Marshall Pass  
USGS 7.5' Map: Poncha Pass, Mount Ouray, Pahlone Peak, Chester, Sargents, Sargents Mesa
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Easy 1 FR 200
FR 243
8,430 to 10,880 ft. NA 2-3 hours
County: Chaffee, Saguache
Adopted by:      
Managed by: San Isabel National Forest, Salida Ranger District
Gunnison National Forest, Gunnison Ranger District
5575 Cleora Road, Salida, CO 81201
216 N. Colorado, Gunnison, CO 81230
Summary: Marshall Pass is an easy graded road that connects Mears Junction with Sargents.
Attractions: Old Railroad grade, Pass, Fall colors
East side - Natural - Closed by heavy snows.
West side - Agency - Seasonal closure March 1 to May 26.
Best Time: June - Possible snow drifts
July - May still have snow at the pass
August - Best
September - Best
October - Early snows possible
Trail Heads
Mears Junction, FT1336 - Hiking, Horseback, Mountain Bike, and Motorcycle
Crest, FT531 - Hiking, Horseback, Mountain Bike, and Motorcycle
Continental Divide Trail, FT1776 - Hiking
Seven Creek Trail, FT480 - Hiking, Horseback, Mountain Bike, and Motorcycle
Summit, FT486 - Hiking, Horseback, Mountain Bike, and Motorcycle
Camping: There is a fee camping area at O'Haver Lake, as well as many dispersed sites along the road below the lake. There are also dispersed sites on the west side along the road.
Base Camp: This would be a good place to base camp and explore other 4WD roads in the area.
Fall Colors: Very Good - You pass through many aspen groves.
Navigation: From Poncha Springs, CO. head south on US Hwy 285 S toward Chipeta Ave for 4.9 miles. Turn right onto Marshall Pass Road and go 2.3 miles. Continue onto County Rd 47YY for 0.1 miles. Turn right onto the old railroad grade going up to Marshall Pass.

From Sargents, CO. head north on County Rd 31XX toward Marshall Street for 0.2 miles. Turn right onto US-50 E for 102 feet. Turn right onto County Rd XX32/Marshall Pass Road. It is right off of Highway 50.
History: Marshall Pass divides Marshall Creek on the west from Poncha Creek on the east. It is a crossing of the Continental Divide at 10,846 feet south of the summit of Mt. Ouray. It was used by the Utes as an alternative to the more regular route over Poncha Pass and then west over Cochetopa Pass. That course was also followed by early-day prospectors headed for the Tin Cup area, then part of the Ute reservation, in the 1860s. The story of Marshall Pass starts in 1873, when Army Lt. George M. Wheeler was assigned to help complete a military survey of the American West. Wheeler put Lt. William L. Marshall in charge of surveying the San Juan area. That fall, they were camped near present-day Silverton when the snow began to fall. The party headed back to Denver. They planned to use the regular route over Cochetopa Pass, but Marshall got a severe toothache which swelled his jaw and reduced his diet to a thin gruel. A blacksmith offered to pull the offending tooth, but Marshall preferred to go to a regular dentist in Denver, as quickly as possible. Marshall needed a shortcut, so he left the main party and set off with his packer, Dave Mears. He intended to head north and then turn west to cross the Divide in the area of Independence Pass, but heavy snow blocked that route. Marshall and Mears turned west toward a low point on the ridge, where the snow wasn't quite as deep. Even so, it took them six days to manage the 12 miles of wind, snow, and downed timber near the summit. After seeing that this gap took him in the right direction, Marshall halted for a day on the top, and made surveys despite his agonizing toothache. He and Mears got to Denver four days before the main party, and saved about 125 miles in the process.
Marshall Pass, 1880

William Henry Jackson

In 1877, Otto Mears got a charter to build a toll road over Marshall Pass, and in the early summer of 1880, he was advertising his route to Gunnison. By then, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad had reached Salida. The railroad bought Mears's toll road for $13,000, and began extending its narrow-gauge rails west. Twenty three snow sheds were built over the top of the pass to keep the line running in the winter. The first train reached Gunnison on August 6, 1881. The station on the top of the pass had a post office and was named Marshall Pass Station. In 1890 a fire destroyed the station, some snow sheds, and the agent's residence. The station burned again in 1923. The only holdup on the train happened in 1902 when masked bandits stopped the train and took the passenger's money. They were after a payroll box, but it was not on the train. They were one day too early for the payroll box. In 1902 Thomas Gist was the first person to cross the pass in an automobile. Passenger service continued until November 24, 1940. After that, the main freight was livestock from the Gunnison Country and coal from Crested Butte, bound for the steel mill in Pueblo. The mine closed in 1952, trucks were hauling cattle over improved highways, and the railroad got permission to abandon the line in 1953. The rails came up in 1955, and the right-of-way became a county road in 1956. In 1962, a natural-gas pipeline was run over the pass.

Helmuth, Ed and Gloria. The Passes of Colorado Boulder, Colorado: Pruett, 1994. Print.
Quillen, Ed., Online.
Starting at the east side of Marshall Pass, from Hwy 285 at Mears Junction, County Road 200 follows the old railroad grade along Poncha Creek for about 2.5 miles where it changes to FR200 near the old site of Shirley. There is a parking area with an outhouse at the intersection with Silver Creek Trailhead, FR201, and FR200. The road up to this point is a graded two lane road with a few pull offs. As you continue on FR200 the road narrows a bit and has less maintenance. About a half mile further is another intersection with Poncha Creek, FR203, which is just past where you cross one of the old high railroad bridges.

From this point FR200 starts a series of loops in and out of gulches to climb above Pontcha Creek looping back on itself. At the last loop where you head back to the west you will pass an intersection with Droz Creek, FR204. About a quarter of a mile from the intersection you will pass above O'Haver Lake.

Marshall Pass above O'Haver Lake

photo by:
Adam M

The road is a bit bumpy is spots, but the width remains about a vehicle and a half wide. You will now head in a westerly direction with Poncha Creek way below the road.

Looking west on Marshall Pass road

photo by:
Adam M

As you slowly gain altitude you will be working closer to the headwaters of Poncha Creek and the summit of Marshall Pass.

Gaining altitude

photo by:
Adam M

Aspens on Marshall Pass road

photo by:
Adam M

Filled sweeping curve

photo by:
Adam M

The road will pass a long flat tundra area before making its last climb up to the pass. There will be a trailhead parking area here (Continental Divide Trail) with an outhouse near where FR203 connects to FR200.

At a large sweeping curve you will cross Marshall Pass, changing to FR243, and then head down the west side toward Sargents.

Marshall Pass sign

photo by:
Adam M

The road will start a slow decent as it goes through another series of switchbacks.

Heading down the west side

photo by:
Adam M

You will then follow Marshall Creek down narrow valleys that will give way to wider valleys as you approach Sargents.

Lower part of Marshall Creek

photo by:
Adam M

The road leaves the old railroad grade to follow the edge of the valley. You will see remains of the old grade out in the marshy areas and in the fields to the south of the road.
Data updated - November 28, 2017     4WD Road driven - September 4, 2017     Copyright - 2000-2017