Trail of the Week: Hooper Lake (with video)
YAMPA — It took a long time to reach Stillwater Lake after turning onto Forest Service Road 900 on Monday morning. I couldn’t help but stop four or five times to take photos. Flat Top Mountain was as glorious as ever, coated in a fine layer of snow and towering over the frost-covered trees below.
Last year, I went leaf peeping in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area on the last weekend of September, and the colors were supreme. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the aspens but was pleasantly surprised to see the Bear River corridor glowing with golden, shimmering leaves.
On the way to Stillwater, we ran into a co-worker capturing the overlap of seasons with her camera, as well as some Plein Air Festival participants using brushes and an easel to document the crisp morning.
Finally, we reached Stillwater where some hunters were getting back to their truck empty handed. They asked us where we were headed. We pointed to the saddle between Flat Top Mountain and the horseshoe, said we were headed to Hooper Lake and took off.
The trail begins going left at Stillwater, or south. It’s easy going for a while, skirting around the reservoir then dipping into the woods, which had a crunchy layer of snow.
The woods felt like stepping through a wardrobe and into Narnia. As the sun rose, the snow melted, and the trees dripped onto our heads.
We started the hike with zipped jackets, hats and thin gloves but soon shed some layers as we climbed closer to the saddle.
Most of the trail is gradual, but the closer we got to the saddle, the harder the incline became. The last half hour before reaching the top was rough. The trail was steep and snowy in some spots but muddy in others. After two sections of tough hiking, we reached the saddle.
The view was amazing, and the foliage made it even more gorgeous. No matter how many times I visit the Flat Tops, I will never get over how weird the landscape is. I always feel like I’m standing on the set of Lord of the Rings.
Our hike was not over yet, though. We wanted to hike to at least one of the many lakes in the valley below. This portion of the hike we played by ear. There are three lakes very close to the saddle: Hooper, Keener and Edge lakes.
We reached Hooper first, took in the views of the blue-green lake backed up against a wall of rock and decided that was enough adventure for one day. Keener Lake would have been next, not far down the trail. Edge Lake would have been about a mile and a half more.
We were satisfied with the hike and the views and were starting to like the idea of lunch more than another alpine lake, so we turned around.
Going back to the saddle was a much more friendly incline that sped by. The descent was challenging at times since our shoes were muddy and the trail was wet, but we made it safely back to the car having hiked a little less than six miles.
The foliage was showing off, but there were still plenty of trees left to turn yellow, so the Flat Tops will likely be busy with leaf peepers this weekend. Take advantage of the gorgeous area we live in and be a tourist in your own town.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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