Mt. Princeton Road Trailhead
Info

Location

Road Difficulty

Easy 4WD, good clearance recommended. 3   (0=Paved, 6=Very Difficult 4WD)
2WD dirt to the lower TH. 4WD access to 12,000'.

Driving Directions

From Buena Vista: From the center of town, drive west on the County Road (CR) 306 for 0.7 miles. Turn left on CR 321 and continue south for 7.2 miles. Turn right onto CR 322 at a large sign. From South of Buena Vista: Over 5 miles south of the U.S. 285 / 24 junction, turn west on County Road 162 in the town of Nathrop. Drive over 4 miles to a junction. Turn right on CR 321. After 1.2 miles, turn left on CR 322.

On CR 322, drive 0.8 miles to a fork in the road. Bear right into the Mt. Princeton trailhead. This trailhead is at 8,900' and there is a large parking area. If you have a good clearance 4WD, you can continue up the narrow 322 (Mt. Princeton) road. Just after the lower parking area, there is a fork in the road - stay right on the main road. Drive 3 miles to the radio towers at 10,800'. There is parking here for a couple of vehicles or turn left and continue on the 322A road. Between 3.2 and 3.4 miles up the Princeton road, there are some small camping spots near 11,000' - with some parking. The road gets worse after the camping spots and there is very limited parking above this point.

Winter Access

Closed at the lower TH.
Status Updates 
  
Posted By: mtgoatmike
Info: The road to the lower trailhead at Frontier Ranch is paved and has a large parking area with a single port-o-potty. The road to the cell phone towers begins just past the port-o-potty and becomes dirt. There are plenty of large waterbars and some sections with loose rock and pot holes. I had no problems in my stock 2012 Tacoma. There were a handful of spots to "pull off" if needed, but they would for sure be tight if two large vehicles needed to pass one another.
 
Posted By: Cricket
Info: We drove up the night before to camp and summit. Maintenance has just been done on the road and it is smooth up until the radio tower (10800) and even a bit further. There are also some nice car camping spots ~.1 (10900) up the road from radio tower. HOWEVER, the road is narrow and there are very few pull off points for vehicles to allow each other to pass. If you plan on coming up past the initial parking area (especially on a busy weekend) this is definitely something you should keep in mind as there are very few places to park and/or turn around. I think it would be thoughtful of those coming up to allow those heading down the right of way since it is more difficult to backup. Just wanted to inform everyone of the narrow (but nicely maintained road) that it is a bit sketch for two vehicles to be passing each other.
 
Posted By: ellenmseb
Info: Huge thanks to the road work team who improved the road last week! It’s now VERY EASILY Subaruable to 10,900 (not "if you pick the right line and have your mechanic on speed dial"...)
Above 10,900, it looks Subaruable with more difficulty. I saw mostly 4wd and one rav4 above 10,900, mostly right at 11,800.
Low clearance should still park at the bottom
 
Posted By: yardman
Info: Road work appears to be completed and the road is in great shape. Very smooth surface up to the Radio Towers and a bit beyond.
 
Posted By: scottda
Info: 09/14/20: IMPORTANT Princeton Road Update! I just got word from the USFS engineer that soil conditions are optimal for completing the road work on Mt. Princeton Rd. (322). Heavy equipment should begin work to repair failed water bars tomorrow (Tues. Sept. 15) and will likely continue through Wed. Sept. 16.
If folks do decide to go on those days, they will need to park at the parking area at about 8,900 ft. and be cautious of the construction as they walk up the road from there.
 
Posted By: scottda
Info: As requested by USFS... I am posting a "heads-up" regarding a potential Take 2 on getting some road work done on Mt Princeton and the required closure of the road for the interim. Still dependent on moisture retained through this weekend, they are hoping to get started on Tuesday or Wednesday and need to close the road for two days. If the project happens, that means the Princeton Road would be closed next week for a couple days. I should hear on Monday whether the project is a Go or No-Go, but want to let those who might be thinking of Princeton for next week have some advance notice. (NOTE: This is NOT a recent photo of the Princeton Road! From what I see from my front window, Princeton is plastered at the moment.)
1 
Posted By: drgdclark
Info: Mt. Princeton Trailhead is very accessible to 4wd vehicles. We drove up to the radio towers at 10,800 feet. Along the way we gave a ride to a hiker walking up the road from the general parking area. There are a few largish berms and ruts in the road. We took our time and illuminated the heck out of it to make sure we were safe. On the descent, we saw a SUV that didn’t have too much clearance that made it up almost as far as the radio towers. A few jeeps had driven further up from the towers parking area to a small pullout just before where you leave the road on your hike and start up the trail (photo 2 in the route description).
 
