Trail of the Week: Prospector Trail (with video)
NORTH ROUTT — Hiking the Prospector Trail has some mystery to it. While walking on the dusty single track, it’s hard to guess where the trail will turn next. The rises and falls in the meadows and trees mask the trail in front of you, so it’s a delight to discover where it leads.
Sometimes, it wanders through an expansive meadow with tall grasses, wildflowers and sage brush that shimmers in the breeze. Next, the path will turn into the woods, where the temperature is cooler and the evergreens shoot off soft spurts of new needles. Pet them. It’s a delight.
Every once in a while, there is a water crossing, perfect for keeping furry hiking companions cool and hydrated. Powder blue butterflies flit around the stream, drifting this way and that like they’re spelling a name in cursive with letters of another language.
A few spots near the water crossings were muddy, but the rest of the trail was dry. My ankles were covered in a layer of dust by the afternoon.
Except for a couple mountain bikers and a helicopter tending to a small wildland fire in the area, the Prospector Trail was empty and quiet. In a year without abnormal June heat, the Prospector Trail would be a comfortable hike for those who don’t want to start too early. Our dog Dallas had a blast and didn’t get too hot, even with his brand new backpack on. He did pass out on the car ride home, though.
The best part of the trail is there are no real climbs or descents. The hills are small and sporadic as the trail stays around 8,800 feet above sea level. After crossing Forest Service Road 487, there is a somewhat intense mile-long climb over a ridge, but a casual hiker may not make it that far.
Mountain bikers who are seeking a more challenging trail will hit the Prospector Trail, which is rated difficult by a couple trail information websites.
In the winter, the area is known as Trilby Flats and is listed as an easy and accessible snowshoe spot.
The Prospector Trail begins in North Routt. There are a few access points, one just off Routt County Road 129, but the official trailhead is a little over a mile up Forest Service Road 488. A sign points left, where a short dirt road leads to a small lot with a large map and information board. From there, the trail moves west where it eventually meets the Nipple Peak Trail. The trail also stretches back to 129 and then toward the Hahns Peak trailhead. It’s 8.9 miles in total.
The only thing slightly negative about the trail is the first segment from the trailhead is downhill, which means the last haul to the car is all uphill. Thankfully, it’s in a lovely shaded section of the trail and is over before you know it.
Right down the road is Hahns Peak Lake, a slightly less well-known watering hole perfect for paddle boarding, fishing and picnicking.
Normally, a North Routt hike calls for ice cream from the Clark Store, but the patio was packed with families looking to beat the heat. So, we opted for a milkshake from Johnny B. Goods. The Cookie Crumb uses their own baked cookies, and as much as I loved the trail, the first sip of that shake might have been the highlight of the day.
Shelby Reardon is the assistant editor at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach her, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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