French Pass Trail

Distance7.22 mi
Elevation Gain1,667 ft
My Time3 hr 18 min
DifficultyModerate to Hard
Closest TownJefferson
Food NearbyShaggy Sheep

French Pass Trail

The French Pass Trail near Jefferson, Colorado with some amazing views that ends with a steep push up a mountain pass.

Getting Started

The Trailhead for French Pass Trail is down a long dirt road, Michigan Creek Road, and it is nestled into a few dispersed camping spots. There is a small area to the right as you pull up to park and then the trailhead is back across the road marked by a small trail sign.

The start of the trail is through a mostly wooded section with some small switchbacks. The grade isn’t very steep to begin with but it is consistent. It is also an area that has some moose so make sure to keep your eyes out. While you continue down the wooded area you will get some glimpses of the views that are to come.

Trees line the trail with a distant view of a mountain on an early section of the French Pass Trail.
The start of the hike in the woods with glimpses of views to come.

The trail continues through the woods with a consistent 5-10% grade. The further you get the more the trees will start to part and the views of the mountains will be revealed.

The First Hill

I didn’t even realize I was on the first hill until I found out I had to walk down hill! At around the two mile mark the trail will take a 90 degree turn and actually descend for a little bit. This area is in the open and really pretty.

The trail make a sharp downhill turn through a clearing on the French Pass Trail.
The Clearing and downhill section of the French Pass trail.

At the bottom of the hill you come across a shallow but sort of wide stream. It is probably 10 feet across depending on the season. There are some rocks available to help cross and also some fallen logs but waterproof shoes or boots might not be the worst idea.

The shallow stream cuts through some thick sections of trees and growth on the French Pass Trail.
The shallow but somewhat wide creek in amongst the trees and bushes. Also a random gate in the middle of the trail.

After the stream the trail will start to gain some elevation again. After the stream the trees are pretty much gone and the trail will continue under open sky.

The Second Hill

After the stream the open skies really give the first amazing views of the hike. The mountains surround on either side and the path continues down the middle of it.

The narrow dirt trail cutting through the side of a hill.  In the distance a rocky mountain peak can be seen on the French Pass Trail.
The narrow dirt trail under open skies with great views on the French Pass Trail.

If you look at the above picture you will see the exact rock, on the right side, that I decided to sit down and enjoy a quick snack, a battery change in the camera and to just take in the amazing scenery.

It is a good thing I rested as well because as the trail continues it leads up to the hill that is pictured on the right. And not in a gentle sloping way but by walking straight vertically up the hill. The hill isn’t very long, maybe 50 yards, but it does get to an 18% grade and the footing is a little spotty. Lots of loose dirt and rocks but if you take the time you should be ok. Hiking poles also help for this short little steep hill, especially when coming back down it.

Willow bushes line either side of the trail. The trail cuts through them and the mountains are in perfect view in the distance on the French Pass Trail.
Willow bushes line the trail but don’t block the mountain views on the French Pass Trail.

Once you make it to the top of that hill the terrain changes once more. The trail will flatten out a bit, but still have some places with short bursts of 15% grade that really took it out of me. The big change is that there will be a lot of willow bushes next to the path along with some muddy areas but overall a nice pretty section to hike.

The Final Push

The final push, oh the final push. At some point one of these hikes will have an escalator to the top but not today. The final push up French Pass is a legitimate challenge. I know this because some much younger and in shape people were in front of me and they struggled as much as I did!

The last leg becomes rocky as you leave the vegetation stage but there is a well defined path for you to follow. This section isn’t very long, only about two-tenths of a mile, but it is a pretty consistent 25% grade. It was too steep for me to take a picture but you can see what I’m talking about in the videos below. Over those two-tenths of a mile you will cover nearly 200 feet of elevation gain!

The good news is the top of the pass is flat and wide open and beautiful. It is one of those spots where you aren’t sure if you can’t breath because you are tired from the hill or because the views are so nice!

The finish of the French Pass Trail is flat with views of lines of mountains in the distance.
The top of the pass is flat with views towards the Keystone and Breckenridge areas.

The top is a great place to rest and recharge a bit. There is a marker that is the official ending point of the hike. From here you can see all the way down towards the Breckenridge area. Or just take in the surrounding mountains that are quite impressive from here.

The view back to the start of the French Pass Trail has more defined and much closer mountains.
Looking back at where we started on the French Pass Trail.

I really enjoyed this hike as it had a little bit of everything. It had the forest to start, the stream to cross, the open air views of the surrounding peaks. Some challenging elevation gain made for a good workout for an all in all great hike.

Video

I have put together a couple of videos of the French Pass Hike. The first one is a narrative look at the hike and some of the views:

This next video is a time lapse of the hike that I like to call the Hikers Edit. It shows you what the like looks like if you were to take the trip. If you enjoy these videos don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel. It is free and will give you updates as soon as they are available.

Distance and Elevation

If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 7.22 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 1,667 feet including undulations. This is a little misleading as you have a couple of hills to climb that puts it closer to 2000 feet. That put the high point at around 12,055 feet. I was also moving for a total of 3 hours and 18 minutes.

Effort

This is one of those tricky hikes to judge. On paper it doesn’t look like it should be that challenging. The trail goes uphill for the first half and then you give most of that elevation back going down a hill. Then you have have to start going up again! There are two really steep hills on the second half including the final push which is two-tenths of a mile at 25% grades. So while there are some parts that aren’t too bad the consistency of the uphill’s means you will feel it.

Terrain

The trail at French Pass is very defined and easy to follow. The beginning of the hike starts in the woods and the trail is a bit rocky through this section. When you get into more open air the trail turns to a more dirt path. There are a couple of stream crossings and some waterproof boots can be helpful. The last push up to the pass is rocky with a bit of scree but if you stay on the path it is better. I definitely recommend something with good grip and some ankle support for the early rocky sections.

Access

The French Pass Trail is located near Jefferson, Colorado on Michigan Creek Rd. Michigan Creek can be accessed from 285. Michigan Creek Rd. starts as a paved road and then becomes a pretty good dirt road and then for the last 3 miles becomes a less good dirt road. A 4wd car should have no problems but you might want a bit of ground clearance or drive really slow on anything else. There is some parking on the loop to the right and the trailhead is back across the street marked with a brown sign.

Wrapping up French Pass Trail

The reviews that I read before hand on this hike were very mixed. Some people hated the hike and some people loved it. I am definitely in the love it camp. The first part of the hike is pretty pedestrian through the woods but once you get into the open space the views are just amazing.

Another issue is that there isn’t a real reward at the top of the pass. I kind of understand that. You aren’t summiting a peak or anything but climbing up that final hill and seeing flat ground that you can sit on and enjoy the views was reward enough for me!

I think this would be a fun hike for people who are looking to see what mountain hiking is really about. It has a little bit of everything but in small quantities. And I really, really enjoyed the views on this one! Be prepared to get a workout in on that last hill though!

I have added this hike and all of my hikes to my interactive map page that you can find here. If you have a suggestion or comment you can email me at fatmanlittletrails@gmail.com or follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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