“A wise traveler never despises his own country.” – Carlo Goldoni
The trail to Montgomery Pass is a short and easy 3.8 round-trip from trail head to pass and is a popular winter sports gateway. From Fort Collins, travel 67 miles up the Poudre Canyon (itself an intriguing sight) and into the high Rockies along the twisting highway until you reach the Zimmerman Lake parking lot-the trail is just across the highway.
From the trail head, most of the hike is a gradual ascent in a fairly dense coniferous forest, only emerging above tree line for the last short bit near the pass. The route is popular for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing alike-we chose the latter this time, but because the trail is so heavily used and was so packed, that we could have easily hiked it in boots with no problem.
Once we neared the pass itself, the views that opened up were quite dramatic for such little effort. The last 15 minutes of travel are all open to 360 degree views of the surrounding summits and valleys in every direction. Along with the fine views, the winds became equally impressive at this time of year.
As soon as we broke above the tree line and into this open pass area, the winds became even more extreme. In fact, they were so strong here that most of the snow had been blown off the mountain, leaving only bare rock exposed over most of the terrain and once I stepped up on an exposed hump, I nearly lost my balance as the wind pushed against me.
At the actual pass, a sign proclaims you have arrived at this part of the Colorado State Forest. From this point, it is possible to continue up along the ridge, which we had planned to do. However, considering the very strong winds, we decided to only spend a few minutes taking photos and taking in the view before heading back down below the tree line and returning the way we came and decided to venture up here in the summer, when we will be able to go a lot further.
GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD: Drive 67 miles up Colorado State Route 14 from Fort Collins to the parking lot at Zimmerman Lake.
STATISTICS: From the trailhead at Zimmerman Lake, East Portal trailhead to the hike 1.9 miles to the pass with a gain of only about 900 feet to 10,998 feet at the pass.
DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate.