Wilderness Wanderings: Time to hike the ‘other’ trails | SteamboatToday.com
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Wilderness Wanderings: Time to hike the ‘other’ trails

This fallen lodgepole pine will need to be cleared from Gold Creek Trail by volunteers from Friends of Wilderness.
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Know before you go

• Some trail sections are still snow covered, wet and even have running water; wear waterproof hiking boots so you can stay on the trail.

• Please cross streams only where they intersect the trail. Trying to find alternative places to cross upstream or downstream destroys vegetation and leads to erosion. If you don’t feel it’s safe enough to cross, turn around and come back another time.

• Be prepared for a change in temperatures as your trail leads to higher elevations. Carry a fleece jacket or pullover, even if you don’t think you’ll need one.

If you’re like most local hikers, by now, you have checked off Mad Creek, Fish Creek and the Emerald Mountain trails from your early season to-do list and are itching to venture onto the higher elevation trails up to Gold and Gilpin lakes and the like.

Know before you go

• Some trail sections are still snow covered, wet and even have running water; wear waterproof hiking boots so you can stay on the trail.

• Please cross streams only where they intersect the trail. Trying to find alternative places to cross upstream or downstream destroys vegetation and leads to erosion. If you don’t feel it’s safe enough to cross, turn around and come back another time.



• Be prepared for a change in temperatures as your trail leads to higher elevations. Carry a fleece jacket or pullover, even if you don’t think you’ll need one.

The good news is, the U.S. Forest Service anticipated opening the road gates above Seedhouse June 15, providing vehicle access to the Slavonia, Three Island and North Lake trailheads. The bad news is, lingering snow and more fallen trees than usual, along with high and swift creek crossings, have effectively delayed access to the higher elevations served by those trails.



This past winter was an especially hard one in the forest, with many more dead pines and live conifers having fallen than normal.

A reconnaissance last week by one of our volunteers found 60 trees down on the 1.5-mile Three Island Spur Trail. Fortunately, that area was outside the Zirkel Wilderness, and the local Forest Service trail crew, led by Bryan Ross, was able to chainsaw those blowdowns and open the trail.

It’s a different story on the other side of the wilderness boundary, where the law requires non-mechanized tools, such as crosscut saws. We anticipate it will be another week or two before the trails to Gold and Three Island Lakes are fully clear of trees and the heavy snow line has retreated to above the lakes.

But Gilpin, Mica and North Lakes are all above 10,000 feet, meaning it will likely be July before their respective trails are clear and one can fulfill the annual rite of hiking the Zirkel Circle. Thus, patience is the key to hiking this summer in the Zirkel Wilderness.

In the meantime, consider hiking one of the other trails in the area.

A personal favorite is South Fork Trail, off Forest Service Toad 443. Look for the parking area on the right, shortly after crossing the cattle guard. The trail follows the south fork of the Elk River for most of its 3.75 miles before reaching a crossing which, during high water, will serve as your turnaround. Keep your eyes on the watch for elk along the river below the trail and moose on the ridge above.

Easily accessible is the newer 1189 Trail, off Seedhouse Road just before crossing the bridge over the north fork of the Elk River. Longtime locals may remember this as the old Diamond Park Road. The first section of this 3-mile trail climbs up a ridge that was devastated by fire in 2002. Further along, the trail levels out and offers panoramic views before reaching Diamond Park.

After crossing the road bridge, one can complete a loop back to Seedhouse Road via 1101 Wyoming Trail, however that involves a couple of high water crossings until later in the summer.

You’ve likely driven past Coulton Creek trailhead numerous times while driving up Seedhouse Road and thought about hiking it sometime. Now is the perfect time to make it your next pre-Zirkel hike. The trail offers great views of the Elk River Valley after an initial climb, then winds through aspen and pine forests before reaching the foot of Farwell Mountain after 5.5 miles.

The nearby Sarvis Creek Wilderness is a much-neglected hiking destination. A recent drive over Rabbit Ears Pass tells us there’s still too much snow yet for hiking to the Ears. Consider the lower elevation of this wilderness.

A friend joined me three weeks ago to hike Silver Creek Trail and remarked how pretty it is. We found the trailhead on Routt County Road 16 south of Stagecoach Reservoir. Be prepared for a workout, as this trail climbs more than 2,000 feet before reaching its upper trailhead in Buffalo Park. I found this trail section reminds me of some eastern forests with heavy canopy along with occasional rock formations.

Bob Korch is a vice president and trail volunteer with Friends of Wilderness, which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public in the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops Wilderness areas. friendsofwilderness.com.


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