Coloradoand39;s Incredible Backcountry Trails  by David Day

Colorado's Incredible Backcountry Trails

by David Day (Rincon Publishing)
Coloradoand39;s Incredible Backcountry Trails  by David Day
Nowhere in the American West is the splendor of nature more vividly displayed then in Colorado. The state's majestic mountains have long held a magnetic attraction for explorers and adventurers of all kinds, and although the emphasis has now shifted to outdoor recreation the allure continues. This book offers detailed descriptions of Colorado's most interesting and scenic trails, but what makes it unique is David Day's breathtaking photography. Over 350 remarkable color photographs say more about Colorado's off-road treasures than words alone ever could.

© 2009 David Day/Rincon Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Colorado's Incredible Backcountry Trails" Guide Book
87 Trail Guides

Although it’s size today is scarcely a shadow of its former mass, Arapaho Glacier still retains the distinction of being Colorado’s largest glacier. It is only about a quarter-mile long, a half-mile wide, and 200 feet thick-tiny by world standards. Nevertheless, it really is a glacier and not just a snowfield. Geologists from the University of Colorado have confirmed that it is still moving, ever so slowly, so it is classified as a true glacier. Arapaho is also one of the state’s most easily accessible glaciers. It is situated only 3.5 miles from the Fourth of July Trailhead, and there is an excellent viewpoint high above its southern slopes in a shallow pass between Caribou Peak and South Arapaho Peak.
Nederland, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 9.1
There were few good roads in Colorado before the turn of the century, and one of the greatest challenges faced by miners was transportation. Discovering the gold or silver was often the easy part. After a claim was staked the early miners were faced with the problem of getting their ore to a mill and bringing in tons of equipment so they could process the ore closer to the mine. They often struggled mightily to build roads and trails through the rugged mountains without the help of modern machinery. The Bear Creek Trail now stands as a monument to the determination and perseverance of Colorado’s nineteenth century miners. It was originally built in the mid-1870s, and rerouted to its present location 20 years later.
Ouray, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 7.6
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The first 1.3 miles of this hike are along the Red Elephant Nature Trail, named after a prominent peak four miles south of Big Creek Lake in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. Red Elephant Mountain is clearly visible from Upper Big Creek Lake at the end of the nature trail. A Forest Service pamphlet, available at the trailhead, describes the fauna and flora along the trail at 25 numbered stops.
Walden, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 4.8
Several variations of the hike through Big Dominguez Canyon are possible, depending on how far you want to walk and what you want to see. If you want to walk the entire length of the canyon you can begin at the Dominguez Campground trailhead and walk to the Gunnison River at Bridgeport. The total distance of that hike is 16.6 miles, hence it is recommended as an overnighter. The trail is not maintained, but it is still generally easy to follow. It begins in a forest of pinion pine and Douglas fir, and slowly descends along the canyon bottom to the high desert environment of Bridgeport. There are plenty of good camp sites along the way, and water is normally not a problem.
Grand Junction, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 7
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The Black Canyon of the Gunnison River is surely one of the most awesome spectacles in Colorado. The canyon’s average depth is 2,000 feet, and in many places it is much deeper. But the characteristic that makes the canyon so unusual is the sheerness of its walls. At the Painted Wall, for example, the gorge is 2,300 feet deep, yet the horizontal distance from the river to the edge of the north rim is scarcely 500 feet. Adding to the visual effect of the seemingly bottomless chasm is the dark color of the metamorphic gneiss and schist that make up most of the inner canyon walls. This ancient stone was formed during Precambrian time and is well over a billion years old. It is also extremely hard, and to a large extent that is why the walls are so sheer. The hard, crystalline rock has great compressive strength, and it does not erode away as fast as a softer material might.
Delta, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 7.2
This is one of those hikes that offers a big reward for relatively little work. Blue Lake is only 2.4 miles from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead with an elevation gain of just 830 feet, yet it is one of the prettiest lakes you will see in the Front Range. It is just above timberline with the picturesque Mount Toll rising above the Continental Divide on its western side, and it is deep enough to have a cold steely blue color. As an added bonus, a 20-foot waterfall pours into the lake from the foot of Mount Toll, fed by the year-round snowfields that adorn its steep slopes.
