This is a very scenic hike to a beautiful snow-ringed alpine lake, nestled at the base of Decatur Mountain. Often bighorn sheep are grazing on the slopes of this Smelter Gulch area. A very popular trail because of its sub alpine and alpine terrain and its relative accessibility from Denver.
From Bailey, travel west on Highway 285 10 miles to the small town of Grant. Turn north on Colorado 62 (Forest Road 118). Drive 5 miles to the turn-off to Geneva Park campground on Geneva Creek Road, Forest Road 119. Drive three more miles to the trailhead, or as far as your vehicle allows. Park in an appropriate turnout.
What it is
The trailhead is well marked on the north side of Forest Road 119, just before Smelter Gulch Creek crosses under the road. The trail is sustained uphill through low growing pine and aspen for 1/2 mile, with 500 feet elevation gain. Cross a small tributary to Smelter Creek Gulch and begin another steep ascent of 400 feet elevation over 3/4 mi. The trail now levels out for 1 mi, paralleling, then crossing the very picturesque creek. Time for a well deserved break!
Gaze north, over the showy columbine, to the southwest slopes of Square Top Mountain.
The final push of 3/4 mile is strenuous, gaining 600 feet of elevation, over a loose gravel and boulder trail rimmed with high alpine flowers. Finally the lovely Shelf Lake shimmers a few feet below in the rugged cirque!
Here is a very lovely, varied trail. It has aspen groves, open meadows, and active beaver ponds. Sometimes on lovely summer days a coyote pack is singing nearby. Contrary to most mountain hikes, this one drops 650 ft in elevation over the first 3 miles. Be careful to reserve some strength for the return!
The first section, to Cave Creek at 2.5 miles, with its myriads of beaver ponds, is a good children’s hike.
Drive south from Fairplay on Highway 285 5.0 miles to County Road 5, Weston Pass Road. Continue west 7.7 miles on County Rd 5 to County Road 455, or the next R after County Rd 5 joins County Rd 22. Drive carefully up the rutted dirt road about 1 mile. Park at an appropriate spot to avoid tearing up your car. Walk up the road to the signed Trailhead.
What it is
The trail begins on the north side of the formal parking area behind the trailhead sign. Gradually lose elevation through an older stunted aspen grove and contour east and north, crossing 2 small seasonal creeks. Cross Cave Creek with its active beaver ponds and continue on mixed aspen groves until the junction with Twelvemile Trail at 2.7 miles, just east of Twelvemile Creek crossing. (Late May 2007 the bridge was underwater.) Take either Sheep or Twelvemile Trails. Both trails are lovely, ascending on the east side of their respective creeks.
Twelvemile Creek has many beaver ponds and a broader valley, but the trail takes to an uninteresting abandoned 4-WD road at about mile 2.
Upper Sheep Creek trail is intimate and sheltered. A very long loop is possible by taking FR 173 from the top of Sheep Creek Trail to the upper trailhead of Twelve mile Trail, an additional 1.7 miles. Return via Twelve mile Trail.
The most beautiful segment of the South Park Trail is this northern segment. It is easy to moderate hiking. Traverse open high windy alpine meadows, with spectacular views in all directions. The destination is two lakes hidden in cirques below Square Top Mountain. The elevation gain is 600 feet over an old four-wheel drive road (now closed).
From Georgetown drive south on Forest Road 381 to Guanella Pass. The trail starts across the road from the parking at the Mount Bierstadt Trailhead
What it is
Begin at Guanella Pass, parking on the east side. Directly across the road is the South Park Trail, only marked by a Road Closed sign. Descend to a small creek, and then follow the old road west through open alpine meadows of grasses and sedges, indian paintbrush, owl clover, and patches of willow, monkshood, larkspur and elephanthead. The lower lake is shallow, but the upper lake is deeper, set back in the cirque.
This is a delightful, peaceful climb along Jefferson Creek to windy Georgia Pass. It is a highly recommended substitute for a parallel section of the Colorado Trail that is hot, dry and teeming with mountain bikers.
In the town of Jefferson, go west on Park County 35 (paved), 1.5 miles. Turn north onto County Road 37 (Jefferson Lake Road). Continue for about a mile to the fee station. The fee is for summer use of this area. (In June 2007, the fee was $5.00.) Continue on to Jefferson Creek Campground. Large active beaver ponds flank the road. Park just outside the campground. The trail starts at the west end of the campground.
This trail can be combined with the Colorado Trail for a loop. However, this section of the Colorado Trail is very dry and uninteresting, with lots of mountain bikers. If a loop is planned, it is recommended that you go uphill on the West Jefferson Trail.
