Down the Road: A mountain-minded tour through rugged North Routt
Editor’s note: This is Part 3 of a four-part series exploring the hidden gems when you head down the road in Routt County.
NORTH ROUTT — Summer was on full display at the Pearl Lake State Park in North Routt Saturday afternoon — at least on the surface.
The water felt slightly warmer than the Yampa River, which is not saying much this time of year. Children shrieked when they dipped even a foot in, but that did not stop them from exploring the lake on stand-up paddleboards and canoes.
A young girl shouted to her dad from a paddleboard, “I dare you to jump in the water.”
“I can’t because I have my hearing aid in,” he joked from shore.
North Routt, which includes the unincorporated communities of Clark and Hahns Peak Village, admittedly is not a destination to peruse shopping malls and Michelin-star restaurants — there aren’t any.
But what the place lacks in ritziness, it more than makes up for in natural beauty and cozy eateries. Surrounded by national forest and wilderness, it epitomizes the rugged, Colorado spirit, with views equally worthy for a National Geographic article as for a humbler Instagram post.
Where to play
The best options for more summer-style recreation this time of year are the mountain-fed lakes in the area, namely Pearl Lake and Steamboat Lake.
Pearl, the smaller of the two, is ideal for fishing, non-motorized boating and boarding as well as hiking.
People can rent a variety of watercraft out of a trailer near the lake, owned by a Steamboat business, Paddleboard Adventure Co. Winter Boese, a recent Steamboat Springs High School graduate and North Routt resident, was working the rental business on Saturday.
Stand-up paddleboards, canoes, tandem kayaks and a giant paddleboard — big enough to hold about eight people — were among the options for hourly rental, according to Boese.
The cutthroat trout swimming in the lake could be the entrée of a campfire dinner at one of the nearby, developed campsites. On Saturday, a trio of boys took a more Bear Grylls approach to angling, trying to catch minnows and crawfish with a net that seemed designed for larger fish.
For those who do not want to get wet, a 2.6-mile trail takes amblers around the lake and eventually connects to the Coulton Creek trail, a popular hike in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.
More suited for larger boats with motors, Steamboat Lake State Park also offers fishing, hiking and the same water recreation options as its neighbor.
An island in in the center of the lake is a scenic spot to have a picnic if people carry food there by motorboat, kayak or paddleboard.
Just across the road from the lake, guides at the Hahn’s Peak Roadhouse take visitors on horseback tours along a trial that follows the lakeshore.
Both of these lakes are currently open for boating and camping, but campers this summer need to make a reservation to secure a site.
From summiting peaks to frolicking in wildflowers, North Routt has a hike for almost every preference — you just may have to wait a few weeks to explore some of them.
Ranger Jared Newell, with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said he drove up Seedhouse Road a few days ago, which leads to the some of the most popular trails in the area. Slushy snow has made hikes, such as those to Gold Creek Lake and Mount Zirkel, inaccessible for now. Later in the summer, these trails offer a bouquet display of native wildflowers, like glacier lilies and larkspur, plus miles of exploration to more fish-stocked lakes and mountain meadows.
The area’s tallest landmark, Hahn’s Peak, is among the most scenic hikes in Routt County. It is also too snow-covered at the moment for hiking the 1.8-mile ascent to its rocky summit, but it is still accessible via skis and split-boards. Boese at the rental trailer said a group of locals is trying to organize a 4th of July ski race on the peak to take advantage of the lingering snowpack.
She remembers the last time such a race took place there, in 2011. People set up slalom poles and took turns trekking up the side of the mountain then speeding down the course. She hopes enough snow has accumulated over the previous months to keep for another month.
Where to eat and drink
The first North Routt business people pass as they drive from Steamboat is the Clark Store, as advertised in large, white letters on the front of the building. A favorite pit-stop before or after an adventure, the store has grab-and-go burritos or more sit-down fare depending on your rush.
Jim Davis, the general manager and local resident, gets his ground beef for the burgers and hot dogs from his neighbors’ ranch, the Sand Mountain Cattle Co.
Davis also mentioned the pancakes, which come out the size of dinner plates.
“If people finish off a stack of pancakes on their own, I usually don’t charge for them,” he said.
For dessert, an outdoor patio has an ice cream bar for post-workout treats.
They are open seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Just outside the Clark Store, a small stand, Clyde’s Pies, makes wood-fired pizzas right before customer’s eyes.
A mile down the road, the Glen Eden restaurant, attached to a resort with the same name, is more of a dine-in affair. Employees recommended the made-from-scratch pizzas or the French dip sandwich. The latter has cream cheese under the slices of Provolone, which they said melts the cheeses together in milky marriage.
They are open 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, with brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Hahn’s Peak Roadhouse
The Hahn’s Peak Roadhouse near Steamboat Lake is a bar and restaurant adorned with an eclectic collection of sports memorabilia and more random mementos, such as a skeleton playing an electric guitar astride a snowmobile.
Apart from its pub grub and horse rides, the business takes people on ATV tours through the surrounding mountains, including on the side of Hahns Peak.
Kyle Ernst, who usually guides those tours for the Roadhouse, was working the bar on Saturday until the routes dry up. He said ATV tours are scheduled to begin next week.
A band plays music there on Saturdays during the summer, and Ernst said employees will start a bonfire in the side yard upon request.
They are open seven days a week, 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, with later closing hours on Friday and Saturday.
Hahn’s Peak Café
Less than a mile down the road from the Roadhouse, the Hahn’s Peak Café serves up homemade dishes Tuesday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., according to their Facebook page. They were closed on Saturday for a family event, so this reporter did not get a chance to visit. He will soon, though, probably on a Sunday morning when the café sells fresh-fried donuts.
There you have it — some of the finest peaks, lakes and eats North Routt has to offer. A lot can happen when you set forth up north.
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