This is one of the premier hikes in Park County. Although a rough and wet trail in spring and early summer, it passes through a delightful succession of vegetation zones from Ponderosa pine and aspen to the alpine tundra of windswept willow covered ridges. Chose either the north or south segment.
North: From Bailey drive west on Highway 285 7.5 miles to the trailhead clearly marked on the south side of the highway. There is parking for a few cars at the trailhead.
South: From Jefferson, drive one mile north on Highway 285 to Lost Park Road, County 56. Turn east and drive 7 miles to Rock Creek Road, FR 133. Travel north about one mile to the Rock Creek Trailhead. Park there or drive another ½ mile on a very rutted road to the Ben Tyler Trailhead.
What it is
North section: The trail starts out with twelve switchbacks in Ponderosa forest, gaining altitude rapidly, contouring around a small ridge to approach the stream at the bottom of the gulch. The next 2.5 miles are a delight, through large stands of aspen, with many wildflowers and nice views across the rather narrow valley to the northwest. Although the trail starts in the drier forest, it is a cool and moist hike because of its northwest orientation. Parts of the trail often run with several inches of water. The first mile is dry. The next mile continues on the south side of the stream, crossing at 2.5 miles, becoming steeper and more washed out. Now the terrain is open, with small aspen stands. It continues over irregular ground in a series of small switchbacks until it turns away from a delightful lunch spot near the stream and heads towards the top of the ridge. The summit of the ridge is a broad, gradually south sloping high open meadow of large groups of willows. In heavy snow years, it may be impossible to follow the trail over this broad meadow. Views of South Park are impressive here, with the ranch land of the Park spread out to the southwest. Distance for this section is 5.4 miles, or 5.4 hours roundtrip.
South section: The trail quickly enters the wilderness, following a closed 4 wheel-drive road. Hike along the picturesque Rock Creek, though cool, ancient forests. A short distance into the hike, cross the creek over a large timber bridge. Continue close to the stream, in the narrow valley, for a mile, passing an old lumber mill site. Then, unfortunately, the trail turns east, climbing through the dry, but forested hillside, for a rather boring mile. Cross over a small tributary and continue to climb steeply over many switchbacks to treeline. Happily, the expansive views to the south mandate a rest stop. The trail continues upward, but at a gentler pitch, contouring the hillside through willow bushes and over small boggy streamlets. Finally, a huge broad ridge covered with low willow bushes is ahead, presenting a challenge in route finding. Fortunately, 6-foot high posts are strategically located to guide the confused. Wander on the east side of the valley, through the islands of bushes to the apex of the pass at 11,640 feet. The pass, though always windy, has fabulous views in all directions. To the west is South Twin Cone Peak, 12,265 feet, and to the east are the Kenosha Mountains. Distance for this section is: 4.1 mi one way, or 4 hours roundtrip.
Primarily a horse trail, this trail has some interesting sections interspersed with sections through dry lodgepole pine covered hillsides. It is a good hike for people already camping nearby. The eastern side of the trail, described here, is the prettiest.
East: Park at the Burning Bear Trailhead. Walk south on Forest Route 118 over the bridge on Geneva Creek to trail sign on the right, or west side of the road, about 200 feet.
What it is
East: Go through the gate, securing it behind you. This trail is used very frequently by local dude ranches for horseback riding. Expect a wet and fragrant trail. The trail follows a tributary of Geneva Creek, Burning Bear Creek, for 3 miles, then climbs over a dry ridge covered with sparse lodgepole pines to Lamping Creek, the next drainage west. The first 0.5-mile is damp and slightly eroded, first crossing to the south side of Burning Bear Creek on a large footbridge. Here are small groupings of twinflowers and micro forests of lichen. The first 1.5 miles is in mixed lodgepole and aspen with occasional open meadow. At 1.5 miles the trail crosses to the north side of the creek and follows closely along the now tiny and intimate creek. The right side of the trail is the steep bank of the stream covered with colorful stands of potentilla. But soon the trail crosses a meadow and diverges from the creek to a dry lodgepole forest, climbing over the ridge. Reaching the ridge crest at 10,200, there is only a tiny view to the west. The trail descends steeply over quite rugged areas, to another tiny stream, Lamping Creek. For a short distance the trail continues through aspen and along small meadows, but because of its primary use as a horse trail, it again takes to the dry lodgepole forest hillside for the remainder of the descent to Hall Valley
The Colorado Trail traverses Park County through diverse vegetative zones. Four segments are interesting and scenic for hikers. All tend to be hot and dry. Bring extra water!
East of Kenosha Pass:
Kenosha Pass Trailhead to Rock Creek Trailhead
Rock Creek Trailhead east to Long Gulch Trailhead
Lost Creek Trailhead west to Long Gulch Trailhead.
West of Kenosha Pass:
4. Georgia Pass: Beaver Ponds Picnic Ground and Forest Road 401 (west of the town of Jefferson) to Georgia Pass.
1. Kenosha Pass Trailhead: Take Highway 285 to Kenosha Pass, 4 miles north of Jefferson. Park in designated parking on east or west side of road.
2. Rock Creek Trailhead: From Jefferson, drive north on Highway 285, 1 mile. Turn west on County Road 56, 6.5 miles to Rock Creek Road, Forest Road 133. The Trailhead is one mile further.
3. Lost Creek Trailhead: From Jefferson, drive north on Highway 285, 1 mile. Turn west on County Road 56. Drive east to the Lost Park Trailhead and Campground at 18 miles. (Long Gulch Trailhead is at 9.5 miles.)
4. Georgia Pass: From Jefferson, drive west on County Road 35, 2 miles to Forest Route 401, then north on Jefferson Lake Road, 3 miles to junction with 1776 at Beaver Ponds Picnic ground. Trailhead parking is beyond. A fee is charged for use of this area.
What it is
1. Kenosha Pass Trailhead: Begin on the east side of Kenosha Pass. Drive in a short distance on a dirt road to the marked trailhead sign. This section of 1776 is moderate and very scenic. The distance one-way is 6.5 mi to Rock Creek, requiring at least 6 hours roundtrip. It is entirely outside of the Wilderness area, so share the trail with mountain bikers. The first portion of the trail is a closed 4-wheel drive road that gradually climbs through aspen and bristlecone forest. A short distance along is a beautiful bench to rest and contemplate the gorgeous view into South Park. Travel east on a well-marked single-track, climb for 1.5 miles, and then continue along the ridge with more open views south. Follow the trail along the south facing hillside, keeping alert (and quiet) for elk. After a short descent to Johnson Gulch, cross a small bridge, then ascend on a deeply rutted trail through stands of ancient fire-scarred ponderosa pine to the junction with Forest Road 133 serving the Rock Creek Trailhead.
2. Rock Creek Trailhead: The distance one-way is 7.5 mi to Long Gulch Trailhead, requiring at least 7.5 hours roundtrip. Descend a long hot hillside to Rock Creek, avoiding the private land of several working ranches. Cross the creek on large timbers. Quickly ascend through an interesting dry meadow with sparse stands of Bristlecone pine. At 1.5 miles is a huge grandmother of a Bristlecone! Continue on through aspen and pine. Skirt the area called “Black Canyon”. Some portions of this trail are in dry lodgepole forests, with little other vegetation. At four miles, after a particularly boring section of pine forest, cross Black Canyon Creek, with a breath of coolness and moisture. Now cross over several dry ridges to a small valley populated by 8-ft tall willow bushes. After a short section around the next ridge, arrive at the junction with Forest Route 56, Long Gulch Trailhead.
3. Lost Creek Trailhead: The distance one-way is 9.3 mi to Long Gulch Trailhead, requiring at least 9 hours roundtrip. Hike north on the Brookside-McCurdy Trail #607. The first section turns westerly, to skirt a hillside below treeline until reaching the North Fork Trailhead. Cross the North Fork of Lost Creek. The Colorado Trail joins Brookside-McCurdy on the north bank. Continue to parallel the creek, just outside the border of the Wilderness. At four miles, Brookside-McCurdy turns north. Continue along the hillside just above the creek. Be careful because the open areas can be very dangerous in a lightning storm. This is an old pack trail called the Hooper Trail. Gradually gain elevation over 3 miles till about 10,800 ft, then descend over 2 miles to junction with Forest Route 56 at 10,000 ft.