What it is
Go into the campground to the west end where one can see the old road continuing through a gate. The first section of the trail is through a hot and dry area, but soon approaches the creek, with mosses and horsetails lining its banks. After a short rocky section, the trail crosses the creek over a substantial bridge to a narrow footpath, contouring for several miles on the north bank of the creek. This section is very pleasant with nice views to the creek, with golden willow bushes in September, and mature spruce and fir. For the next mile the trail is above the stream that now has turned in a northerly direction. Do not be confused with some Colorado Trail markers on the trees; some are marked correctly with ‘access to’. Climb above a tributary, finally cross it and continuing on the west side up numerous switchbacks into the cool, silent forest. Arrive at timberline. The trail is now visible ahead, crossing a small snow-covered cirque. Finally, in a high windy alpine meadow, the trail once again connects with the Colorado Trail. Excellent views are waiting about ¾ miles north on the Colorado Trail at Georgia Pass on the Continental Divide. The South Fork of the Swan River spreads out below. To the south is Mount Guyot, 13,370 feet.
Three-fourths of this hike is on a 4-wheel drive road, making for an easy walk. The road, however, is barely passable even in a 4-wheel drive vehicle and its condition worsens each year, so that I consider this basically a hiking trail. Woe to anyone who tries to drive it! It is EXTREMELY rough.
The trail is relatively flat through a lovely valley for 2.5 mi, then climbs quickly to the beautiful Wheeler Lake. A primitive path on the northwest side of the lake ascends 1/2 mi over a steep shelf to the unnamed lake above that I call Upper Wheeler Lake. The terrain of the upper lake is as raw as when the glacier melted, thousands of years ago.
From Alma, on Colorado 9 drive north 2.2 miles. Turn left onto a dirt road, Park County 4, on the east side of Placer Valley. Stay on the east side of the valley for three miles to the junction with FR 408, which is above and on the north side of the reservoir. Parking is ample on the north side above the reservoir. There may be some scattered parking spots available at the west end of the reservoir.
What it is
The trail/4 WD road parallels the Middle Fork of the South Platte River. The trail climbs steeply for 1/8 mi, to the Magnolia Mill. The river here tumbles over low glacier polished cliffs. Except for a short steep climb past the Mill, the trail rises gradually through a valley replete with willow groves. Occasional glimpses of the creek alternate with clusters of alpine flowers tucked under the willows. Watch for deer grazing on the south side of the valley, on the lower slopes of Mt. Lincoln. The walking is easy, except for skirting a massive bog hole at mile 1.5. At 2 miles the trail suddenly climbs diagonally across a cliff face below the lake. Climb 500 feet over 1/2 mile to arrive at the gorgeous cirque containing Wheeler Lake!
North of the lake is the massive ridge of the Continental Divide. Another tiny lake is hidden below the ridge, another 500 feet above Wheeler Lake. Follow a primitive path on the west side of the lake to the moderately steep scrambling path. Ascend (carefully) to the shelf above. The wild glaciated “Upper Wheeler Lake” appears just as it when the glacier melted!
This long trail is divided into two segments for day-hiking. The eastern segment parallels Wigwam Creek, with many cliffs and spires above the creek. Reaching the pass at 10,160 feet, the views to the west are splendid. The western segment follows Lost Creek in its broad flat valley, for 4 miles. Then there is a quick ascent to the pass.
East segment: From Bailey drive east on Colorado 68 (Forest Road 560), 4 miles to Estabrook. Continue on Colorado 68 one mile to Wellington Lake Road (Forest Road 560). Drive south on Wellington Lake Road past Wellington Lake. Keep on Forest Route 560, now named Stoney Pass Road. Four miles south of Stoney Pass, turn west on Forest Route 545. Drive 1.6 miles to the Wigwam Trailhead.
West segment: From Jefferson, drive north on Highway 285, one mile to County Road 56. Turn east and drive 18 miles to the Lost Park Campground. The trailhead is on the south side of the campground.
What it is
East: (Will Update Later
West: The distance one-way is 5 mi to the pass, requiring at least 5 hours roundtrip. Wigwam Trail is named after the creek on the east side of the wilderness. The west side of Wigwam Trail follows the valley of Lost Creek. Lost Creek gets lost numerous times in this flat broad valley, disappearing into the marshy ground, then reappearing. The creek then turns south at the mid point of the valley, plunging down the inaccessible 6 mile long Lost Creek Canyon. The Lost Creek keeps losing itself in the rocky tortured terrain, finally merging with Goose Creek. Start at the east end of the Lost Park Campground. The two branches of lost creek, the North and South Forks, merge just east of the campground. The first 1/2 mile of the trail descends through a steep but small gorge. The valley then opens into “East Lost Park” with extensive willow groves and bogs. Fortunately for the hiker, the trail stays out of most of the bogs, except for a short section at one mile.
The valley is warm and friendly with small cliffs to the north. The mixed open forest of pine and aspen contrasts with the low stands of willows. Continue on the south side of the valley to about 3 miles when the creek turns south for its rendezvous with Goose Creek. Start ascending to the east end of the valley to a pass at 10,000 feet, overlooking the Wigwam Creek valley.