Cochetopa Pass is in the Rocky Mountains of south-central Colorado on Hwy 114. It lies on the Continental Divide between the city of Gunnison and the town of Saguache, and on the boundary between the Gunnison and Rio Grande National Forests. (See Partner Pass: North Pass)
Begin in Saguache riding northwest on SH 114
Proceed on SH 114 to North Pass--mile 30.5
Continue on SH 114 turn left on CR 17 (gravel road)--mile 35.5
Follow CR 17 making a left on CR 14--mile 40.8
Ride to Cochetopa Pass--mile 48.5
Continue on CR 14 to SH 114--mile 59
The pass is traversed by a two lane paved road; State Highway 114 between State Highway 285 in Saguache and State Highway 50 outside of Gunnison.
Saguache, 31.5 miles to the southeast
Gunnison, 44.3 miles to the northwest
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.
Cochetopa is also the Ute Indian word for “pass of the Buffalo.” Cochetopa Pass is also known as North Pass or North Cochetopa Pass.
The Cochetopa Hills area was a hunting ground for the Ute Indians, but it would be explored by many men in search of a route over and through the Rocky Mountains.
The first documented crossing of the pass was by Governor Juan Bautista de Anza in 1779, and in 1825, Antoine Robideau brought wagons across for his fur trading.
Because of its gentle grades and low summit, Cochetopa Pass was considered for a railroad route. In 1853, Jefferson Davis, later to become president of the Confederacy, dispatched Captain John Gunnison to lead an expedition to scout a railroad route from the South across the West. His expedition crossed the San Luis Valley to Cochetopa Pass with 16 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.”
In 1858, Colonel Loring explored the area and cut a primitive road over the pass calling it the “Central Route to the West.” By 1872, regular stagecoach service commenced connecting Saguache to San Juan mining camps like Lake City. 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.