With snow in the high country, here’s how to get out in Routt County
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Recreation opportunities are widening as the U.S. Forest Service announced on Thursday it is converting the roads and trails around Steamboat to summer use.
But with lingering snow in the high country, as well as muddy conditions for many popular roads and trails, officials are urging people to stick to dry terrain to preserve these areas.
The weather forecast this weekend predicts a mixed bag of sun and rain, which could further affect conditions.
Scattered thunderstorms this weekend with a 50% chance of precipitation on Saturday could bring more moisture, according to the National Weather Service based out of Grand Junction. The chance of precipitation decreases to 30% for Sunday, with mostly sunny skies expected.
Many of the higher-elevation areas, including Forest Road 550 in North Routt County and the Buffalo Pass trails are not expected to open until June 21.
“If it was a normal year, we would be open by this weekend,” said Brendan Kelly, a ranger with the White River National Forest.
But after some May snow storms and a heavier winter, about 8 feet of snow remains on portions of Buffalo Pass, according to Kelly. While the Dry Lake trailhead is free of snow, that quickly changes with elevation gains on the Buffalo Pass trails, such as Flash of Gold and BTR.
- Spring Creek Trail: This close-to-town route is hike and rideable from the trailhead at East Maple and Amethyst streets up to the Dry Lake Campground.
- Mad Creek Trail: This and surrounding routes, including the Red Dirt and Hot Springs trails, are dry enough for hikers and bikers.
- Silver Creek Trail: The first 5 miles of this trail are clear before running into snow.
- Emerald Mountain: Almost all of the trails on Emerald Mountain, including the routes on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, are now accessible.
- South Routt: Most of the trails in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area still have snow on them, but the lakes and reservoirs — such as Smith Lake and Bear River Reservoir — offer fishing and camping opportunities.
- North Routt: For now, the lakes and campgrounds near Clark are the best bet for recreation in North Routt until the snow clears in the high country. Pearl, Hahns Peak and Steamboat lakes offer fishing and hiking, and the campsites along Seedhouse Road have been opened.
“Once you get a mile or so up any of them, you’re hitting snowpack and mud,” Kelly said.
The Forest Service is implementing voluntary closures on such trails, which impact many of the routes people may be used to exploring this time of year. Waiting until those trails are dry prevents damage to them.
“If it’s muddy, you should be turning around,” Kelly advised.
The same is true of the trails along Seedhouse Road in North Routt, but campgrounds there and elsewhere have been opened.
The Hinman Park and Seedhouse campgrounds in North Routt, as well as the Dry Lake Campground on Buffalo Pass, will be accessible this weekend, according to Kelly.
Closures aside, trails nearer to town have dried up and opened.
The trails below the Dry Lake trailhead, including Spring Creek Trail and Panorama, are in “great condition,” according to a news release from the Forest Service.
Routt County Riders, a local group that conducts trail maintenance for cyclists, has been helping the city of Steamboat Springs build a new, downhill-only bike trail adjacent to the Spring Creek Trail. The upper portion of that new trail may open for the first time as early as this weekend, according to Craig Robinson, who manages the city’s parks, open spaces and trails.
Until then, the Spring Creek multi-use trail is open to hikers and riders.
Robinson recommended the Emerald Mountain hiking and biking trails, almost all of which are accessible. That includes the Ridge and Rotary trails owned by the Bureau of Land Management on the west part of the mountain. The Beall Trail is closed until July 1 for a wildlife closure.
He also said the Hot Springs Trail near the Mad Creek trailhead, which eventually leads to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs (admission fee still required), is great for hikers and cyclists.
For those itching to backpack and spend a more isolated night in the backcountry, Bob Korch, a trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness, recommended a lower-elevation version of the Zirkel Circle, a popular 10-mile loop hike through the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, which is still covered in snow.
As Korch explained, backpackers can make a loop, starting at the Mad Creek parking lot, out of the Mad Creek, Swamp Park, Red Dirt and Saddle trails.
As electric bikes gain popularity, Kelly emphasized that the Forest Service sees those bikes as motorized vehicles. Such cyclists therefore can ride only on National Forest trails designated for motorized vehicles. For a map of those trails, visit the agency’s website.
The public can get up-to-date trail and road conditions by calling the Forest Service in Steamboat at 970-870-2299.
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