Posted By: kwmorris86
Info: Road wasn’t dreadful in my opinion. Drove up on 7/26/20 in my BMW X3 (w/ AWD) and managed to get past the radio towers with only one incident of bottoming out. Found the last available spot from the trailhead, guessing about 0.5mi down? Drove very carefully/slowly in some of the more hairy spots but overall, not as bad as I thought it would be.
 
Posted By: njx9
Info: Awful lot of washout - wouldnt try to take anything with low clearance up without some solid driving ability. Narrower road than I thought.
 
Posted By: hbkirkwood
Info: The road to the trailhead was bumpy and has some narrow spots with constant drop offs. However, we saw several stock 4runners & pickups getting up to the towers. We took a Jeep cherokee to about a quarter mile above the trailhead (~11,850’). There is a 2-3 vehicle parking spot at this location on the right side (uphill side) of the road with enough room to get turned around. Took about 45 mins to get up from the the main trailhead parking below.
 
Posted By: csu-peter
Info: Made it to the last parking opportunity at 11,600’ in a stock 2013 Jeep Compass. Road is not even close to as bad as the Antero Road, however, it still required momentum and careful tire placement for my car to get up.

Felt justified in cheating a bit as I had done Castle & Conundrum the day prior from basically the 2WD trailhead and after completing Princeton, I drove and did Challenger & Kit Carson.

Will come back to do this with the full 3,000’ before completion of #58.
 
Posted By: scottda
Info: The USFS has just informed us that due to soil conditions the road work on Mt. Princeton road has been postponed until this fall.
 
Posted By: jordanthebuff
Info: I drive a 2016 Nissan Rogue. Tl;dr: This road is manageable, but not advisable.

I drove up on Saturday night (6/20) around 5 PM. I caught up to a truck and another car caught up to me, so there were three of us in a row. On the way up, we passed three other cars that were on their way down. There were also a few mountain bikers on the road as well. I managed to make it up just fine, though it was very stressful. I’ve been on worse 4WD roads (from a bumps/dips/drops perspective), but the Mt Princeton Road was particularly difficult for two reasons: 1) the road is gravelly, making traction difficult in a few spots because of how steep it is (yes, I have good tires) and 2) the road is EXTREMELY narrow. There isn’t really anywhere to pull off either so, when passing a car, you have to use extreme caution. I never went above maybe 6-8 mph, so it took about 30 mins to make it to the towers. Don’t camp at the towers. Go about 100-300 yards past the towers. I tried to camp at the towers, but the ground was rock solid and I couldn’t get a stake for my tent into the ground. I ended up sleeping in the car. The spots just past the towers seemed to be in much better condition. On the way down the next day around 10 AM (6/21), I did not pass anyone except for a couple hikers. The road was easier the way down FOR SURE, just not having to worry about traction/speed. The worst section on the road is about 200 yards past the lower lot and then again maybe 1/4 mile below the towers. Any good clearance car with AWD can make it up, but it’s tough and requires a lot of focus. The 3 mile hike up the road is the way to go, imo.
 
Posted By: scottda
Info: The USFS Salida Ranger District asked that I pass along the following information regarding access to Mt. Princeton’s East Slopes route: NFSR 322 Mt. Princeton Rd. will be CLOSED to vehicles after the Young Life parking area for public safety reasons (Heavy equipment which will be using the entire width of the road) from Monday, June 22nd -Friday, June 26th. The PSICC NF road crew will be rebuilding drainage features which have serially failed and caused continuous erosion down the center of the road.
1 
Posted By: loomermj13
Info: Road is obviously rough, but made it to the last campsite past the radio towers pretty easily in a Nissan Frontier. Thankfully didnt have to pass anyone either way. IMO, the road is roughest at the bottom, but the higher you get the more you will pay for rolling/sliding. Could have driven higher, as the road is just more of the same. Make sure you drop way down in gear on the way down, as the person in front of me was burning the crap out of their brakes.
 
Posted By: Jnaffy
Info: Not sure why people say above 11k is bad. Stock Subaru outback made it fine to 11k and honestly couldve gone further but reviews made us leery so we walked it. Below towers just tilts and dips. Above towers only an area after each switchback that needs navigation. As people said NO room to really get out of the way. Thats the biggest issue
 
Posted By: Clint the climber
Info: I was able to get my stock 2008 4runner to the top of the 1st switch back and could’ve taken it all the way up to the trail. I only tapped a rock once about 200 yards below the 1st switchback but could’ve avoided it had I been more careful. There is room for 2 or 3 cars at the 1st switchback but not much parking beyond that.