4. Georgia Pass: The distance one-way is 5.7 miles, requiring at least 6 hours roundtrip. This section of trail seems to be made for mountain bikers, not hikers. It is hot and dry. Start at the Beaver Ponds picnic ground, where the Colorado and West Jefferson Trails merge. Descend to Jefferson Creek, crossing over and traveling westward on an old abandoned road for about 1.5 miles to the well-marked divergence of the trails. The Colorado Trail turns south into a rather dry gulch, called Ohler gulch, contouring westerly along a ridge, over many switchbacks till it finally gains the open meadows just below Georgia Pass. It can be combined into a loop with West Jefferson Trail.
One of my favorite hikes through warm high alpine meadows to French Pass with its 360 degree views from Summit County to the Lost Creek Wilderness!
From Jefferson, take County Road 35 west. Turn northwest at the junction with County Road 54. Drive past Michigan Creek Campground 4.5 miles to just before it crosses French Creek (no sign). Park at wide area on south side of creek. The trail is an old abandoned mining road with a “closed” sign on it near the southwest end of the parking area.
What it is
This trail follows a mining road for half its distance of 3.3 miles, then gradually ascends through an old logged area of mixed lodgepole, fir and spruce. Then beautiful alpine hiking begins through steep meadows of grasses and willows, over a small snowfield, to the summit of French Pass. There are marvelous views of Boreas Mountain, Volz Mountain, French Gulch and Mount Guyot. Follow the mining road two miles till it appears to dead-end at French Creek, soon after crossing an old avalanched area. Cross over on small logs placed over the creek. The trail faintly ascends the north side of the creek in a warm open meadow. Even as late as September, there are fields of harebells with clumps of Indian paintbrush. Continue on the north side of the creek, staying high to avoid willow bushes. Look for yellow ribbons on the willows and occasionally on the stunted trees, guiding the hiker through the maze of willows. Eventually, a more visible trail is seen, perhaps a remnant of an old road. Mentally mark where you joined this mining track so you can retrace your steps on the way down. (No harm done if you miss the yellow markers coming down, you will just find yourself at a more difficult stream crossing.) Now it is easy to follow the obvious trail in a northwesterly direction to French Pass. The last 100 to 200 feet may be over a snowfield.
Many years ago, my daughter and I were hiking this trail late in the fall. As we ascended, we were caught in a snowstorm. The snow was being blown perfectly horizontally down the main valley, leaving us relatively warm and dry in the lee of a hill.
From Bailey, drive west on Highway 285, 14 miles to County Road 60, at the old town site of Webster. Continue northwest for five miles over slow, bumpy dirt road (passenger car OK) to the Hall Valley Campground. Park outside the campground (to avoid a fee). Hike west on Forest Route 120 two miles to the trailhead to Gibson Lake. This two-mile section could be driven with a four-wheel drive vehicle; there are only two small, rough sections just past the campground.
What it is
At the trailhead (with a horse loading structure visible from Forest Route 120), descend a short distance through willow bushes to a sturdy footbridge over North Fork of the South Platte River. The trail ascends the south bank of the river and follows an old mining road west above the Lake Fork of the South Platte River. The trail rapidly becomes much steeper and rockier, with the old road branching off to the right even more steeply. Stay on the foot trail. At a few points, smaller trails branch to the left for better views of the stream. For a mile the trail switchbacks away from the stream, eventually leveling out to follow nearer the stream, with old fire sites visible. Soon the trail is at treeline, meandering through boulder fields dotted with columbine and Parry’s primrose. The last section of the trail from boulder field to lake is through boggy high tundra. The lake is in a cirque facing west at the base of Whale Peak (13,078 feet).
The trail has 3 segments. I have included the scenic north segment even though maps label this as “Old Boreas Wagon Road”. It.starts at treeline off Boreas Pass. The central segment is not very pretty, but has some historical features since it follows an old flume. The east segment is a bit more interesting and generally is a pleasant long hike.
