Access UPDATEIn the past, the Cottonwood Creek approach has had multiple access issues due in large part to private property surrounding the trailhead. The amount of requests from hikers asking to cross private property had become too large to handle. In addition, there had been significant parking issues, signs have been torn down in the past and the owners have had to deal with litter. This has largely been the case since 2007.
However, as of July 2013, the Forest Service was able to come to terms with the Manitou Foundation & Institute and the Shambhala Center of the Rockies regarding access across their land. Now, a forest service placard and a sign-in kiosk exists at the formal trailhead with limited additional parking.
But please keep in mind, the road you utilize to access Cottonwood is a neighborhood road. The area is still largely subdivision and private. Do not drive past the trailhead as it is still regarded as private.
OverviewThis trailhead starts on the west side of the Sangre de Cristo Range at 8,340’. The Cottonwood approach is long, not well-marked and is crisscrossed graciously with downed timber and roots/rocks. This is a rugged approach.
However, it does provide a second option to S. Colony Lakes for the two Fourteeners: Crestone Peak and Needle. This is a strenuous and primitive trail that is hard to follow sometimes. On occasion, it is only marked by cairns and there is a notorious ‘Boilerplate Rock section’ that must be navigated. I've tried to navigate around this particular section in winter, and from experience, I can tell you it's DAUNTING.
In the winter, this is a brutal approach best served to small groups of people as opposed to solo. Peaks that are accessed via Cottonwood are: Crestone Needle and Peak, “Crestolita”, Milwaukee Peak, Pt. 13,020', Broken Hand Peak and Pico Asilado.
Continue east for another 13 miles to a T-intersection. Left will take you into the town of Crestone. Turn right onto Camino Baca Grande Road. There is also a sign here saying, “Liberty, National Forest Access.”
This dirt road can be rough but is passable for passenger cars. Drive past the Choling Dzong Center on the left at mile 1.2 and pass the Buddist Center at mile 3.0. At mile 5.3, look for a large water tank. Drive up past it and park at the trailhead. There is a small lot. Do not continue past the trailhead.
There is no additional parking and everything beyond the trailhead is still considered private. The trailhead will accommodate 6-8 vehicles. Start at the forest placard/sign.
Red TapeIf using the Cottonwood Creek Trail, please respect the landowners' wishes and abide by the following request which is taken from the Crestone Peak page:
From SP member Clyde Lovett: The land we cross to hike along Cottonwood Creek on the way up to Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle belongs to the Manitou Foundation (firstname.lastname@example.org). I have spoken face to face with these folks about we hikers crossing their land. They request that all hikers check in with them and sign a release form before crossing their land. I have indicated their email address above. Their postal address is PO Box 118; Crestone, CO 81131.
Of course, this is no longer valid, but I leave it here in case the information is wanted.
Here is a good link to 14ers.com that provides trailhead conditions when people update it.
A good trip report by Matt Payne that details the Cottonwood Creek approach in summer. 100 Summits