Saints John

Montezuma, Colorado (Summit County)
Last Updated: 08/03/2018
5/5 (2 reviews)
Information
Nearby Trails
Status: Seasonal Closure
Typically Open: 05/20 - 11/23
Difficulty: 4-5
(EASY - MODERATE)
Length: 7.3 miles
Highest Elevation: 12320 feet
Duration: About 2 hours
Shape of Trail: Straight Through
Best Direction to Travel: North
Nearest Town: Montezuma
Nearest Town w/ Services: Keystone
Official Road Name: FS 275
Management Agency: White River National Forest
District: Dillon Ranger District
Distance:
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Highlights

Highlight: Saints John

First, yes, it is Saints John, not Saint Johns. Keep reading to learn why. This 4WD trail runs along high alpine ridge lines for several miles with spectacular 360 degree views. And lest you get bored, there are a couple of white-knuckle hill climbs to keep things interesting. The north end of the trail drops down into the forest below making its way into the tiny town of Montezuma. In 1863, John Coley made the first silver strike in Colorado. He founded the boom town of Coleyville. However, in 1867, a group of wealthy Free Masons bought up much of the area claims, renaming the town Saints John for the two patron saints of the Free Masons: Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. Thus Saints (plural) John. The current 4WD trail follows the route once taken by ox or mule driven ore carts hauling the mined ore over the Continental Divide and down the Swan River Valley to the mills and rails in Breckenridge. The mines of Saints John produced silver until the 1950s. Now, feel free to correct everyone you meet who will probably call this Saint Johns. (Full disclosure: The author was one of those people until 2016.)

Video

Route Information

Technical Rating: (4-5)
(EASY - MODERATE)

Rutted and/or rocky road. No shelves. Rocks up to 12" and water crossings up to 12" with possible currents. Passable mud. Moderate grades to 15 degrees. 6" holes. Side hill to 20 degrees. 4WD required. No width problems.

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Description

Saints John is a relatively easy 4WD trail that is mostly above treeline. There are two hills, one much longer than the other, that can be climbed in stock high-clearance vehicles with either a good driver or some good coaching. Saints John can be run from north to south from Montezuma. However, this makes the the hills descents rather than climbs and steals away some of the fun. More often Saints John is the second half of a longer route along with a connected trail. Connecting with either Middle or North Fork Swan (moderate) makes a straight-through route from Breckenridge to Montezuma. Deer Creek (easy) and Radical Hill (difficult) both create loops. NOTE: The high alpine tundra is very fragile and the Forest Service does not take it lightly when folks drive out on it. Unfortunately, this trail shows how common the practice is as well as how damaging. Yes, the trail is quite rocky in places. But if it's so rough that you feel you need to drive on the grass instead, maybe you should re-evaluate your hobby. PLEASE stay the trail! This kind of abuse can lead to permanent closure! Then we all lose! Some sources call the southern half of this trail Glacier Mountain Road. The Forest Service Signage doesn't use this term. Cell phone signal comes and goes throughout the route. The nearest emergency room is at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center (970-668-3300), located just off CO-9 south of Frisco. Summit County Sheriff office (970-453-2232) is on CO-9 in Breckenridge.

Seasonal Information

Winter:Seasonal Closure. This trail is popular with snowmobilers.

Waypoints

1. Southern Trailhead

The southern trailhead makes a three-way intersection with Deer Creek (north) and Middle Fork Swan River (south).

2. North Fork Swan (0.8 mi)

North Fork Swan River, FS 356, continues straight (west). Turn right (north) to continue on FS 275. The next two miles of trail highlight the problem of driving on the tundra. As seen in the satellite image, there are many places where folks have driven up on the grass to avoid rocky patches. If the the trail is too rocky for you, maybe you shouldn't be here. As the trail widens and the damage increases, so does the likelihood that the Forest Service will close this trail and we'll all pay the price for a few boneheads who can't stay the trail!

3. Rocky Hill Climb (2.4 mi)

This is the first, and smaller, of the two hill climbs. This climb is not difficult, but does have a rocky, blind summit that can be unnerving (See 1:20 in the video above). The trail makes a sharp right, but even if you go straight for a few yards, you'll be fine. The summit offers great views of Breckenridge Ski Resort to the west, Deer Creek to the east, the preceding trail to the south and the next, longer, and more difficult hill climb to the north.

4. Bottom of Big Hill, 275.1C (2.8 mi)

At the base of the big hill climb, FS 275.1C forks to the right (northeast). This spur is an entertaining, very off camber, but easy out-and-back. The hill climb ahead is long, lose, and rocky. There is a small ledge near the bottom that may require a couple of attempts for stock trucks or inexperienced drivers (See 2:13 in the video above). After that, there are no remarkable obstacles, just more hill. The summit is a bit anticlimactic, but has a nice wide area to wait for your whole party to catch up and take in the views.

