This hike is an old pack trail. It is hot and wide for the first 2 miles then it turns into a large valley with beaver ponds, views and streams. The last 3 and an half miles of the trail is open meadows and tundra. This is a multi day hike.
You can enter this trail by driving 10 miles west from Bailey or 11 miles north from Jefferson on Highway 285 going towards Grant. Go north on Forest Route 118 for about 4 miles or so to the Abyss trail head. It is south of the burning bear campground. You can park right at the base of the trail head.
What it is
Ascend through a dry lodgepole pine forest on the broad pack trail. The Scott Gomer Creek is out of sight to the right. At 0.75 miles, cross over Francis Creek. Continue on the dry hillside for another mile, then parallel the creek for 2.0 miles, crossing twice. Look east to the barren slopes of Mount Kataka for the remnants of an old sluiceway. Views to the northwest include a 1000-ft cliff face on Geneva Mountain (elev. 12,335 ft) with beautiful stands of aspen. Watch for beaver ponds on the right containing small brook trout. The trail at 3.5 miles joins briefly with Rosalie Trail #603 before climbing east. (This is a good spot for an overnight camp.) Views are spectacular north to Guanella Pass and south to Kataka Mountain (elev. 12,441 feet).
Climb east up a steep, well-maintained narrower trail through mixed fir, spruce, and bristlecone. The trail reaches a ridge, then crosses over an unnamed creek from Frozen Lake. The remainder of the trail is above tree line, passing around the south flank of Mount Bierstadt. The trail winds around massive rocks, crossing the Lake Fork of Scott Gomer Creek a mile below Abyss Lake. Then it is an easy hike along the east side of the glacial cirque to the lake.
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).
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!
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!
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