Wilderness Wanderings: Big Creek Falls shines through aftermath of wildfire
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A recent trip to clear downed trees from Seven Lakes Trail revealed not only the lingering devastation from the 2016 Beaver Creek Fire, but what I think may be the best waterfall in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
First, the waterfall – Big Creek Falls. It’s located in the northeast portion of the Wilderness, 2 ½ miles from the trailhead at Big Creek Campground. You can drive there from Steamboat Springs in two hours. The nearest sizable town is Walden.
We found the trailhead for Seven Lakes Trail near the fee station after driving through the campground. Note that some maps or guides call the first portion of the trail the Red Elephant Nature Trail. No, you won’t see elephants on the hike but beware that moose are plentiful in the area. On our hike in, we saw a large bull moose with an impressive rack less than 50 yards from the trail.
We reached Big Creek Falls in just over two hours, after first crossing into the Wilderness. The falls are easily seen from the trail but what helps make it special is the small cove at the base. A hot summer day probably brings out lots of people looking to cool off in the spray or the pools. But we saw no one there during our late August excursion.
Even in ultra-dry conditions there was a strong flow of water cascading down two separate falls into the largest of the pools. We could imagine the increased flows from spring melt-off being that much more impressive as well as loud.
The other striking surprise of our work trip was the after effects of the Beaver Creek Fire, which burned 38,000 acres from July to November 2016.
Yes, we expected to see burned trees, but we could not visualize the total devastation. Imagine hiking several miles with nearly every standing tree either charred or leafless. And both sides of the trail were littered with charred trees that had either fallen on their own or were cut and moved off the trail.
I had previously hiked through small groves of burned trees but nothing like what we saw on Seven Lakes Trail.
Yet, just two years after the fire we saw plenty of new life. The purple blossoms and red stems of fireweed were plentiful. It’s said to be the first plant to take over a burned forest. We also saw lots of aspen and conifer seedlings.
Also good news, the trail is now clear of fallen trees past Seven Lakes and into Encampment Meadows. It’s the first time since the summer of 2015 that sawers had been able to get into the area to their work. Many thanks to the Parks District trail crew and Friends of Wilderness volunteers who tag-teamed for the trail clearing.
Bob Korch is president and trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness, which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public about the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops Wilderness areas. For more information, go to http://www.FriendsofWilderness.com.
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