5. Mine Ruins (3.3 mi)

A small shaft hut sits just off the trail and some larger ruins are just below to the right. These are all that remains of the General Teller Mine. While this site makes a great photo op, keep in mind that, as this is a shaft hut, it sits above a collapsed mine shaft! DO NOT enter the hut!! This historic site is in a dangerous state of decay. Never enter or climb on historic ruins. It could damage the site, or worse, damage you!

6. 275.1B (3.4 mi)

This short (barely a half mile) out-and-back spur goes to the summit of Glacier Mountain to the right (northeast). Here, you'll find great views, but not much else. About 300 yards ahead, another right turn leads to the same trail.

7. Tight Switchbacks (3.8 mi)

These switchbacks quickly descend into the forest below. The second switch back (pictured) is the tightest and steepest. The last switch back is the rockiest, but still passable by a stock truck.

8. Collapsed Mine Adit/Tailings (4.2 mi)

Just below the switchbacks the trail passes between the collapsed adit of the Wild Irishman Mine and its tailings pile. Remember, these areas can be unstable. Use caution if you chose to explore.

9. Unmarked Fork (4.9 mi)

The unmarked fork to the left (west) is short and not very interesting. Stay right (northeast) on FS 275.

10. Seasonal Gate (5.2 mi)

The Forest Service may keep this gate closed during Spring runoff, but most likely it will be open by early June. Just because this gate is open does not mean that the entire trail is passable. Snow lingers on the high ridges as late as mid July.

11. Saints John Ruins (5.8 mi)

The area around Saints John is private land. No camping is permitted. Please respect the land owners who graciously allow us to pass through their property. The ruins of the large mill are strictly off limits. The area is "under reclamation." Please enjoy this historic site from a distance.

12. Minnehaha Reservoir/Hunkidori Mine (6.6 mi)

To the left (west), across a long water crossing, is the Hunkidori Mine 4WD trail. [EDIT: Although there is no signage or gate, Hunkidori is another victim of quiet trail closures. The unannounced change appeared on the Forest Service's 2018 MVUM (Multi-Vehicle Use Map). Officially, Hunkidori is permanently closed.]

13. Unmarked Fork (7.2 mi)

The unmarked trail to the right (south) dead ends quickly at some mine ruins.

14. Northern Trailhead, Montezuma (7.3 mi)

The trail ends in the tiny town of Montezuma. Turn right (south) on Montezuma Rd (FS 5) to get to Deer Creek, Webster Pass, and Radical Hill. A couple of streets to the left (north), is the road to Santa Fe Peak. About a mile north on Montezuma Road is the trailhead for Peru Creek. It's just under five miles down the valley to Keystone and US 6.

Directions to Trailhead

Trailhead Coordinates: 39.520867, -105.868970

Starting Point: Keystone

This description covers Saints John from south to north making the two big hills climbs rather than descent. It begins at the three-way intersection with Deer Creek and Middle Fork Swan River. Follow either of these trails to their end point to begin Saints John as described. Or you can connect from nearby Radical Hill or North Fork Swan River. To run the trail from north to south, from US 6 at Keystone, take CR 5, Montezuma Road, east for 4.9 miles to the tiny village of Montezuma. Continue straight through town to an intersection where a sign indicates Saints John to the right (west).

Camping

There are a few dispersed camping sites in the woods above and below the ghost town of Saints John. Saints John itself is private land where camping is prohibited. Nearby trails offer ample dispersed camping, especially Webster Pass and both North and Middle Fork Swan River.
Camping: Saints John

Land Use Issues

The trail is officially closed and gated from November 23rd through May 20th. The high alpine sections can be impassible with snow as early as mid-October and as late as July. Lower, treed sections may be impassible as late as mid-June. The Forest Service has been keeping the seasonal gates locked long after the 5/20 opening date to limit damage to the trail while the lingering snow melts. You may encounter snow drifts and muddy sections well into July. DO NOT attempt to bypass these sections by going off trail. These bypasses crop up every year requiring major efforts to block them. Continued abuse can get trails closed. Nearby Glacier Ridge is now permanently closed due to this kind of abuse. Consult the Dillon Ranger District, for more information on camping, access, and road conditions and closures. A Motor Vehicle User Map (MVUM) is available at the Dillon Ranger District or on line. Download MVUM.

