Emerald Mountain trails to remain closed through June for elk calving season

Young elk graze on a hillside in Steamboat Springs in April 2022. Each year, the BLM closes land on the backside of Emerald Mountain so elk like these can be born without disturbances from unwanted guests. Land south of Ridge Trail will continue to be closed through the end of the month.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Ever since Emerald Mountain was acquired by the Bureau of Land Management in 2007, it has been public land. The area has always been regarded as a highly important section for elk reproduction and considered a great habitat for wintering and spring elk. 

Each year the BLM issues a total closure for trails on the backside of Emerald Mountain to protect elk during the winter and calving seasons, which run Dec. 1 through the end of June. 

“The closure affects all the trails that are south of the Ridge Trail,” said Hunter Seim, BLM assistant field manager for the northwest district of Colorado. “The Beall Trail, which is a very popular trail, is part of the closure. Basically, everything in the middle of the southern portion of Emerald Mountain is closed until June 30.”

For bikers and hikers, this means the popular Beall-Ridge-Rotary loop is not accessible for the rest of the month. The 15.8 miles of trail surround land that is critical for elk reproduction and should not be disturbed. 

Seim said the land opened to the public in 2007 as a way to provide continued protection for elk, but people who violate the closures could cause severe harm to the elk in the area. 

According to the BLM, pregnant deer and elk are particularly sensitive to human disturbances and stand a better chance of survival when their habitat is free of interactions with humans, pets and other unwanted guests.

“Human presence, hiking, mountain biking and so forth during elk calving can cause decreases in elk calving success,” Seim said. “It is a pretty stressful time for mother elk, so what we do is try to prevent and minimize that human presence during that time.”

This map from the Bureau of Land Management shows a closure for trails on the backside of Emerald Mountain in Steamboat Springs from Dec. 1 through June 30.
Bureau of Land Management/Screenshot

The main goal for Seim and the Bureau is to educate the public on not only what the rules are but why these closures are in place. 

He said a lot of people stop by the BLM Northwest Colorado office in Craig looking for information on Emerald Mountain, but he knows there are plenty of violators as well. 

Even with the closures, there are still plenty of open and available spaces in Routt County for hiking and biking recreation.

The trails on the backside of Emerald Mountain will be available for the majority of the summer, but in the meantime it is important for people to remember they share the space with wildlife and need to be cognizant of the animals’ safety and growth. 

Those found violating the closure also could face hefty fines. 

“We do have law enforcement and that area does get patrolled,” Seim said. “We really try and work on education as well. We have kiosks with that information at the two main trailheads, the Kemry trailhead and the Beall trailhead. We also have information online on our Emerald Mountain brochures.”

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