North segment: Drive west from Como on Boreas Pass Road, County Road 33, 10 miles to just below the summit of Boreas Pass. About ½ mile east of the summit, look for a flat forest service pole marked “road closed” on the south or downhill side of Boreas Pass Road. Park above the closed road in the appropriate pullout area.
Central segment: From Como drive west on County Road 33, Boreas Pass Road, 3.3 miles, continuing straight as Boreas Pass Rd makes a hard right. This is Forest Route 50. Bear left, following the better-maintained road about 1 mile to the trailhead with well-marked parking on the south side of the road.
South segment: Same approach as Central segment.
What it is
North segment. The distance is 1.6 miles one-way, requiring 2 hours roundtrip. This segment is the most scenic but the steepest of the three segments. Follow the old abandoned road off the south side of Boreas Road. This old stage road contours above a tributary of North Tarryall Creek. Views to the west and south, to Red Mountain and Hoosier Ridge are spectacular. The treeline foliage is lush, with larkspur and elephanthead flowers. About one mile along the drainage, listen for the screeching of a nesting pair of hawks. The trail then continues steeply downhill with occasional glimpses of a branch of the North Tarryall Creek at the bottom of the narrow and steep gulch. The hiking is pleasantly warm on the west facing hillside, out of the chill wind of Boreas Pass Road. The last portion descends through lodgepole forest till it reaches Forest Route 801. There are very few blue diamond signs and no trail signs for the last ¾ mile. The road opens out into some old camping sites just on the northside of Forest Route 801. The central segment of trail #653 ends directly across Forest Route 801; it is only marked with a blue diamond.
Central segment (beginning at trailhead on Forest Route 50). The distance is 2.3 miles one-way, requiring 3 hours roundtrip. This segment does not have much to recommend it as far as beauty or views. It follows an abandoned ditch or flume, so perhaps it has some historical appeal. It is rocky and hot. The terrain is monotonous with its vegetation of scrawny lodgepole pine. It is not steep, except at the southern end for a short distance of 1/2 mi. Perhaps it has more beauty in the winter as a ski trail.
Walk 500 feet east from the trailhead on Forest Road 50 to the trail sign. The first ½ mile is through fir and spruce forest and then climbs steeply up to the flume. It quickly enters drier lodgepole pine forest, continuing east and north, following the contours of the land but descending slightly. There is much porcupine damage to the trees in certain sections. (Control your dog!) The trail then turns more northerly with occasional small springs lined with greener vegetation. There are extensive large animal trails crossing the wetter areas. Near the end of this segment is a large washed out section of the flume, easily circumvented. The trail is smoother now as it descends to North Tarryall Creek. The timbers set up as a bridge have been partially disrupted by heavy runoff, but are still easy to cross. It is a short distance to the junction with Forest Road 801.
This is the best hike in the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness, especially combined with the Rough and Tumbling Trail for a gorgeous 12 mile loop. This hike is a prime fall hike!
The Rich Creek Trail skirts the creek through lightly timbered slopes, entering a large open meadow at about three miles. After crossing over some large beaver dams, the trail traverses a low ridge to enter the Rough and Tumbling Creek drainage. R&T Creek Trail descends through another broad meadow, Buffalo Meadows, and descends steeply along the creek through deep forest to open meadows at 9 miles. After a strenuous climb over a final ridge, the trail descends very steeply to the Rich Creek Trailhead.
Drive South of Fairplay on US 285 for five miles. Turn west on Park County 5, Weston Pass Road. Drive southwest for 10 miles, merging with County Road 22. The trailhead is well marked on the south side of the road one mile before the Weston Pass Campground.
