. Please remember to stay the trail, and always use tree saver straps if winching to nearby trees.
Past French Creek, the next obstacle you will come to was once known as the Tippy Tree. The tree is long gone, and the trail has widened quite a bit here, but the climb is still a challenge. Eventually you come to the surviving mining cabins of Holy Cross City. There is a lot of parking here, so stop for awhile and explore the rich mining history you are seeing before you. Be sure to leave things as you found them. Many groups will turn around here and head back down the trail as the next obstacle is extreme.
Shortly after the city, you will traverse 2-3 small obstacles that pale in comparison to the massive rock obstacle known as Cleveland Rock. This obstacle will find the weakest link on your vehicle and will expose it immediately. Large ledges and holes on the right side will swallow up tires under 40 inches. The steep slab to the left seems to ignore the laws of friction providing zero traction for hard compound rubber tires. To top things off, mother nature throws salt on the wound by deliberately planting a mud hole at the base of the obstacle.
If you are lucky enough to conquer Cleveland Rock, you can continue a short distance over 3 more small obstacles until the trail ends at a fence noting the end to the motorized route. There are several lakes just a short hike away that we are told provide some great fishing opportunities. You must return back down the way you came up, taking the exit route noted earlier. From here, take the easy Homestake Collection Systems Road
and follow it back to the main dirt road you came in on, and back to the highway.
Holy Cross Ranger District MVUM
The trailhead for Holy Cross is well marked. There is no trailer parking here, but there is enough room for a group to air down before starting the trail. The next 1.3 miles is one-way uphill only.
2. Exit Route
Stay straight to continue. This is the end of the one-way section and the exit for the trail. If the trail has been challenging for you thus far, you may want to consider exiting here as it only gets significantly harder going from a moderate trail to a difficult trail.
3. The Knotch
You will encounter this small ledge obstacle shortly after the exit. Pay close attention to the fall line of this obstacle. It is off-camber and a wrong line could send you flopping into the tree on the left. The most difficult line is the far left and can be almost impossible to climb if there is water or mud at the base. The right side is an easier line. Please be sure to use a tree strap if you need to winch at this obstacle.
4. Small Ledge Obstacle
This small ledge obstacle is less challenging than the prior one but has a few different lines that will test your vehicle's suspension flex.
5. Steep Rock
This obstacle provides plenty of entertainment for every vehicle type. The far right is the easiest line, but gets extremely tippy leaning you towards the bushes. It is not uncommon to see large wheelstands on that line. The green TJ above is taking this line.
The center is the hardest line as it is a large, vertical, rock face climb requiring large tires and superb suspension travel.
The far left is not as hard as the center, but still requires fairly large tires, good traction, and an excellent brake over angle. The black JK above is taking this line. As you crest the ledge on this side, be aware that there is a slight drop off on the far left just above the ledge.
6. French Creek
This premier obstacle always gathers a crowd. With car-sized boulders guarding the exit from the creek, it is not uncommon for traffic to back up here for hours. The lines change from season to season, or even from storm to storm as water flows move boulders around and hinders tire traction.
Although not well marked, there are a number of winch points around the creek going up and coming back down. Please be respectful of other users on the trail, and if your vehicle cannot exit the creek after multiple attempts, take a strap or winch your vehicle out of the way so that other users can continue to progress through the trail.
Do not stage your vehicle in the creek if traffic is not moving! This sole obstacle on the trail has been the culprit of many heated debates and if proper care is not taken to keep the creek clean, it could eventually get the trail closed. Do not park in the creek, and make sure your vehicle is not leaking any fluids when you attempt the crossing.
7. Old Tippy Tree
This obstacle has changed drastically over the last decade. Once known as the Tippy Tree, there was only one off-camber line against a tree on the right side. The tree is now gone, and the trail is much wider to the left side. You can still encounter the thrill of the old tippy tree days by staying high right on the off-camber line.
8. Holy Cross City
Known to have flourished between 1880 and 1884, Holy Cross City was a mining town of around 300 people. There are still two, very intact cabins at the site, with a ton of mining equipment scattered around the area. This is a popular lunch stop and where many people turn around to head back down the trail or at least park their vehicles to see the action up on Cleveland Rock.
Between the city and Cleveland Rock, there are a couple brief obstacles but there is not much parking up there. Only enough for a few vehicles. If you do not plan to attempt Cleveland Rock, it is recommended that you park at the city and hike the less than a quarter mile to the next obstacle so that you do not create a traffic jam for that obstacle.
9. Cleveland Rock
This obstacle is an extreme obstacle for extreme vehicles. There are no easy lines and no bypasses. Mechanical failure, body damage, and rollovers are a very high possibility on Cleveland Rock. The right side of the obstacle is a series of large stair climbs that require you to snake your way back and forth to reach the top. The left side is a steep granite slab made harder by the ever present water hole at the base of the climb. Both vehicles in these pictures are using the left-most line. Note that any line appearing to drive up and around the obstacle on the far far left, or up against the trees is illegal. Please stay on the rock face and do not create resource damage by attempting any bypasses.
There is one winch point straight back at the top of the rock on the other side of the trail, about 20 yards from the top of the rock face.
10. End of Motorized Route
Not many vehicles make it to the end because of obvious reasons, so the turn around spot at the end of the motorized route is not that well defined. You will see the wooden fence barrier with a sign stating the trail continues only for non-motorized travel. This is the boundary for the Holy Cross Wilderness. Beyond this point, there is great fishing at Cleveland Lake and Hunky Dory Lake for those that hike in.