Trail of the Week: Lower Bear
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Though it doesn’t offer a lot of warm-up before the climbing begins, Lower Bear is a fall classic with buff single track and expansive views. And, oh yeah, did we mention the climbing right out of the gate?
Season: Early June through October
Description: Break out your energy bar. This U.S. Forest Service trail starts out with a bang, without much warm-up. Beginning at an elevation of roughly 7,600 feet, the trail heads north before turning east and climbing the scrub oak-filled hillside with a series of switchbacks. After 1.6 miles, you’ll reach the old two-track trail, which is even steeper. Turn left and climb another 0.4 miles (2 miles from trailhead) to the overlook at the top of a saddle and a great view of the Yampa Valley. From there, the trail rolls northeast before contouring across a rocky outcrop and descending to its junction with 4WD Elk Park Road at mile 2.9. Turn left and continue on to its end at beautiful Elk Park, a perfect place for lunch. Turn right on the road and you can descend on an often rutted-out two track all the way back to Strawberry Park Road at mile 4.8, where a right turn and short road climb takes you back to your car. Or head back the way you came on Lower Bear, whose smooth, buff trail is pure butter to descend.
Know before you go: This trail is a beauty, and one of the first to dry out each spring due to its southern exposure. It can also be linked-in with several other trails, including Strawberry Park Hot Springs, for a great half road/half trail loop from town. As an out and back from Lower Bear Trailhead to the summit overlook, expect roughly 4 miles of pedaling with an elevation rise of 1,353 feet. A word to the wise: avoid climbing it midday if it stays hot out; it doesn’t offer much shade.
Parking: The trail starts on the right about a halfmile before you reach Strawberry Park Hot Springs on County Road 36 (Hot Springs Road). Park at the pull-out for the Lower Bear Trail on the right and look for the singletrack trail heading north from its far end.
To reach Eugene Buchanan, call 970-871-4276 or email ebuchanan@SteamboatPilot.com.
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