This route is a stroll along a service road to the tower-studded summit of Badger Mountain. It also takes in a trip to the top of nearby UN 11053. The route is mellow, gaining elevation gradually, and mostly shaded. This route serves as a much more gradual, on-road option to the steep bushwhack from the Wilkerson Pass Visitors Center.
The route also offers variations in length and total effort, based on the season, the 4x4 you are in (and the quality of the driver) and how long you wish to walk. When the road is snow-free, the trip can be shortened considerably. In fact, a solid 4x4 with good clearance can drive to just below the summit register. But assuming most of us are out for a hike and not for an off-road adventure, the below stats given are from La Salle Pass, itself only accessible with a 4x4.
Distance: 9 miles from La Salle Pass
Elevation Gain: 1,900 vertical feet
YDS Class: 1+ (due to rough road conditions and a mild summit “scramble”)
La Salle Pass can be accessed from both the east and the west. The approach from Park County 77 is more scenic though less direct, so I will provide directions to La Salle Pass from Hwy 24 to the west. Regardless of approach, you will need 4-wheel drive and descent clearance to reach La Salle Pass by vehicle. Other options to travel the rougher parts of the road, including foot and bicycle, are possible but will add mileage to your hike as described here.
From Hwy 24 west of Lake George and east of Hartsel, take Park County Rd 23 A north. Follow signs toward La Salle Pass. The road naming and numbering back here is a bit of a mess, so following the signs (and your judgment) toward the pass is the best advice I can give. The road is mostly smooth and well-graded until the Forest Service boundary, where it becomes steeper and rockier. One section, under the power lines, will certainly get the attention of anyone driving a lower-clearance 4x4, one with limited tire traction, or simply underpowered. There is parking for several 4x4s at La Salle Pass.
• From La Salle Pass, strike out south-southeast on Badger Mountain Road.
• The road rides along the west side of the ridge for the first 1 ½ miles, offering fine views of South Park and the Sawatch Mountains.
• At 10274 feet, the route weaves to the east of the ridge. Travel for roughly two miles along the road, passing the slopes of UN 11053, to a saddle at 10759 feet and enjoy some views before the final push up Badger Mountain.
• The last mile weaves first eastward, traversing across the northern slopes of Badger Mountain before turning south-southeast to begin switch-backing toward the radio towers.
• The road carries you all the way to the summit towers. The actual summit is to the climber’s left of the summit tower farm.
• Descend from the summit towers and follow the road back down the switchbacks, then traverse westward across the slopes of Badger Mountain to the saddle at 10759.
• From here, ascend the southeast slopes of UN 11053 through sparse trees.
• After enjoying this summit, descend directly to the road down steep slopes trending northeast.
• Follow Badger Mountain Road back to your truck.
Hiking equipment appropriate to the season and a 4x4 to reach La Salle Pass are the most crucial pieces of gear to have. As always, carry a map and compass or GPS. Even though this route follows road, white-out conditions and/or dense fog can do bad things to the human sense of direction.