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Unmatched views

See Steamboat and Craig from atop Sand Mountain

The expression “panoramic views” is overused. But the term applies perfectly to the dramatic 360-degree vantage point on top of 10,800-foot Sand Mountain in North Routt County.

Imagine standing atop a mountain with Steamboat Lake and Hahn’s Peak at your back, and also being able to gaze into downtown Steamboat Springs and the city of Craig simply by turning your head.

Next, imagine looking north to peaks in Wyoming and south to hazy mountains in the vicinity of Vail more than 100 miles away. Finally, imagine Mount Werner and Storm Peak resembling an insignificant hump in the broad Park Range.

That is the view from Sand Mountain.

The climb to the peak requires one of two hikes, depending on the kind of vehicle you drive. If you have a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle, you can motor to the singletrack trailhead of Forest Trail 1175. From there, it’s just a mile walk and more than 1,000 vertical feet from the summit.

If you aren’t comfortable with deep mud puddles and short grades of almost 10 percent, you will be looking at a roundtrip of about seven miles that can take up to six hours to traverse (including a half hour at the top).

Last Sunday, the hike up Sand Mountain was noteworthy for an early September skiff of fresh snow and for the large numbers of blue grouse that exploded out of the underbrush. The grouse were thick in spite of the presence of a number of hunters blasting away at them with small-gauge shotguns.

To reach the hike from downtown Steamboat Springs, drive to the west side of town on U.S. Highway 40 and turn right onto Routt County Road 129 (Elk River Road). Proceed northwest for about 26 miles, beyond the visitors center at Steamboat Lake State Park. Watch for a left turn onto C.R. 62. After about three miles on C.R. 62, watch for the homes near the welcoming sign to the Captain’s Cove subdivision. Take a right turn on C.R. 42. You will be on the west, or back, side of Steamboat Lake.

From here, the road gets rocky, but you can make it in a minivan if you take your time. After a couple of miles, you will face a decision regarding Forest Road 480, which forms a loop below the northwest flank of Sand Mountain. As a result of the loop, there are two options for turning onto Forest Road 480.

If you plan to park and take the longer hike, stop at the first Forest Road 480 sign. If you think your vehicle can withstand a pounding, continue to the second turn onto Forest Road 480, which will deliver you to a parking area on Forest Road 480A. From there, you can access the singletrack trailhead.

The hike switches back steeply up a narrow slot of evergreens wedged between the sheer face of Sand Mountain and a bald dome just to the west. After opening up to dramatic views of the Sawtooth Range and Lost Ranger Peak, visible across large boulder fields, the trail enters a modest summit approach that will take you within several feet of a sheer drop.

There is no real exposure, but the route will get the attention of most weekend hikers. The summit itself is broad and flat and punctuated by some rock cairns more than six feet tall.

The summit makes a sublime picnic spot.

— To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com


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