Collegiate Peaks West 5 & Segment 15 must be hiked together as there is no trailhead access in between these two segments of the 285 mile Colorado Trail. These two segments form arguably the most beautiful 22 miles of the Collegiate Peaks West with 90% of the hike above treeline and amazing views in almost all directions for the entire hike. The hike starts at the upper Boss Lake TH and ends at Marshall Pass hiking through Monarch Pass and Monarch Ski Area along the way. This is a must visit if you like backpacking or looking for a long day hike.
Collegiate Peaks West 5 & Segment 15 Quick Facts
Colorado Trail Collegiate Peaks West 5 & Segment 15 Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5 Stars)
Distance: 22.5 Miles One Way
Elevation Start: 10,428ft Collegiate Peaks West 5, 11,909ft Segment 15
Highest Point: 12,515ft CW5, 11,909 Segment 15
Total Elevation Gain: 4,000ft
Estimated Time to Complete: 11-13 Hours (Generally this will take 2 days)
Difficulty: Difficult Difficulty System Explained
Class: Class 2 What does this mean?
Season: Late June- Early November (Expect snow outside of this period)
Weather: Check the Weather Forecast
Directions to Collegiate Peaks West 5 & Segment 15
Trailhead: Boss Lake & Marshall Pass
Getting Here: Start Trailhead (Boss Lake): From the intersection of US50 and 285 just outside of Salida, head west towards Monarch Pass. Drive 12.5 miles just past the Monarch Mountain Lodge and turn right. This is the lower parking area if you have a 4x4 car you can continue 1.5 miles up the road to the upper TH. This distance is NOT included in the above numbers if you need to add.
End Trailhead (Marshall Pass): From US 285, take Marshall Pass Rd and continue for about a 2.3 miles. Take a right at the road junction to stay on Marshall Pass Rd. Continue for another mile and take another right. Keep driving for about 10.5 miles until you reach the signed parking area on the left.
Fees: There is no fee to hike Collegiate Peaks West 5 & Segment 15 of the Colorado Trail.
Parking: Boss Lake has two main parking areas. The lower lot can fit 5-10 cars and the upper lot about the same. Neither of these parking areas have bathrooms. Marshall Pass has a larger parking lot that can fit 10-15 cars. Both areas we parked overnight with no issues at all.
Camping: Collegiate Peaks West 5 severely lacked camping spots. The book mentions 4 areas but the first three are within the first 3 miles of the segment. Segment 15 has more options to camp, but since you are on the segment for such a small amount of time, your options here are also limited. We found the best potential area to be about 2 miles from the end of the segment just past a stream crossing. There are spots you can make work outside of what I mentioned above, but options can be tricky as many miles are above treeline.
Dogs: Colorado Trail Collegiate Peaks West 5 & Segment 15 are dog friendly.
Access to Water: Colorado Trail Collegiate Peaks West 5 offers plenty of water sources to start but has an 8 mile stretch of dry hiking until you reach Monarch Pass. Segment 15 is dry until you get until the last 3-4 miles. The best spot to fill-up on this segment is in the Monarch Pass gift shop where there is a UV filtered station.
Make it a Loop: Colorado Trail Collegiate Peaks West 5 & Segment 15 is a one way hike.
Trail X Factors: Beauty
Jackie and I had a 15 or so minute debate about what was the most beautiful segment of the Colorado Trail through 15 segments. We both agreed that these two were in the top 2. The beauty is undeniable and starts basically right off the bat with Hunt Lake and Boss Lake.
Hike Tip(s): If you do not have two 4x4 cars, I would not recommend driving up to the Boss Lake TH. Could it be done? Sure, but for how long it takes to hike 1.5 miles vs drive it very slow, you might as well end up walking it. The lower trailhead does not offer any camping but as soon as you make your way up the road there are ample spots to camp. Whether you are through hiking or segment hiking, a stop at the Monarch Pass gift shop is a must. It’s a great spot to pump water, grab a snack or souvenir.
Best Views: Everywhere? As I mentioned above, these two segments offer amazing views from start to finish. This hike really offers it all: high alpine lakes, panoramic views of the mountains, the chance to see wildlife and hiking through an empty ski area. If you want me to knit pick, the last couple miles of segment 15 are a bit dull.
Colorado Trail Collegiate Peaks West 5 & Segment 15: October 2020
The 2020 Colorado Trail hiking window was slowly closing but Jackie, Juno and I wanted to tackle a few more segments before the snow rolled in. We camped at Marshall Pass, hiked the extra 1.5 miles up to Hunt Lake trailhead and got started on Collegiate Peaks West 5 & Segment 15 of the Colorado Trail. The hiking was in cool weather with the lingering gold foliage hanging on to the aspen trees in the area. This hike was absolutely stunning from start to finish, albeit a bit windy with so much exposed hiking.
The original plan was to stretch this hike into 2 days but we ran into a somewhat sketchy man towards the end of the hike which made Jackie feel very uncomfortable about camping in the area. Instead, we enjoyed the insanely beautiful sunset mother nature provided for us and slogged the last 3 miles in the dark under the stars. We arrived at Marshall Pass exhausted and accomplished over 23 miles of hiking on the day.