French Pass via French Gulch Road
This particular adventure is proof that you really need to be prepared for anything when out in nature. And if you don’t feel prepared, it’s okay to turn back! But if you have everything you need, the weather looks okay, and you’re willing to keep putting one foot in front of the other, you might be capable of forging ahead. Because what we anticipated being a 4.6 mile hike down a road turned into a full 9 miles which included a few creek crossings. And although it was beautiful and well worth it, it was absolutely exhausting!
When we were hiking along the Sallie Barber Mine Trail the day before, we ran into two women who had been hoping to reach French Pass. At the time, we weren’t even sure what that was, but we helped them investigate it online and it seemed that they’d meant to take the trailhead just next to the Sallie Barber one. It wasn’t marked though, so it was just a guess. And when we looked on AllTrails, it seemed that particular trail was called Little French Gulch Trail and the site indicated it was a 4.6 mile hike down French Gulch Road. It had amazing reviews overall, but some of them were conflicting. So we figured we’d just get there and figure it out.
We parked in the same spot as the day before and checked out the map to see if we could become more clear on what we were about to do. No real help. (But we did see the women’s car in the lot, so we were excited to run into them again!)
So we just started walking, and we went through this gate. You can see the Sallie Barber Mine Trail on the right in the photo below.
It’s literally just a road.
We did pass this abandoned mine site, but it just seemed to be a bunch of piles of gravel.
A quick look back.
We came across what appeared to be a driveway off to our right. According to AllTrails, the path was straight ahead, so we did NOT cross here and veer off the road.
We tried to find excitement in every little bit of flowing water since we were just walking down the road.
After walking a few miles in, we had passed quite a few houses and then the main road just sort of ended and so did the track on AllTrails. We were super confused at this point. Why would a walk down a residential road get five star reviews?! So we made the decision to just keep following what appeared to be an extension of the road. (But it was definitely no longer a “road.”)
We saw some moose (or elk?) scat which piqued our interest. We weren’t able to discern how old it was, but after some later research, I think this might have been from late Winter/early spring. But honestly, I still don’t really know.
Then we encountered some wet spots. Still not a big deal though – we just walked through the higher areas.
Look at this handsome fella. He’s such a great adventure buddy, I swear.
We had absolutely no idea where we were going, but it sure was pretty!
This gives you a better idea of the path we were following. It’s clearly well-traveled, which made us feel better about continuing. We knew we could find our way back. But do you see that thing figure ahead? We kept thinking it was a person.
It was not a person.
Just after the tree stump slash human, we saw this beautiful little creek just flowing through the valley. Or gulch. Or meadow. Or whatever this area was. (I really need to learn more about my geography terms.)
We took all the photos. We still weren’t sure if this was supposed to be the main feature of this “trail.”
Then there’s us. I told ya – aaaaaaaaall the photos.
And as we walked along, we saw more scat!
It was at this point that we found the two women we’d met the day before! They were sitting on a log having a snack just before this uphill area which was off to the side of the path we’d be walking along. I actually saw this part before we tracked back and encountered the women, and I told James I didn’t feel comfortable continuing. It seemed like we weren’t going the right way, and I just wasn’t sure at what point the hike was done. And I honestly didn’t want to walk through the snow. (I’m a big baby.)
The women said they had continued (and the snow wasn’t a problem), but they’d come to a stream that the older of the two just didn’t feel comfortable crossing. They encouraged us to give it a try, and they explained to us that the pass was actually a saddle between Mount Guyot and Bald Mountain (Baldy), and that the view up top was the whole point of this trail. Once we learned that, I was excited to reach French Pass, and I decided I was willing to at least give it my best go. I really am grateful to those women because I was totally ready to turn back.
They were right though – the snow was packed but we were also able to go around most patches.
We came across this gate, and then a fallen tree, but the rest was just again, a bumpy road. It seemed completely out of nowhere given the meadow/gulch/valley area we’d just been on.
And then we reached the stream. And I understood why one of the women didn’t want to cross it.
James is much braver than me, so he jumped onto the little island and had no trouble making it across.
