Weekend Backpacker: Denver
Routt National Forest
925 Weiss Drive
Steamboat Springs, CO 80487
Expect to see sweeping views of northern Colorado from Mount Zirkel Wilderness in the Routt National Forest. You'll hike through high alpine meadows, which are typically in full bloom in late July and August. Because of its heavy snowfall, this area is often inaccessible even on the Fourth of July, so plan to hike here late in the summer. In fact, Buffalo Pass receives some of the deepest snowpack in the state. Besides meadows, hiking trails here also run through conifer forests where deer, elk, and bear make their homes.
Recommended hike: Start at the Buffalo Pass trailhead on the Wyoming Trail and head north as far as you like. Because this trail is also part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which links Canada and Mexico, you could literally hike for hundreds of miles.
For a peaceful overnight experience, hike about seven miles to Lake Elbert and then on to Luna Lake, another one to two miles away. Camp overnight and then head back on the same trail the next day. This is a moderate to easy hike. The elevation is about 10,300 feet at the trailhead and there are no major climbs. The trail undulates somewhat, but the elevation remains about the same for the entire hike.
Getting there: Getting there is half the adventure. The trailhead is located about 3.5 hours from Denver. In Steamboat Springs, turn north on 6th Street and look for the signs for Buffalo Pass and Strawberry Park. Head north on Strawberry Park Road (gravel) and then take the eastern fork to Buffalo Pass. Travel 11 miles on a winding gravel road to the trailhead near the Summit Lake Campground.
Camping: Wilderness camping is permitted, but tents must be set back 100 feet from lakes, streams, and trails. Come prepared to treat drinking and cooking water. Always camp on durable surfaces.
Permit: No permit required.
Maps: Available at the United States Forest Service office on Highway 40 in Steamboat Springs. Recommended maps include Clark/Buffalo Pass (Trails Illustrated map #117).
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication