Trail of the Week: Rabbit Ears Peak (with video)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The trailhead for Rabbit Ears Peak was packed.
Packed like your suitcase going back home after spending Christmas at grandma’s. Cars stretched out of the lot and down the road toward Dumont Lake Campground off of U.S. Highway 40 on Rabbit Ears Pass.
Thankfully, we were leaving, not arriving.
Rabbit Ears Peak is a relatively easy, accessible and close-by hike. It’s the image seen on Steamboat postcards and paintings and even the name of the historic downtown motel. For that reason, I wasn’t surprised it was busy, just happy we started early.
If I were to describe the hike in one word, it would be leisurely. The trail is actually a forest road, so it’s wide and easy to navigate and fairly flat. After a brief trek on Forest Road 311, take a right at a small lot and sign that says 291. This will bring you all the way up to the top. The pointy rocks that earned Rabbit Ears Pass its name peer down over fields of wildflowers.
The hike isn’t jam packed with features like waterfalls or river crossings or Alpine lakes. It’s a simple, beautiful walk through wide-open meadows full of flowers and every color of the rainbow. There was a single stream that tickled our ears with its gentle trickle and granted the dogs a drink.
The final stretch makes you work for the views. There is a steep, but short, climb up the dirt road, but once it’s done, you’re at the top.
There are plenty of views to be seen from the base of the rock formation, but if you want to get closer to the ears, there’s the smallest bit of scrambling involved. The trail isn’t super clear, but it’s not hard to guess where you’re supposed to go. In case you aren’t the best guesser, here is what I determined to be the easiest route:
Staring at the rocks from the top of the hill, look left. Head up whatever semblance of trail calls to you. Then, turn right to get behind a small boulder. Once past the large rock, turn left around the corner and the trail should be clear again.
You can’t get to the actual “ears,” but where the trail stops is on the lower wall of one of the ears. The view isn’t equal to that from a large peak, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. The hawks screeching and swooping around the tops of the rock pillars were the highlight of reaching the top. One perched on a cliffside over a white-stained shelf of rock that held screaming fledglings.
I know Rabbit Ears is busy, and it’s usually full of visitors, but it’s an iconic part of Steamboat. A lot of people who grew up in Steamboat, including my hiking partner that day, have never done Rabbit Ears, perhaps because they take it for granted. It’s right there and will always be right there.
But it might not always be there. In 2017, the formation went floppy after losing a large chunk of one of the ears to erosion. While there is still a substantial amount of rock up there, it’s hard to say when Rabbit Ears will become Rabbit Ear.
So while the bunny is still around, get up there and be a tourist in your own town.
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