“Oh no!” you say?
Many of our most popular trails in the area have been closed due to the Morgan Creek fire. But you are planning to take your visiting family or friends on your favorite hike in the Mount Zirkel wilderness.
What to do? Well, don’t despair.
Just as fire renews the earth, let it stimulate your urge to explore and discover other trails, panoramas and lakes, some even in other parts of the Zirkels.
If your first thought is to use the Devil’s Causeway hike as a backup, think again.
As if it was already too crowded, consider the conga line to the top if that’s everyone’s fallback trail. How can that be fun?
Here are a handful of alternatives with brief overviews. For more information, check the US Forest Service office for maps, search online, or refer to Diane White-Crane’s “Hiking the ‘Boat” guide.
Sarvis Creek Trail
Often overlooked but right in our backyard is the Sarvis Creek Wilderness. The upper portion of the namesake Sarvis Creek Trail is accessed via the Rabbit Ears Pass just off Buffalo Park Road. This area burned down heavily three years ago in the Silver Creek fire, giving visitors a good idea of its aftermath. The trail alternates between forests and lush meadows. Walk as far as you want, then turn around or hike to the bottom near Stagecoach Lake for a total one-way distance of 12.2 miles. Alternatively, the lower end of the trail makes for a nice day hike. Get there via Routt County Road 18.
Silver Creek Trail
The Silver Creek Trail is also found in the Sarvis Wilderness. The upper end is reached via Buffalo Park Road / Routt County Road 100. The first 1.5 miles follows an old logging road before it becomes a narrow footpath. Walk as far as you want or backpack up and down to cover the 11 miles. The lower end is next to Routt County Road 16. The first mile of trail is a good climb, but you can take breaks and enjoy some nice views of the Morrison Creek valley below. And if you walk far enough you will reach a beautiful swimming hole.
Big Creek Falls
What is another named waterfall in our area other than Fish Creek Falls and Upper Fish Creek? How about Big Creek Falls near Walden? This relatively flat, 5-mile round-trip hike begins at the Big Creek Lakes Campground and Recreation Area and enters the Zirkel Wilderness. Part of the trail winds through the remains of the 2016 Beaver Creek fire and thus offers plenty of wild flowers of willowherb if you plan your trip well.
Buff Pass Lakes
If your vehicle is equipped for very rough roads, there are a handful of pretty alpine lakes at the top of Routt County Road 60 in Buffalo Pass. The trail is unofficial, but you can find it next to the toilets at Summit Lake Campground. You’ll quickly pass the Zirkel Wilderness limit sign, then descend back down to Lake Jonah, a favorite with anglers. Other lakes along this short loop include Whale, Shoestring, Martha, and George, all reached within hours. Make sure to bring a map and a compass. A GPS is also handy.
Sand stream trail
On the northeast edge of Flat Tops Wilderness is the Sand Creek Trail. Starting at Sheriff Reservoir, the trail takes you past four pretty lakes for 1.2 miles – Spring, Camel, Crater, and Sand. Little Flat Top Mountain rises above Sand Lake – one photo opportunity in particular. If you want to hike further, the trail opens up to wide panoramas for a stretch of about 3 km.
Bob Korch is a Trail Team Leader with Friends of Wilderness, which helps the US Forest Service maintain trails and educate the public about the wilderness areas of Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek, and Flat Tops. For more information, visit FriendsOfWilderness.com.