Come wander with us through dazzling wildflower displays, exposed subalpine ridges and intense alpine tundra to reach the base of Lizard Head Peak (13,113 feet). Close to Telluride, this hike serves up some serious rewards for eager adventurers and offers up the extra challenge for experienced climbers to scale the dicey Lizard Head (5.8+).

The Trailhead

From the Cross Mountain trailhead, cross a tiny footbridge over a beautiful creek to enter a meadow full of wildflowers. Impressive and uniquely shaped peaks including Sheep Mountain, Vermilion Peak, Golden Horn and Pilot Knob dominate the skyline to the east. Continue ascending the two-track through the meadow. The trail points directly at the dramatic, spiny summit of Lizard Head, but you’ll get amazing views full of jagged and towering peaks in every direction.

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Junction

In the middle of the meadow, reach a junction with the Groundhog Stock Trail, which heads left (west). Stay right on the Cross Mountain Trail #637. Your breath will quicken as you gradually cimb along the trail, which bears right and enters the spruce-fir forest. A rainbow of blossoms herald your arrival. Depending on seasonal precipitation, this shaded portion of the hike can be very muddy, but please stay on the trail to avoid widening it even further. The trail turns northwest and crosses a tiny creek where you can hop over on small rocks.

Climb

After 1.5 miles, the route starts to get steep. Continue climbing through the lush forest, ripe with mushrooms and ferns until you reach the wilderness boundary sign. From here, the trail offers a respite as it flattens out, then heads downhill and breaks out of the forest into an open area with a stunning view of Lizard Head. Head back into the dense forest for a brief moment and then pop into the open again. Here, amazing displays of paintbrush provide a spectacular foreground for views of the high peaks of the San Miguel Range, including Cross Mountain, Mount Wilson and Gladstone Peak. The trail climbs steeply, delivering you to a small, rocky creek adorned by an array of tiny, delicate blossoms. Red, rocky, jagged peaks rise ahead. The trees begin to thin out, giving way to an amazing alpine landscape dominated by rocks and smaller plants. The rugged singletrack trail cuts through the alpine tundra. Enjoy your surroundings: Marmots begin to sound their warning whistles. The soil turns black and the trail traverses a slope filled with old man of the mountain, Colorado columbine, and alpine avens.

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Behold the Lizard Head

After finishing the traverse, you turn a corner and Lizard Head towers above you in all of its glory. At this point, you can stop for lunch or a snack. In a very short amount of time, you’ve reached an amazingly wild spot full of unmatched wildflowers and scenery, but you won’t see many people. The views only improve in every direction as you walk toward the sentinel watching over the area. Lizard Head, which was first scaled by the legendary Albert Ellington in 1921, and the 400-foot-high spire was considered the hardest rock climb completed at the time. Now rated 5.8 on its easiest route, it’s nevertheless still a sketchy propostion since the rock here is so rotten and crumbly, making it more dangerous than it appears.

Bask in the Lizard

Here you reach a junction with the Lizard Head Trail. The old eroded volcanic plug is said to look like the gaping jaws of a lizard with its face to the sky. Enjoy a well earned break (or climb the spire if you have the skills and understand that it’s tricker than it looks). This is your turnaround point, so trace your steps back to the trailhead.

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