MOUNT PRINCETON HOT SPRINGS RESORT
MOUNT PRINCETON 14,197 FEET.
HIKING MOUNT PRINCETON.
Mount Princeton rises dramatically from the upper Arkansas River valley, its 14,204-foot summit a stately sentinel over the land below. The mountain is one of a dozen fourteneers – mountains over 14,000 feet tall – found in Chaffee County
. Mount Princeton carries many distinctions, both historic, geological and recreational. The mountain is a stunner, and many a driver coming over Trout Creek Pass has been left open-mouthed by the sudden sight of Mount Princeton towering over the valley. In the morning, alpenglow bathes its flanks in the rose-colored sunlight of early dawn. As the sun sets, the mountain is illuminated from the west, rays of light beaming from behind its backlit crags.
One of Mount Princeton’s most striking geologic features are the Chalk Cliffs, sheer walls of white-gray rock that contrast with surrounding forests on the mountain’s southeast slopes. The cliffs do indeed appear to be made of chalk. However, they are actually comprised of kaolinite, a soft, chalk-like rock formed as hot springs
carry heated water through faults in the mountain. Today, 65 million years after the Sawatch Range was formed, hot springs continue to flow from the mountain, soothing visitors who travel near and far to enjoy the healing waters.
Mount Princeton is among the Collegiate Peaks, a group of fourteeners named for Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Oxford and Columbia. Originally named Chalk Mountain, the peak’s name was changed to Mount Princeton following 1870’s expeditions led by Ivy League surveyors. A subsidiary point on Mount Princeton, Tigger Peak, is named after the university’s mascot.
It was around that same time that prospectors struck it rich, mining gold and silver on precariously steep terrain. St. Elmo, now a ghost town, bustled with activity from the nearby Mary Murphy Mine. The ruins of the Mary Murphy Mine are still standing, if at a marked tilt. Other mining ruins are also visible in the area, including the Lucky Mine and Latchaw Mine on Mount Princeton.
Today, it is not miners but hikers who climb Mount Princeton’s slopes. Dozens flock to the mountain during summer weekends, taking in sweeping views of the valley from the trail. In the summer, wildflowers bloom amid tufts of fragile alpine tundra, marmots and pikas scamper among the talus, birds fly high above. Whether you’re viewing Mount Princeton at a distance or up close, it is truly a majestic peak.
The allure of Mount Princeton draws many hikers to its 14,204-foot summit, one of a dozen fourteeners gracing Chaffee County. On any given summer weekend, dozens can be seen winding their way to the top of the Collegiate Peak. The steep, rocky climb rewards travelers with expansive views of the Upper Arkansas River Valley to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the west.
The standard route approaches Mount Princeton from the east. The two-wheel-drive trailhead is at the end of CR 322; high-clearance vehicles can continue to the radio towers. The road offers few opportunities to turn around, and becomes much rougher after the radio towers.
Follow CR 322 east, staying on the main road. Continue on the road as it leaves treeline after the radio towers. The footpath to the summit begins on the right of CR 322, and is marked by rock steps and a cairn. Follow the trail over alpine tundra, approaching the top of a ridge. From here, the trail winds through talus, eventually climbing left to more stable rock on the ridge crest. Continue upwards along the ridge to Mount Princeton’s summit.
- Distance 13.25 miles round trip from the two-wheel-drive trailhead; 6.5 miles from the radio towers.
- Difficulty Strenuous, especially when departing from the lower two-wheel-drive trailhead.
- Elevation gain 5,400 feet from the lower trailhead; 3,200 feet from the radio towers.
- Hiking time Allow for one mile per hour, though this may vary greatly depending on physical fitness and altitude acclimation.
- Best months May-September, depending on snowpack
Afternoon thunderstorms are common during the summer. Hikers should plan to depart the summit by noon at the latest. Many leave the trailhead at dawn to avoid storms.
PHOTO GALLERY HIKING.