Writer Information

Trint Ladd

Mapping Crew - Colorado
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Trint grew up riding dirt bikes in the creek beds of the Texas Panhandle. While attending college in Colorado in the late 1990's, he saw a magazine article about a Ford Explorer four-wheeling club. He never saw his Explorer as an adventure vehicle before, but quickly joined up and caught the bug. With his engineering background, Trint has always respected the factory design of a good truck (and recognized when manufacturers put cheap parts into something marketed for off road use). "A good driver, with a well built, stock truck can do trails that would break a $50k, built-up rig with an inexperienced driver." He put that 1st gen Explorer though hell and it always held up, earning great respect from the "big dawgs" in the club. (And earning the nickname, "The Idiot Stocker.") The truck was christened "BamBam" because of the frequent sounds ringing out from the factory skid plates. Now that Trint is "grown-up" (quotation marks intentional), he's a bit less inclined to dent up his pretty Toyota Tacoma, but still feels the same way about superior engineering. Trint's love for the mountains was ingrained at a very early age. 8mm film exists of 18-month-old Trint in a backpack on his dad's back while riding dirt bikes through the mountains of Red River, NM. Although Trint does enjoy a good, tough, technical rock trail, he can often be found on easier, winding, Alpine roads just taking the glory of God's country.

Community

Questions & Answers (3)

Q: What is the duration for the full loop (saints John and deer creek) starting from the northern trailhead bear Montezuma Thanks
–Jeff (06/29/2018)
A: Everyone has their own "comfortable" trail speed and stopping for site seeing is another variable, so it's hard to say precisely. But I think two and a half hours is a pretty good guess. For these two trails, your time will be close to the same which ever direction you take the loop. For the most fun, I recommend clockwise, starting with Deer Creek.
–Trint Ladd (06/29/2018)
Q: any idea when this will open?
–Colin (06/05/2018)
A: Talked to the rangers today and they said it's open.
–Colin (06/22/2018)
A: Normally for trails in this area, the gates will open mid-June and the trails will be passable by mid-July. It depends on how much show they got above tree-line. I talked to the Dillon Ranger District office and they said the gates will remained closed for a while yet to prevent yahoos from going up and tearing up the trails when the snow is still too deep. The gate on Georgia pass is already open and Boreas Pass is dry, so that's a good sign that we may get an earlier start this year.
–Trint Ladd (06/05/2018)
Q: My wife isn't big on the heights and cliffy stuff but can handle it in small chunks. Would you say the majority of this is similar to Kingston Peak in terms of trail width? Not lots of shelves and cliffs for example.
–Jen & JD Marshall (05/18/2017)
A: Yes. The trail never gets very narrow. Along the ridgeline (around waypoints 3 and 4), the ridge itself feels narrow, but it's nothing like driving along a cliff edge. The hillside traversed by the switchbacks (waypoint 7) is pretty steep, but again, the trail is plenty wide and that's an acceptable "small chunk" in my opinion.
–Trint Ladd (05/18/2017)

Trail Reviews (9)

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Love this trail! Views are epic and there is something peaceful about being above timberline almost the entire trail. Keep your camera ready for frequent mountain goat sightings.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Ran this on the 4th of July in a stock 4Runner Off-Road. Started in Montezuma up Sts. John road and then connected with Deer Creek to make a loop. Great drive that I was able to complete with no issues in the stock truck. There was one section on the big downhill (big uphill in this description) at the top that was a little difficult and maybe I wish I would have had rock sliders for, but with a careful line and taking it slow we were able to get through it. 100% open, only ran into about 5 other vehicles.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Open and 100% snow free. Really beautiful day today. One other truck up there.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
Summit County has had a couple of snow storms now. Most trails that go above treeline are blocked with snow.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
We took our SxS up North Fork and looped around Saints John, Deer Creek, and Middle Fork. I guess since school has started the crowds are winding down. We only saw a handful of SxS's and and two trucks the whole day. Even with some recent rain, the trails are pretty dry and sometimes dusty. Afternoon storms rolled in and made us nervous about lightning, but we only got a few sprinkles of rain. Over all, a great day!

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Trail was open end to end and we ran this after running Hunkidori Mine. The views on this trail were breath-taking and Jen drove up above 12,000 feet for the first time. Great day on the trail.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Trail is open. Wet in a few places. Great ride.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
Out of Montezuma, reports are that the road is open for a couple miles and then you run into avalanche debris. I did not verify these reports. Coming from North Fork, there is a very large snow field across the entire trail just after waypoint 2. The snow is very slushy and less than a foot deep, so I wouldn't expect it to last more than a week or 2.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
We visited the northern (Montezuma) end of the trail. Another foot of snow was added last week. Snowmobilers have packed the snow pretty well, but I think it's deceiving. There's a fairly firm crust, but if you break through, there's a good 1-3 feet of soft stuff underneath. There were tracks about 20 yards in where someone did just that and looks like they had a tough time getting back out. I wouldn't try it.