Cochetopa Pass  
USGS 7.5' Map: Cochetopa Park, North Pass, Trickle Mountain
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Graded FR750, Cnty NN14 18.0 10,067 ft. NA 1-2 hours
County: Saguache
Adopted by:      
Managed by: Rio Grande National Forest,
Saguache Ranger District
46525 State Highway 114
Saguache, CO 81149
Summary: Cochetopa Pass is an easy graded road that crosses a historic pass.
Attractions: History, Scenery
Agency - March 15 through May 15.
Best Time: June - Best
July - Best
August - Best
September - Best
October - Best
Trail Heads

Camping: There are dispersed camp sites along the east side of the pass as well as the Luders Creek Campground. The west side has few dispersed camp sites. At the top of the pass there is a large site in the trees.
Base Camp: This would be a good area to base camp to explore the large number of easy 4WD roads southwest of Cochetopa Pass.
Fall Colors: Very Good - The upper sections of the pass road go through some large intermixed stands of aspen trees.
Navigation: From Saguache, CO head west on Colorado Hwy 114 for 21 miles. Turn left onto Cnty Road NN14, Cochetopa Pass Road.

From Gunnison, Co head east on US Hwy 50 for 8 miles. Turn right onto Colorado Hwy 114 and go 20.2 miles. Turn right onto Cnty Road NN14 and continue straight at the intersection for 8.4 miles. Stay on Cnty Road NN14, Cochetopa Pass Road.
History: In the days of the Utes, Cochetopa Pass was the main route across the mountains. The name comes from a Ute phrase meaning “gate of the bison,” indicating that it was a vital corridor long before humans appeared in North America.

1779 was the first documented crossing of the pass was by Governor Juan Bautista de Anza. In 1825 Antoine Robideau brought wagons across Cochetopa Pass making it the first Continental Divide pass in Colorado to be crossed by wheels. Robideau continued using the pass for his fur trading enterprise. In 1837 trappers Pope and Stover also brought wagons over the pass.

Because of its gentle grades and low summit, Cochetopa Pass was considerd for a railroad route. In 1853, Jefferson Davis, later to become president of the Confederacy, served as U.S. Secretary of War. He dispatched Captain John Gunnison to lead an expedition to scout a railroad route from the South across the West. Gunnison came up the Arkansas River and followed the Huerfano tributary to Sangre de Cristo Pass (modern La Veta Pass). His expedition crossed the San Luis Valley to Cochetopa Pass.

His expedition had sixteen six-mule wagons, an instrument carriage pulled by four mules, and a four-mule ambulance. Gunnison noted that “No mountain pass ever opened more favorably for a railroad than this.” Of course it was already a well known route by Gunnison’s time. Two other expeditions, the Fremont and the Beale, also used the pass.

In 1858 Colonel Loring explored the area and cut a primitive road over the pass calling it the "Central Route to the West". In 1861 the Canon City, Grand River and San Juan Road Company was granted a charter by the Colorado Territory legislature to build a road from Canon City to intersect with Loring's road. In 1869 John Lawrence improved the road over the pass for freighters. By 1872 regular stagecoach service commenced, connecting Saguache to San Juan mining camps like Lake City. In 1873, Lieutenant E. H. Ruffner studied the potential of the pass for a route to the west. And in 1875, Otto Mears put a toll road across Cochetopa Pass. Two railroads surveyed the pass as a potential route, but nothing was ever developed. There would be no railroad across Cochetopa Pass.

The Denver & Rio Grande did need to build west after it had penetrated the first wall of mountains to reach Alamosa with one line and Salida with another. But Marshall Pass was more accessible from Salida than Cochetopa Pass was from Alamosa. So Saguache, a transportation hub in the wagon days, got bypassed in the railroad days. Much the same happened in the highway era. In 1920, to drive from Salida to Gunnison often meant crossing Poncha and Cochetopa passes so as to avoid the high wall of the Sawatch Range. But when it came time to build a modern highway, Old Monarch and Monarch passes offered a more direct route, though at the cost of steeper grades and higher elevations. So Cochetopa Pass, despite its geographic virtues, became a secondary back road.
Cochetopa Pass divides Archuleta Creek to the west and Cantonment Creek to the east. From the west side of Cochetopa Pass you will begin at the intersection of Cnty Road NN14 and Cnty Road 17GG. After 0.5 miles Cnty Road NN14 will enter the Gunnison National Forest. As you climb into the forest the road will follow Archuleta Creek for about 3 miles. You will cross some open meadows and two sections of private property. Along the edge of the road in the meadows you will see old telegraph poles, some with rock cribbed bases. Some of the poles still have insulators and wire.

You will climb out of the Archuleta Creek canyon with two switchbacks. After 1.6 miles you will be at the top of the pass where there is a marker with information about the history of the Cochetopa Pass.

As you continue east over the pass you are now in the Rio Grande National Forest on FR750. After about 2 miles you will pass the Luders Creek Campground. The road will follow Luders Creek as it descends through the forest and then it will cross a ridge after about 3 miles and follow Benny Creek. The road will follow Benny Creek for 1.8 miles before climbing over another rise and heading down Rabbit Canyon. At this point the forest gets thinner and changes from Pine to more shrub vegetation. The last section of Cochetopa Pass road crosses BLM lands before connecting with Colorado Hwy 114.
Data updated - May 16, 2016       4WD Road driven - September 5, 2011       Copyright - 2000-2016