What it is
The Rich Creek trail begins just over the large timber footbridge, to the south side of the South Fork of the South Platte. After a short distance, the trail crosses Rich Creek twice, continuing on the north side of the creek. Pass on your right the junction with Ridgeview Trail 656, a connection to the Weston Pass Campground. Travel through cool aspen groves, one sheltering the remains of an old cabin. The trail becomes narrow, rocky, and steep for about 1/2 mile, until it reaches a broad U-shaped valley of beaver ponds and willows. The trail winds through low willows on flat terrain that is dotted with pasque flowers and sky pilots. How to get to the south side of the valley? My solution, since the bridge seems to have washed out, is to wade through the shallow water on the top of the largest beaver dam. Continue over a low ridge to an elevation of 11,600 feet, through spruce and fir forest (and occasionally snowfields) for another two miles to the Rough and Tumbling Creek drainage. Rich Creek Trail ends. Take the Tumble Creek Trail east through the broad U-shaped valley, Buffalo Meadows. The next three miles are relatively flat and easy, until reaching the mouth of the valley. The trail, rocky and steep, descends along the roaring creek through cool and ancient forests.
Finally, reach another meadow, with gorgeous views westward to the Buffalo Peaks. The trail leaves the wilderness as the Salt Creek Trail emerges from the east. Cross over the bridges, traveling on the west side of the creek on the Tumbling Creek Trail. Salt Creek Trail continues on the east side. Mountain bikers frequent both sections. Ascend over a ridge through small aspen groves over a hot and dusty hillside for one mile, gaining 200 feet in elevation. The trail then descends very steeply for another mile, to the Rich Creek Trailhead.
This trail would require about 13 hours hiking plus a two-car shuttle, to complete in one day. A southeast and a north segment are ideal for day hikes. The north segment as described here requires 2 cars.
Southeast: This segment has great views from open slopes and meadows with a final climb to a ridge between Tahana and Kataka Mountains, with breathtaking views into the Scott Gomer Creek drainage.
North: This segment begins at scenic Guanella Pass, travels above tree line for 2.5 miles. Then it drops into Scott Gomer Creek, following that drainage to Abyss Trail. The return to Forest Route 118 is via the Abyss Creek Trail #602. This requires 2 cars.
Southeast: Drive east from Bailey on Highway 285, 3 miles to the top of Crow Hill. Turn west on Forest Road 100 (County Road 43). Drive 9 miles, about one mile past Deer Creek Campground, to the Deer Creek Trailhead.
North: From Georgetown drive south to Guanella Pass on County Road 381 (Forest Road 381). Leave a car at the Abyss Trailhead on County Road 62 (Forest Road 118, the continuation of Forest Route 381 in Park County), 7.5 miles south of Guanella Pass.
Return to Guanella Pass. Park at the trailhead on the east side of the pass.
Alternatively, from Grant (12 miles west of Bailey), drive north on County Road 62 (Forest Road 118) to the Abyss Trailhead. Leave a car and proceed to Guanella Pass Trailhead.
What it is
Southeast: The distance one-way is 5.6 miles, requiring at least 6 hours roundtrip. Begin at the Deer Creek Trailhead, hiking on an abandoned road for about 1 mile. Tanglewood Trail #636 continues straight up the drainage. Turn west, traversing the hillside of Bandit Peak with lovely views over Deer Creek. Enter the Mt. Evans Wilderness at 2 miles. This pleasant trail begins to climb steeply along the sunny open hillside, finally reaching a broad flat pass. The reward is breathtaking views into the Scott Gomer Creek drainage and the rugged slopes of Mt. Evans and Mt. Bierstadt.
North: The distance one-way is 4.6 miles, requiring at least 5 hours roundtrip. Begin on the east side of scenic Guanella Pass. Climb steadily above treeline for 1 mile, gaining 200 feet in elevation. Now the trail goes down, down, into Scott Gomer Creek, losing 1000 ft in elevation. As the trail descends, the willows grow thicker and taller and fir and spruce appear, but never blocking the spectacular view to Tahana and Kataka Mountains. The junction with the Abyss Trail is a wonderful area to stop and rest. Rainbow trout jump for insects in the numerous beaver ponds.
The return to Forest Road 118 is via the Abyss Creek Trail #602. Unfortunately, the lower 2 miles of this 3.5 mile section of the Abyss Trail is an uninteresting worn pack trail in dry lodgepole forests.