Cottonwood Pass

12,126 FEET
(3,696 M)
Cottonwood Pass Elevation

The pass is near the border of Gunnison and Chaffee counties in the Sawatch Range. It is closed seasonally due to heavy snowfall.

Suggested Route (Paved) Check for closure summer 2018 34 miles

Begin at the Trading Post by Taylor Park Reservoir off of CR 765
Head west to CR 742 turn north; continue to and turn east on CR 209--mile 2
Follow CR 209 to the Cottonwood Pass Summit--mile 15.4
209 turns into CR 306
Finish in Buena Vista--mile 34


It is best to start on the west side near Taylor Park Reservoir on Gunnison County Road 209. This side of the pass is a good dirt road. [Pavement is supposed to be “coming soon”] You travel 15 miles to the top of the pass. At the top, you are greeted with fabulous views and a sweet paved road. The route changes to State Highway 306, and you descend 19 miles down into Buena Vista passing some of those famous hot springs.


Buena Vista, 19.3 miles to the east
Gunnison, 48.9 miles to the west
Crested Butte, 49.1 to the west


East of Cottonwood’s summit (14 miles) you can take a dip in the Cottonwood Hot Springs (good for tired and sore legs).


The US Pro Challenge has used this pass a few times in its competition.


In 1859 the route between Taylor Park and Buena Vista over Cottonwood Pass, wasn’t even a pack trail and the Utes were not accommodating.


By 1879, prospectors were all over the Rockies searching for silver and the Utes could no longer hold them back. When silver veins were found in Taylor Park later that year, entrepreneurs quickly developed freight roads to connect with the railroads. One road was Cottonwood Pass with its railhead in Buena Vista. Cottonwood Pass became a toll road due to increased traffic after Aspen’s boom in 1880. It was short lived due to the toll company going bankrupt in 1882 and the county took over ownership. In 1911, when the last stagecoach crossed over Cottonwood it was the end of an era.