Instead, I stayed closer to the path, took off my hiking shoes, and braved the freezing water as I walked to the other side. I cannot even tell you how proud I was of myself for listening to my instincts and doing it the way I knew was best for me. If you’ve been around the blog a minute, you may remember that I tried to do it James’s way on the Kalalau Trail on Kaua’i. It didn’t work out so well for me, and I fell IN the stream. With my camera and my backpack. I won’t do that again.
Trust your gut, people.
I put my shoes back on, and we kept going.
There were a few more stream crossings, but they were all passable with just some minor rock or bank hopping. Totally doable.
The path changed here and there, and we just kept getting more excited!
And you know when we saw this view, we felt like we were almost there. I don’t know if a pass can have a false summit, buuuuuuut there it is. Jerk.
More scat. But no idea what this was.
Almost there! (Except, no.)
I was still smiling though, even though my lungs and legs were both on fire.
Then we came over the hill and we saw the real pass. But it turns out, even though this looks super close, it was still like half a mile away. It took us a full 30 minutes between when I snapped this photo, and when we got completely to the top. (I checked the timestamps on my camera.) Whew.
We might have stopped a couple of times. Ya know, to look around and soak in the beauty. It had absolutely nothing to do with our fitness level. (Or the altitude.)
But then we were there, and it was freaking magnificent. This is the view down to the gulch on the other side of French Pass. And I believe that’s Boreas Mountain out ahead and to the left. I took a few shots from this vantage point, but I’m not sure I was really able to capture the beauty.
I didn’t want to forget any of it, so I shot some video. (And listen, I’ve got some serious heavy breathing going on which is making me a bit self-conscious. But I think the fact that the video really shows you French Pass is worth it! So no judging.)
I also snapped some pano shots, but, eh. They aren’t great.
The post I guess is what indicates that we made it? But it didn’t say anything.
We’re nerds. It’s okay. We know.
It was super windy at the top, and I was incredibly cognizant of the weather because being above the treeline as noon approaches can be deadly if a pop-up thunderstorm hits. (You have nothing taller than you if lightning strikes.) It was still fairly early (11am), but I didn’t want to take any chances. So we started heading back.
Of course we stopped for photos.
I love that James carried my old camera, because I never get candid shots of myself while adventuring! (And I am a super awkward poser.)
Walking, walking, walking. We didn’t love being out in the open, because we were a little afraid a moose might charge us. But alas, we never saw one. (Or anything bigger than a marmot.)
Back to the streams. We were tired by this point and barely talking. Once you reach the top, your adrenaline kinda takes a nosedive.
But I did try hard to absorb everything we were seeing, because this place is just astonishing.
Back to the big stream crossing. Once again, I took off my shoes.
Back through the meadow/gulch/valley.
We stopped again at this beautiful stream.
Before we knew it, we were back on the road. Although we hadn’t seen anyone else on the trail besides the women, that all changed as we headed back. The road was full of mountain bikers.
And then we were done. I’m calling this a 9 mile hike because we strayed from the path a few times and we walked around a bunch at the top. The whole thing took us nearly six hours, and starting early was a great move because it was HOT on the way back. After looking on AllTrails again, it appears there is a “French Pass Trail” listed but it comes from the other side – so not along French Gulch Road at all. It’s also only a 7.3 mile hike, so it may be worth checking out. However, my favorite thing about this adventure is that we had no idea what we were doing, and we forged ahead (safely) anyway.
Oh! And although we thought we were doing the Little French Gulch Trail (as described on AllTrails), we actually saw a trailhead sign for that along French Gulch Road as we headed back. No idea how we missed it on the way in. But taking that named trail doesn’t match the track shown on AllTrails, so I’m still unclear about the whole thing. I wonder if all of the people giving it 5 stars did the same as us and just continued along to French Pass? It’s a good reminder that although the internet is helpful, it is obviously susceptible to conflicting information. So I’m hoping that if someone searches this out the way we did, this post will pop up and prove helpful.
To get to the trailhead, go here: