Montezuma, Colorado (Summit) Technical Rating: 4-5
Last Updated: 11-22-2016
White River National Forest, Dillon Ranger District
Saints John Highlights
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.)
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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Directions to Trailhead
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).
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.
1: Southern Trailhead (0.0mi)
2: North Fork Swan (0.8mi)
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 (2.4mi)
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 (2.8mi)
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 (3.3mi)
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 (3.4mi)
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 (3.8mi)
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 (4.2mi)
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 (4.9mi)
The unmarked fork to the left (west) is short and not very interesting. Stay right (northeast) on FS 275.
10: Seasonal Gate (5.2mi)
The Forest Service may keep this gate closed during Spring runoff, but most likely it will be open my late May. Just because this gate is open does not mean that the entire trail is passable. Snow lingers on the high ridges as late as July.
11: Saints John Ruins (5.8mi)
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 (6.6mi)
To the left (west), across a long water crossing, is the Hunkidori Mine 4WD trail.
13: Unmarked Fork (7.2mi)
The unmarked trail to the right (south) dead ends quickly at some mine ruins.
14: Northern Trailhead, Montezuma (7.3mi)
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.
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.
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.
Camping and Lodging
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.