Wilderness Wanderings: Where to hike that’s not closed for fire
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
“Oh, no!” you say?
Many of our most popular area trails have been closed because of the Morgan Creek Fire. But you’ve been planning to take your visiting family or friends on your favorite Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area hike.
What to do? Well, don’t despair.
Just as fire renews the land, let it stimulate your urge to explore and learn about other trails, vistas and lakes, some even in other parts of the Zirkels.
If your first thought is to use the Devil’s Causeway hike as your backup, please think again.
As if it’s already way too crowded, think of the conga line to the top if that’s everyone’s fallback trail. How can that be fun?
Here are a handful of alternatives with brief overviews. For more information check with the U.S. Forest Service office for maps, search online or refer to the guidebook, “Hiking the ’Boat,” by Diane White-Crane.
Sarvis Creek Trail: Travel south of Steamboat on U.S. Highway 40 up Rabbit Ears Pass. On the east side of the pass turn right onto Forest Service Road 100 (on the left side of U.S. 40 is the turnoff for Dumont Lake.) Go about 12 miles to the parking lot on the right.
Silver Creek Trail: Travel south of Steamboat on U.S. 40 up Rabbit Ears Pass. On the east side of the pass, turn right onto F.S.R. 100, Buffalo Park Road (on the left side of U.S. 40 is the turnoff for Dumont Lake.) Go about 12 miles to the parking lot on the right. Drive 17 miles to the parking lot on the right.
Big Creek Falls: Travel south of Steamboat on U.S. 40 up Rabbit Ears Pass. Turn left onto Routt County Road 14 and drive to Walden. Take Colorado Highway 125 north for about 10 miles and turn left at Cowdrey onto 6 W. Travel 18 miles and turn left onto F.S.R. 600. Go 6 miles until you reach Big Creek Lakes Recreation Area. Go to the west end of the campground and look for the combined trailhead with Red Elephant Nature Trail.
Buff Pass Lakes: Follow Routt County Road 38/Buffalo Pass Road for 13 miles and use the parking lot on the right. Hike up the road into the Summit Lake Campground and look for the trail besides the bathroom. Note: There is no trailhead sign.
Sand Creek Trail: From U.S. 40 south of Steamboat, turn right onto 129 and drive 25 miles to Yampa. Just before the town, turn right onto Routt County Road 17 and go 5 miles. Go west on F.S.R. 16 for 9 miles. Turn left at the sign for Sheriff Reservoir and go 3 miles.
Sarvis Creek Trail
Often overlooked yet right in our backyard is the Sarvis Creek Wilderness. The upper section of the Sarvis Creek namesake trail is accessed via Rabbit Ears Pass just off Buffalo Park Road. This area burned extensively three years ago in the Silver Creek Fire, giving visitors a good look at its aftermath. The trail alternates in and out of forests and lush meadows. Hike as far as you want and then turn around or through hike to the bottom near Stagecoach Lake for a total one-way distance of 12.2 miles. Alternatively, the lower end of the trail makes for a nice day hike. Access it via Routt County Road 18.
Silver Creek Trail
Also in the Sarvis Wilderness is Silver Creek Trail. The upper end is reached via Buffalo Park Road/Routt County Road 100. The first 1.5 miles follows an old logging road before becoming a narrow foot trail. Hike as far as you want or backpack top to bottom to cover the full 11 miles. The lower end is off Routt County Road 16. The first mile of trail offers a good uphill climb, but you can take breaks and enjoy fine vistas of the Morrison Creek valley below. And if you hike far enough, you’ll reach a fine swimming hole.
Big Creek Falls
What’s another named waterfall in our area other than Fish Creek and Upper Fish Creek falls? How about Big Creek Falls near Walden? This relatively level 5 mile round trip hike out starts at the Big Creek Lakes Campground and Recreation Area and enters the Zirkel Wilderness. A portion of the trail winds through remnants of the 2016 Beaver Creek Fire and, thus, offers lots of purple fireweed wildflowers if you time your trip right.
Buff Pass Lakes
If your vehicle is equipped for very rough roads, there are a handful of pretty, alpine lakes at the top of Routt County Road 60 at Buffalo Pass. The trail is not official, but you can find it next to the bathrooms at Summit Lake Campground. You’ll quickly pass the Zirkel Wilderness boundary sign and then hike down to Jonah Lake, which is a favorite among fishermen. Other lakes along this short loop include Whale, Shoestring, Martha and George, all reached in a couple of hours. Be sure to bring a map and compass. A GPS is handy as well.
Sand Creek Trail
On the northeast edge of the Flat Tops Wilderness is Sand Creek Trail. Starting at Sheriff Reservoir, the trail takes you by four pretty lakes in 1.2 miles — Spring, Camel, Crater and Sand. Little Flat Top Mountain stands tall over Sand Lake — one photo opportunity in particular. If you want to hike further, the trail opens with broad vistas for a stretch at about 2 miles.
Bob Korch is 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, visit FriendsOfWilderness.com.
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