TENNESSEE PASS, Colorado - Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on the Continental Divide at Tennessee Pass is a quick getaway for those seeking quiet touring in the national forest. Drive 10 miles north of Leadville or 23 miles south of Minturn on U.S. Highway 24, a National Scenic Highway, to Tennessee Pass.
A Forest Service trailhead parking lot is located on the west side of the highway directly across from the entrance to Ski Cooper. Out of this trailhead, marked "trails" lead you through the forest. From the parking lot, there are two trailheads, and you are on the Continental Divide.
There are three trails: Treeline Loop (2 miles), Powderhound Loop (2.5 miles) and the Mitchell Creek Loop (7.5 miles). The San Isabel National Forest maintains these trails, and blue diamonds on the trees mark the trails. The trails, which are beginner and intermediate, straddle the Continental Divide and meander through forest and meadows with views of Mount Elbert, Mount Massive and Galena and Homestake peaks. Elevations of the trails range from 10,450 to 10,650 feet.
Timberline, the shorter loop, passing over the Continental Divide, requires a gentle climb, which is rewarded by views of the Sawatch Range. Access Timberline from the parking lot's south trailhead. Powderhound, on the north-facing slopes, holds good snow and traverses the Continental Divide, providing great views of surrounding mountains. Access the trail from the parking lot's north trailhead.
Mitchell Creek Loop, accessed from the parking lot's north trailhead, initially follows the 1880s narrow-gauge railroad run past kilns where coke was made from local timber to fuel the trains going from Red Cliff to Leadville. On a lucky day, you may even view moose feeding in the Mitchell Creek wetlands. This trail follows the gentle railroad grade for 2.5 miles, a nice out and back tour, or continue for the complete 7.5-mile loop.
You also may choose the easier clockwise loop from the trailhead at the south end of the parking lot. Maps are available at the Leadville and Minturn forest ranger stations.
If some in your group choose to alpine ski or snowboard, just drop them off at Ski Cooper, www.ski
cooper.com" target="_blank">class="NormalParagraphStyle">cooper.com, the training area for the 10th Mountain Division soldiers. The 10th Mountain Division War Memorial is also located at the top of Tennessee Pass.
Lunch and dinner are available at the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse, as well as overnight yurts (go to www.tennesseepass.com for more information). Skiing and snowshoeing from this trailhead provide easy access to four of the 10th Mountain Division Huts (www.huts.org), including Vance's Cabin, Point Breeze and Continental Divide Cabins (less than one mile) and the 10th Mountain Division Memorial Hut.