Backpack The Holy Cross Wilderness (via the Missouri Creek Trailhead)

9 Miles Round Trip - 2500 ft gain - Out-and-Back Trail

Missouri Creek Trailhead - Search Nearby - Added by Matt Willey

Hike to a 15ft waterfall after your first mile. The trail takes you to a meadow of alpine lakes surrounded by 12,000' and 13,000' peaks. Duration: Overnight.

Come check out what the Holy Cross Wilderness has to offer on this this challenging overnight backpacking trip! Over 9 miles and ~2500ft elevation gain, you’ll have the opportunity to discover picturesque basins, snap shots of a waterfall, sleep alongside a crystal lake and hike amongst the wildflowers in late July. Additionally, this adventure has options for extending your trip—if you so choose.

The hike starts at the Missouri Creek Trailhead in the Holy Cross Wilderness. To reach the trailhead, travel ~15 miles south of Minturn on HWY 24, and turn right onto Homestake Road. Continue 8 miles to reach the Missouri Lakes Road (FS 704) and turn right. Continue another 3 miles to reach the signed trailhead. (Just a note: the Fancy Creek Trailhead and Missouri Creek Trailhead are separated by only a few hundred yards of Missouri Creek Road—so you can easily park at one and finish at the other)

Although this loop can be hiked in either direction, clockwise is my preferred route starting at the Missouri Creek Trailhead. The first mile of trail follows a wide roadbed, under which runs a water diversion pipe. Although this part of the journey isn’t the most scenic—it does offer an easy warm-up to start! Once you reach the Holy Cross Wilderness Boundary at mile 1, things change dramatically. For the next 1.5 miles the trail follows the Missouri Creek, where you’ll be treated to the sounds of rushing water, especially as you near the 15ft. waterfall. Another ½ mile in will bring you out of tree line and into the gorgeous Missouri Lakes Basin. Here you will find several lakes scattered throughout the basin, all surrounded by 12,000ft. and 13,000ft. peaks. Although most of the lakes have spots to camp, the largest lake may be the most picturesque and makes for my favorite place to spend the night. I recommend camping above the lake on the east side—where you will be treated to a perfect sunset. The fishing here isn’t the best, but bring your pole and maybe you can snag a few small trout. Also important to note: the Holy Cross Wilderness does not allow fires, so expect an early night.

Early the next day, begin your climb up and over 11,986ft. Missouri Pass. From camp on the east side of the largest lake, you will climb almost another mile to reach the top of the pass. The trail is fairly steep here, but the view from the top is a great reward. In front of you lies the picturesque Cross Creek Basin and Treasure Vault Lake. To the east are the Holy Cross Ridge, and the Mt. of the Holy Cross. Turn around and you are treated to a stellar view of the lakes in the Missouri Creek Basin. As you continue along, the next ½ mile of trail drops steeply in the Cross Creek Basin. The trail then turns east and climbs another ½ mile to the top of 12,400ft Fancy Pass, where you are rewarded with more fantastic views. The trail then descends another ½ mile to reach Fancy Lake (**This is another great option for camping if you want to put more miles on during day one). After leaving the lake, the trail follows Fancy Creek for 2 miles to the Fancy Creek Trailhead. This area is littered with historic mining equipment and offers an optional trip to abandoned Holy Cross City. Once you arrive at the Fancy Creek Trailhead, you’ll find yourself only a short walk from Missouri Creek Trailhead and back where you started! After your adventure through the Holy Cross Wilderness, return to Minturn. There are a variety of options in town, but I recommend you try Kirby Cosmos BBQ!

Extra tips/tricks:
  • The route can be done as a loop in either direction
  • Snow still covers the trail in spring and early summer
  • Wildflowers peak in late July
  • Hiking can be hazardous—hike at your own risk & know your personal limits!
  • Afternoon storms are very common in this area in the summer. Lighting is a real hazard, so avoid being above tree line when storms roll in.
  • Practice “leave no trace” ethics.
  • Stay on the trail!
  • Do not touch or pick wildflowers
  • Do not harass animals, it can do harm to them and you


Easy Parking


9 Miles
2500 ft elevation gain
Out-and-Back Trail

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Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

Fancy is dandy

We've hiked the Fancy Creek trail to Fancy Lake in the summer months and it is such a rewarding open environment. The wildflowers, lush green and waterfalls are all just beautiful.