December 24, 2018

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The Holy Cross City road is one of the hardest 4x4 roads in Colorado. This was one of our favorite places to camp and ride when I was in High school back in the late 1970’s.

What attracts campers the Holy Cross City Area? The challenge of the ride. Modified 4x4’s, or Rock-Crawlers, treat this little 4 mile long road as their playground. It is rated at an 8.5 and not suitable for stock vehicles. Also a haven for motorcycles and ATV’s.

The road has changed a lot since I was a kid. We used to take our stock 4x4 up it, but the ware-n-tear over the years has only increased the obstacles and now only the hard-core 4x4’s can make it.

Holy Cross City Road back in 1980


Holy Cross City road is all about Challenge

Our 2003 Holy Cross City Area

As you can see, we used to take a stock 4x4 up this road in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. I do have to admit that we did have to use the wench a time or two. From 1981 to 2003, I was out of state in the military and often wondered how the Holy Cross City road fared. In 2003 I got chance to find out.

Being owners of brand-new ATV’s and motorcycles, I invited my parents to camp with us near the base of the Holy Cross City road. Even though my parents live in Colorado, it had been over 20 years since they have been on this road as well.

The best way to describe how hard this road was is to outline it section by section.

The first 1.3 miles of this road is probably the easiest for the bigger 4x4 vehicles. For motorcycles, it is still quite challenging. The road is a steady incline and littered with fist to softball size rocks. On the motorcycles, if you stop you lose your momentum and it can be hard to start up again. The ATV’s had very little problems here.

This section is also one-way. At the end of this 1.3-mile section, there is a bailout point that connects with the main dirt road. This is also the exit point when you finally leave the Holy Cross City road.

Holy Cross City 4x4 Road lower section

Once you pass this bailout point the fun begins. The first major obstacle is call the Knotch. It is a high step-up and we had to hit it several times on the ATV to get over it. We found a small knotch on the left side where we were able to get the motorcycles over.

Holy Cross City 4x4 Road Knotch Section

After this first major obstacle, the road seemed more like a country road. It had some small rocks, water, mud, even some old railroad ties here and there. It was nice for about ¼ of a mile when we came up to the second major challenge.

Steep Rock – Is another very high step-up and very wide. We did not find an easy knotch this time for the motorcycles and had to manhandle each one over. The ATV’s also began to bottom out, as the step-up was much higher and more pronounced than the first obstacle. With all of us working together, we managed to get all the toys over it.

Holy Cross City 4x4 Road Steep Rock Section

The next obstacle was French Creek. This is the one I remember most as a kid. It gets very narrow entering the creek area and causes a bottleneck when people are going up and down. Here the rocks are about desk sized and there are a lot of them. The poor 4x4 rock crawlers had to go over them, but our ATV’s and motorcycles were able to weave around most of them with little issues.

Holy Cross City 4x4 Road French Creek Section

One of the 4x4 jeeps we passed was stuck as his tie-rod bent out. My dad mentioned he had a similar problem a few years back and removed the tie-rod to straighten it. Sure enough, they heard that and began to take it apart and make the repairs.

Holy Cross City 4x4 Road French Creek Repairs

Around the corner from French Creek, we passed a now rock-filled hole. I remember back in high school this was a very large mud hole and we would spend hours trying to get our motorcycles out. My dad even had to use his wench here a time or two. I guess someone got tired of the mud and filled it in with a bunch of rocks.

The last major obstacle before you get to the Ghost town is Tippy Tree. It is a narrow and steep section with a short two-foot step-up. What makes this intimidating is the road is on a shelf here and going off the edge of the road is not a good idea.

Holy Cross City 4x4 Road Tippy Tree Section

We got to the Holy Cross City ghost town and had our lunch. Visited the two remaining buildings and then headed back down. Down is easy except for avoiding the larger vehicles blocking the road at French Creek.

Back at our camp, we saw the jeep drive by that had the bent tie-rod. They beeped at us to say thanks for the tip.

This road was a favorite when I was a kid and remains a favorite today. We are sure to be back and bring many willing victims (I mean friends) as well.


The Holy Cross-Wilderness Area

Holy Cross City is an old mining ghost town that is now located within the Holy Cross Wilderness area. The road leading to the ghost town (and a little further beyond) is an easement allowing motorized vehicles as long as they stay on the road.

Holy Cross Wilderness gets its name from the Mount of the Holy Cross. On the northeast side of the mountain the snowfields form a cross giving its name.

In 1929 President Hoover declared this the “Holy Cross National Monument” but it lost that status in 1950.  In 1980 Congress designated the area as the Holy Cross Wilderness. The wilderness (mostly the Mount of the Holy Cross) remains the subject of painters, photographers and even poems.


The Camp Hale Area

Near the Holy Cross City road area is the home of the 10th Mountain Division training area known as Camp Hale. This is an area we used to frequent when I was a kid.

Now only ruins remain of the 10th Mountain Division. The connecting roads and passes make this a major hotspot for ATV’s and motorcycled in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter.

One thing that Camp Hale area is known for is its rock climbing. I had just left the Marines and was trained with Rappelling, so I found a nice rock cliff and taught my parents and family how to rappel.


Related Questions

How do you rate a 4x4 road in Colorado? The Colorado Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs, Inc. has established a rating system for all non-paved roads in Colorado. Even so, rating is still highly subjective as driver experience, type of vehicle, and weather can mean something completely different among drivers.

Donald Clever USMC

Donald Clever
Camp Wild Ride ®