PSA: If you don’t have 4wd experience and don’t have a 4wd vehicle, don’t drive past the 2wd trailhead. Nobody wants to wait for you or back down the road for you when you repeatedly bottom out / spin-out cause you don’t know how to leverage your clearance or drive on a rutted dirt road. (If you know what you’re doing though, you’ll probably make it to the radio towers, a car similar to a Tokota Rukus did but we had to help the drivers who had clearly never been off pavement before)
 
Posted By: madmattd
Info: Road is clear of snow all the way to the trail junction, and likely clear to the end. I was able to drive an XC70 (rated at 8.2" clearance plus I have slightly larger tires making a theoretical ~8.4" clearance - never measured to verify) up to the camp sites at 11,000’ without issue. Careful route choice needed in a few spots, but completely doable; I never scraped on anything. That said it would be far easier in a 4Runner or similar, plus a true 4Lo for the descent would be nice instead of locking in 1st gear and heavily using the brakes.

The road doesn’t really get worse until just past the 2nd switchback where there is an awkward rock shelf step, though I think it would be doable in a vehicle such as mine. Just above the 3rd switchback is a much tougher variant that you’ll want AT tires and more clearance for. A newer Subaru Forester made it to the towers, everything else up there was a truck/4Runner/Jeep type vehicle. One 4Runner drove all the way to the trail junction.

The big issue with the road as mentioned many times is the lack of passing space; I was fortunate that all 3 oncoming vehicles I met were at spots with easy passing access, the highest at the Colorado Trail trailhead.

Note: I saw many marmots around the 3rd switchback and the trail junction on my way down. Hopefully not the car-wire-chewing type.
 
Posted By: ClimberSkierDave64
Info: We were able to drive up to Radio Towers with a Jeep Compass and could have easily driven to the spots at 11,000 feet where there was more open parking than at the Radio Towers from what I saw. From the parking at 11,000 feet there are some bigger rocks that would require higher clearance. The road is drivable up until the last switchback.
 
Posted By: Mtnman200
Info: The road is clear to the second switchback (11,440’) above the camping area located about 1/4 mile beyond the radio towers. If you try to drive past the second switchback, you’ll find the road is blocked by snow at about 11,500’ and you’ll have to back up to the second switchback to turn around.
 
Posted By: hogantheepic
Info: No snow at all until just past the radio tower. In probably 2/3 weeks the road will be drivable to the upper trailhead, but not yet.
 
Posted By: AnnaG22
Info: Cars will not get more than a couple hundred feet past the 2WD trailhead due to snow. As long as the next storm doesn’t deposit more than a few inches, though, there’s a great snowmobile track up to the radio towers that made for very pleasant hiking. (And apparently snowmobiling and fatbiking).
 
Posted By: jonesva34
Info: I guess I’m a novice when it comes to 4WD, but in my opinion, the condition of Mt. Princeton road is mostly understated. One said that 4WD is a "plus"... I’d say it’s an absolute necessity. That being said, it is manageable. But what made it such a white-knuckle experience was not the condition of the road, but the navigating when I met oncoming vehicles. 95% of this road is no wider than one car. Period. I made it 3.5 miles up (just past the towers, to the first campsite) where I was happy to stop driving. To that point, there are maybe three spots in which it’s safe to pass an oncoming vehicle. If you meet head on with anyone outside those spots, someone is going to be reversing for a very long time on a really terrible and dangerous road.

This may sound ridiculous, but I’m just thinking out loud here and wondering if there’s a better way - a way to make this road safer? Who owns this road/land? Is it possible to enforce some timing restrictions - like traffic goes up on even hours and down on odd hours of the day??
 
Posted By: trmosher
Info: Mt. Princeton road is in good condition all the way to Bristlecone Park Chalet. I even saw a Subaru car coming down from there. Any 4x4 vehicle should be able to make it all the way up, no need for high clearance.
 
Posted By: cougar
Info: Road is clear to the start of the trail at 11800 and blocked by snow immediately after. Parking on a sidehill pullout for 2 vehicles, maybe 3. The road really isn’t much worse past the towers, just more loose little rocks in the road. Lots of average AWD made it up. Mostly smooth dirt moguls. Narrow as stated.
 



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