Wager Gulch (12,350′), San Juan Range

Wager Gulch (12,350′), San Juan Range

Wager Gulch (12,350′), San Juan Range

The road up Wager Gulch (high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle recommended), leads to the remnants of the abandoned mining town of Carson, on the way up to the Continental Divide and beyond. Founded in 1889, Carson reached its peak at the turn of the century when some 500 miners worked the mountain. Carson fell victim to the harsh winters of Colorado, being situated almost directly on the Continental Divide. It was considered one of the most inaccessible mining camps in Colorado. To access, take Wager Gulch road located south of Lake City, immediately off the Alpine Loop.

While in the area you may also want to explore Hurricane (12,730′) and California Pass (12,960′)  which intersect further northwest along the Alpine Loop. Stony Pass provides a route to the headwaters of the Rio Grande river.

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Trail Directions

 

From Lake City enter the Alpine Loop on County Road 30. From there take the Wager Gulch Rd turnoff heading south.

As you start Wager Gulch road continue uphill following Wager Creek. Continue on switchbacks as you climb above the creek and head through the forest. Stay on the main road.

After numerous switchbacks the road will cross an open area of the gulch with Carson Mountain to the west. At the next intersection the left road will take you to the ghost town of Carson, which is visible just across Wager Creek. There is an area to park and explore the buildings. Keep in mind that they are private property so repect the property. A short distance up the gulch from the town are the tailings of two mines. The road will top out on the Continental Divide and descend southward.

Trailhead Directions

Alpine Loop (12,800′), San Juan Range

Alpine Loop (12,800′), San Juan Range

Alpine Loop (12,800′), San Juan Range

The Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway is a rugged 4×4 road that winds through the spectacular scenery of the San Juan Mountains, connecting Lake City, Silverton, and Ouray. The loop traverses passes up to 12,800 feet while showcasing old mines, ghost towns, natural wonders, beautiful wildflowers, and abundant wildlife. Take a 10 minute detour while on the way to Cinnamon Pass to treat yourself to American Basin, one of the most beautiful places in Colorado.

Tackling the loop in its entirety is easily an all-day adventure. However, the main loop is only part of the experience; miles of designated side routes allow visitors to either take a short tour or extend their trip to multiple days. Hurricane (12,730′) and California Pass (12,960′) are two such examples that take you north from the Alpine Loop. For something closer to Lake City, tackle Wager Gulch to the Continental Divide.

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Trail Directions

Tucked away in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado is the Alpine Loop National Backcountry Byway. Located northeast of Silverton, Colorado in San Juan and Hinsdale Counties, the circular route makes its way from Lake City south along CO-149, to County Road 30, which turns west over Cinnamon Pass (12,640 feet) to Animas Forks, and then returns east over Engineer Pass (12,800) back to Lake City along County Road 20. The loop is best traveled in a clockwise direction.

From Lake City enter the Alpine Loop on either County Road 30 or County Road 20. From Silverton enter the Alpine Loop on County Road 2. From Ouray enter the Alpine Loop on County Road 18.

Trailhead Directions

Greenhorn Mountain (12,352′), Wet Mountain Range

Greenhorn Mountain (12,352′), Wet Mountain Range

Greenhorn Mountain (12,352′), Wet Mountain Range

Greenhorn Mountain is the highest summit of the Wet Mountain range, located on the southern end of the range. Greenhorn Mountain can be seen from Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Trinidad, and also from along Interstate 25 rising over 7,000 feet (2,100 m) above the great plains to the east. The mountain range is protected within the secluded Greenhorn Mountain Wilderness Area, which has few trails, accessible for hiking or horseback only.

The seclusion of the area means driving on a dirt road for over 20 miles to reach the upper trailhead. During the summer of 2021 the road was well maintained and can be easily travelled by most stock vehicles in dry conditions. 

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Trail Directions

From the upper trailhead I made a loop that includes both the south and north summits. If you choose to hike the loop counterclockwise like I did, head southeast along the Bartlett Trail for a little over a mile. As the trail begins to wrap around the Greenhorn Mountain summit cone, leave the trail on the southern side of the mountain, and continue a half-mile climb to the summit.  Note: There is no trail to the summit.

From the summit, you can retrace your route back to the trailhead if wind and bad weather are a problem. If the day is clear, a more scenic option is to traverse the easy ridge heading north. To return to the trailhead, I decended off the second saddle, down the west slope of the ridge back to the Bartlett trail close to the trailhead.

Trailhead Directions

Music Pass (11,450′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Music Pass (11,450′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Music Pass (11,450′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Music Pass is a east/west pass across the southern Sangre de Cristo range connecting the Wet Valley in the east with the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve on the western side. The road gets progressively worse as you near the trailhead, so without a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle, you should park at the Grape Creek Trailhead and hike the last 2.5 miles to the Music Pass trailhead. The trail stats assume that you are beginning your hike at the Music Pass Trailhead. 

Reaching the pass, you have a stunning views of the Upper Sand Creek basin that includes 13ers Marble Mountain, Milwaukee Peak, Music Mountain, and Tijeras Peak.

