From St. Elmo we backtracked a little down the road and took to turn off for the ghost town of Handcock and the Alpine Tunnel Trailhead. This is an out and back trail, it is also part of the CDT and we did briefly speak to a couple of thru-hikers. The road to this trailhead is gravel and rough with potholes. Even thought it is only five miles from the turn off to the trailhead it might take 30 minutes to an hour to get their due to the road conditions.
There is no parking fee at the trailhead but there is also limited parking in the area. The road to get to the trailhead is popular with locals riding ATVs as there is an ATV friendly trail that branches off of the Alpine Tunnel Trail. There was a porta-potty at the trailhead but it had not been emptied in quite some time, bring toilet paper and make sure to bury it. The trail itself is decently wide. This was once a narrow gauge railroad where metals, minerals, and coal were transported out of the mountains. The metal rails were taken out years ago but the wooden crossties are still there. Most are rotting slowly away but they make decent steps in places. Because the trail is an old railroad the grade isn’t too steep.
The trail is beautiful. We saw chipmunks scurrying here and there and heard pika squeaking (I think). There was a nice breeze and a few late wild flowers were still in bloom. The trail follows the edge of a valley and allows for a great view. Make sure that your hiking boots are water resistant as there are a few streams that flow across this trail and some of them a quite wide. Make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks as there is nothing around for several miles.
The trail ends at the eastern end of the Alpine Tunnel. This end of the train tunnel has unfortunately collapsed. We were informed that the western entrance may still be open but there is not a safe trail to access that end. Even though there is no real tunnel to see any longer, this trail is worth hiking for the views alone.
This was a great hike: it wasn’t too steep, there were great views, and even starting late we reached the tunnel well before our turn-around time. Have you ever hiked this trail or other previous railways turned trail? Let me know in the comments. Remember to leave no trace and safe travels.
Thank you KW Photography for allowing me to use your wonderful photos!
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