Wilderness Wanderings: Zirkel Circle in June? Forgetaboutit!
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Good news, bad news for those of you itching to get your boots on the trails in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.
First, the good: the U.S. Forest Service last Sunday opened the remaining stretch of Seedhouse Road leading to Slavonia Trailhead.
Now, the bad news: the trails are so impacted by snow that you cannot go more than a mile or so unless you like snow hiking and have keen backcountry navigation skills.
The snowpack is still several feet deep at the elevation of 8,800 feet and above. For perspective, Gold Creek Lake is at 9,555 feet and Gilpin Lake sits at 10,330 feet.
Over the next couple of weeks, the snow will eventually melt enough so you can get to those lakes before the end of June. But that’s providing you can manage the creek crossings which will be running high and swift well into July.
What about doing the Zirkel Circle? “Forgetaboutit” until at least mid-July.
There are alternatives if you still want to hike and are willing to be creative. Just grab a good map and examine lower elevation trails and destinations.
If you’re looking for an early summer backpacking trip, try this lower elevation version of the Zirkel Circle — a loop encompassing Mad Creek, Swamp Park, Red Dirt and Saddle trails. Two of our volunteers last week overnighted and cleared trees from the wilderness legs of Swamp Park and Red Dirt. They found very little snow until the middle portion of Red Dirt Trail.
From the Mad Creek parking lot follow the trail past the historic barn and then into the Zirkel Wilderness at Mile 4. In another mile you’ll come to the first of three creek crossings, one after the other. You’ll have to get your feet wet fording these, but you’ll be able to stay dry on the rest of the stream crossings during your trip.
Approximately 6.5 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come to the junction with Red Dirt Trail. There is good camping and a water source up on the bench. Please remember to set up camp 100 feet from trails and streams and follow Leave No Trace practices.
On Day 2, you’ll begin with a climb on Red Dirt Trail. As you rise to the top of a ridge, look down to the grassy park below and you’ll see the tread of Swamp Park Trail. And far off views will include Steamboat Resort and the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
After following Red Dirt for 4 miles, turn left at the junction for Saddle Trail and follow it for just over a mile. You will intersect with Mad Creek Trail near the barn you saw the day before. Turn right, and you’ll be back at the parking lot in approximately 1.5 miles.
If you are more interested in day hiking, try the following alternatives.
Silver Creek Trail: Volunteers cleared fallen trees from the lower 4 miles of this trail earlier in the week. And you can hike another mile before running into solid snow.
Red Dirt Trail: Although this has a reputation of being a mountain bike trail, you’ll hardly find anybody on it as opposed to its cousin, Mad Creek Trail.
South Fork Trail: The Forest Service was hoping this week to open Forest Service Road 443 from which you can access Burn Ridge Trailhead. This lower elevation trail gets lots of sun exposure, and thus, the snow melts off fairly early.
Trailhead directions can be found in the book “Hiking the ‘Boat” or by consulting maps available at the Forest Service office or your favorite outdoor shop.
You can also get up to date trail and road information by calling the Forest Service in Steamboat Springs at 970-870-2299.
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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