The Sangre de Cristo range has a wide range of remote and rugged hikes, such as Lily Lake, South Colony Lakes, and Humboldt Peak

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Trail Directions

From the parking area at the end of Music Pass Road the trail immediately enters a dense conifer forest as it begins climbing toward the pass. Initially you won’t see much but trees, but after about a mile the forest starts to become more open, giving you some great views of the Wet Mountain Valley on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Finally, just before reaching the pass you will pass a sign indicating that you are entering the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve, an extension of the Great Sand Dunes National Park on the western side of the range. This point also marks the eastern boundary of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area.

Trailhead Directions

Potato Lake (9,800′), San Juan Range

Potato Lake (9,800′), San Juan Range

Potato Lake (9,800′), San Juan Range

Spud Lake Trail #661 to Potato Lake is beautiful and short, with minimal elevation gain, making this an extremely popular hike. Passing through aspen glades, it offers excellent views of Engineer Mountain, Grayrock Peak, and Spud Mountain, along with good views of the Needle Mountains to the east. The natural lake has excellent fishing and a pleasant place to relax. This is a great summer hike for all ages, and the aspen leaves during the fall can be spectacular. Spud Lake has excellent fishing for brook trout and cutthroat trout.

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Trail Directions

Drive approximately 28.5 miles north on U.S. 550. Just past the bridge over Cascade Creek, turn right onto Lime Creek Road, #591. Follow road for about 3 miles. High clearance vehicles recommended for last part of road. Trailhead is on the north (left) side of road across the street from a beautiful pond full of lilies. 

The trailhead is unmarked but the trail itself is well defined. There are no trail junctions, so just follow the trail to the lake, passing beside beaver ponds until you reach Potato Lake.

Trailhead Directions

Lily Lake (12,385′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Lily Lake (12,385′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Lily Lake (12,385′), Sangre de Cristo Range

This trail is one of the more beautiful in the state with lots of bang for your buck.  The trail starts out at 10,400 feet, hiking in an beautiful valley surrounded by huge mountain scenery, and is virtually flat.   So if you don’t want to make the climb up to Lilly Lake you still have amazing views and really great creek fishing with lots of good camping options on the valley floor.

If you make the hike up, you can see Mt. Lindsey, Mt. Blanca, Mt. Ellingwood, and the Iron Nipple from Lilly Lake.  From the Valley you can see all but Lindsey. Lilly Lake offers amazing views, an alpine environment just above treeline.

The Sangre de Cristo range has a wide range of remote and rugged hikes, such as Music Pass, South Colony Lakes, and Humboldt Peak .

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Trail Directions

From the trailhead, follow clear signs to the Lily Lake Trail (there are no other trails at this TH). Head south and walk through a large meadow. From here, you can see the Blanca Massif straight ahead, with the Iron Nipple (13er) across the basin to its left. Hike one mile on mostly flat, clear terrain before coming to a trail junction with a sign for Lily Lake. Stay right (left will take you up Mt. Lindsey).

Continue up through the forest on excellent trail. You’ll continue to gain little elevation – just 1,500 ft over almost 3 miles from this point on. For most of the hike, Huerfano River will be on your left. At about 3 miles from the trailhead, at 11,600 ft, cross it and come to a large clearing with some boulders ahead and to your right. Loop up and back to your right, dipping briefly back into the forest. Just before the lake you come to a headwall just below the lake. Continue up and reach the lake at around 12,385 ft.

Trailhead Directions

Pancake Rocks (11,060′), Front Range

Pancake Rocks (11,060′), Front Range

Pancake Rocks (11,060′), Front Range

Pancake Rocks Trail shares the trailhead used to reach Horsethief Falls for the first .7 miles. The trail climbs trough heavy forest before leveling out near the two trail junctions. At the second junction you can go straight for a .5 mile trip to Horsethief Falls, or turn right to reach the interesting stacked pancake looking granite formations 2 miles away.

The Crags are also nearby and a great hike to a scenic overlook.

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Trail Directions

The trail starts on the SE corner of the parking lot. Trail #704 to Horsethief Park begins by climbing steeply into a dense forest. Once the terrain levels out you come across a left turn marked with a ring-the-peak signpost. Say straight at the junction to continue to Horsethief Falls.

There is ample signage at the second trail junction, where you will head to the right (south) up Pancake Rocks Trail. The are many switchbacks and the trail is steep. 

Once you gain the ridgeline, the rest of the hike is on easier terrain. The trail winds along the ridge and drops in elevation before reaching Pancake Rocks.  

Trailhead Directions

Mosquito Pass (13,185′), Mosquito Range

Mosquito Pass (13,185′), Mosquito Range

Mosquito Pass (13,185′), Mosquito Range

Mosquito Pass was built to connect the towns of Alma to the east, with Leadville to the west. It is the highest crossable vehicle mountain pass in the U.S. outside of Alaska. While there are higher vehicle passes, they are all out and back. The trail crosses the Continental Dividebetween the Arkansas and South Platte Rivers.

The Mosquito Range is also home to five 14,000′ peaks;  Mt Sherman Mt Democrat, Mt Cameron, Mt Lincoln, and Mt Bross.

Mosquito Pass Elevation Map

The top of the pass is the turnaround point for the 21-mile course of the Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation’s burro races, held the first weekend of August each year and part of the Leadville Boom Days heritage festival.

Each June, hundreds of people run to the top of the pass in the Leadville Trail Marathon and Heavy Half Marathon, part of the CenturyLink Leadville Race Series.

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Route Directions

From Fairplay, follow Colorado Highway 9 north for 4 1/5 miles to County Road 12 (Mosquito Pass Road) and turn left.  The tour begins quickly after turning off Highway 9.

Trailhead Directions

Stony Pass (12,592′), San Juan Range

Stony Pass (12,592′), San Juan Range

Stony Pass (12,592′), San Juan Range

Stony Pass Rd crosses the Continental Divide and follows small streams that make up the headwaters of the Rio Grande River. The road was created in 1872 to connect the area’s mining operations in Silverton to the town of Del Norte. The Continental Divide Trail crosses the road at Hunchback Pass (12,493′) on it’s way from Mexico to Canada.

The San Juan Range is home to world class outdoor recreation. The Alpine Loop, American Basin, California & Hurricane Pass, and Mt Sneffels are a few examples of the natural beauty of the area.

 

The road crosses the headwaters of the Rio Grande near Kite Lake.

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Trail Directions

County Road 3 to Stony Pass (heading east) is a well graded and a easy drive to the top in a stock vehicle (in good weather). Once on the east side of the pass, an off-road vehicle is recommended because the road gets progressively more difficult until Kite Lake.

Pole Creek, a water crossing on the east side of the pass, can be very deep in the spring, making it impossible to cross.

 

Trailhead Directions

Shelf Road (9,494′), Fourmile Canyon

Shelf Road (9,494′), Fourmile Canyon

Shelf Road (9,494′), Fourmile Canyon

Shelf Road Gold Belt Tour National Scenic Byway is a dirt road passable with a 2WD vehicle in good weather. It follows the old stagecoach route between Cripple Creek and  Cañon City built in 1892. It twists along Fourmile Creek, with long bands of limestone towering above and below the road. 

The Gold Belt Tour was designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation as a National Scenic Byway in 2000. It is one of eleven America’s Byways designated in Colorado. Fremont Peak and the Royal Gorge Bridge are located not far from the southern end of the road and are a favorite in the area.

A sport climber’s dream, with bolted routes on stable limestone

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Route Directions

When entering the road in Cripple Creek there is a sign that recommends a 4×4 or a high clearance vehicle. The road, however, is well graded but issues could occur if snow or heavy rains hit the area. Any passenger vehicle can easily drive this road in good weather.

Trailhead Directions

Flat Tops Scenic Byway (10,343′), Flat Tops

Flat Tops Scenic Byway (10,343′), Flat Tops

Flat Tops Scenic Byway (10,343′), Flat Tops

Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway (County Road 8), runs through the northern portion of the Flat Tops Wilderness. The Flat Tops is Colorado’s second largest Wilderness, spanning a total of 235,214 acres.

Part of the White River Plateau, the wilderness has an average elevation of 10,000 feet. Approximately 110 lakes and ponds, often unnamed, dot the country above and below the numerous flat-topped cliffs. The valleys and relatively gentle land above the cliffs offers over 160 miles of trails to explore.

Trappers Lake is located at the halfway point, and is well worth a short detour.

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Trail Directions

 Starting from the east side in Yampa, take County Road 8 to the west.

The road soon begins to climb until you reach Dunkley Pass at 9,763′.

After descending the pass, the road begins to climb again very quickly until you reach the highest point on the byway, Ripple Creek Pass 10,343′.

Continuing west you soon reach the Trappers Lake turnoff. This marks the 1/2 point of the byway.

Soon after the Trappers Lake turnoff the road becomes paved the rest of the way to Meeker. Its a slow decent with large ranches in the lush valley.

Trailhead Directions

Trappers Lake (9,627′), Flat Tops

Trappers Lake (9,627′), Flat Tops

Trappers Lake (9,627′), Flat Tops

Roughly a mile and a half long and half a mile wide, reaching depths of 180 feet, Trappers Lake is the second largest natural lake in Colorado after Grand Lake. You reach the lake by taking the Flat Tops Scenic Byway from Yampa or Meeker.

The area is as wild today as it was when it was first discovered. In 1891 White River, which includes the Flat Tops, became one of the first two National Forests in the U.S.

The trail around the lake is named for Arthur Carhart, whose survey near the lake in 1919 inspired him to recommend preserving the area without development for future generations to enjoy. Arthur Carhart’s efforts set the stage for the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the National Wilderness Preservation System which includes Trappers Lake and the rest of the Flat Tops Wilderness.

The trailhead is adjacent to the beautiful Trappers Lake Overlook.

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