Boulder, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.6
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Traveling west of Ridgway on Highway 62 one cannot help but be impressed by the long, rugged line of mountain peaks that lie directly south of the road. Nearly all of the summits rise above the 13,000-foot level, but there is one peak in particular that dominates the scene: Mount Sneffels. At 14,150 feet above sea level, Sneffels stands over 300 feet higher than its nearest neighbor; it is the only fourteener in the area. In 1980 the land between Mount Sneffels and North Pole Peak, 7.5 miles to the west, was designated as the Mount Sneffels Wilderness Area, and today few outdoorsmen can gaze at the dramatic mountain scenery without feeling the urge to explore. There are only a few trails leading into the wilderness area, but in my opinion the Blue Lakes Trail ranks among the best.
Ouray, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 8.6
Isolated as it is in the southeastern corner of Rocky Mountain National Park, Wild Basin seems almost to be a private reserve for hikers. There are no paved roads here and no visitors centers-only pristine alpine lakes, rushing waterfalls, and about 30 miles of foot trails. In 1974 the Park Service proposed that Wild Basin be included as part of a new Enos Mills Wilderness Area. Congress still has not acted on their recommendations, but to their credit they are already managing the area as if it were a designated wilderness.
Allenspark, CO - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 13.8
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It is common for hikers to begin this trek at the North Brush Creek Trailhead near the end of Forest Road 337; however in my opinion it makes better sense to start at the Peerless Mine Trailhead described here. The round trip distance to the lakes from Peerless Mine is nearly five miles shorter; hence it is relatively easy to walk from there to the lakes as a day hike. The Brush Creek Lakes are two of the largest lakes in the Sangre de Cristo Range, and the fishing can be good. Also, they are not as frequently visited as many other lakes in the vicinity, so you can usually expect more solitude there. The lakes are situated right on the edge of timberline in a picturesque alpine cirque just east of Thirsty Peak (13,213 ft.) and Lakes Peak (13,375 ft.). Unfortunately the talus slopes below the surrounding peaks extend all the way to the water’s edge, and the jagged boulders make it impossible to enjoy a pleasant stroll around the lakes. Furthermore, good campsites near the lakes are limited.
Westcliffe, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 8
The Buffalo Meadows Loop is a somewhat long but very pleasant day hike that will take you through an interesting variety of mountain ecosystems. The route starts at the South Fork of the South Platte River and follows Rich Creek, a smaller tributary, to its headwaters. It then crosses a gentle alpine pass and drops down into the wide grassy valley known as Buffalo Meadows. From there the trail follows the Rough and Tumbling Creek down into a gorgeous riparian area that includes numerous beaver dams and lodges. Finally, the trail climbs up over the ridge that separates Rough and Tumbling Creek from the South Fork South Platte and returns to the trailhead.
Breckenridge, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 11.4
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The Cache la Poudre River is, by many accounts, the most scenic river in Colorado. In 1973 the U.S. Congress added it to its official list of America’s Wild and Scenic Rivers, and even today it remains the only waterway in the state to enjoy this status. Because of its federal designation the river has also enjoyed certain legal protections; consequently it still retains much of its original pristine charm. The Cache la Poudre is currently the only river in Colorado’s Front Range that is still free-flowing and undammed along its entire 70-mile length. After this hike I think you will agree it is a jewel worth saving.
Fort Collins, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 11.8
A wall of water surged into Denver after the failure of the Castlewood Dam seventyfive years ago. Built in 1890, Castlewood Dam had been in service for 43 years when it ruptured. Two people were killed, but it would likely have been thousands had it not been for the actions of an alert telephone operator named Nettie Driscoll who was on duty that night 20 miles downstream. She was informed of the failure at about 2:00 a.m. by the dam caretaker, and managed to relay a warning to the Denver police before fleeing for her own life. Today about a third of the old dam still stands in Castlewood Canyon State Park on the west bank of Cherry Creek. This trail passes just below it. The canyon seems so tranquil now, but gazing up at the dam it isn’t difficult to imagine the horror that existed on that fateful summer morning. The eastern half of the dam, some 300 feet of rock and concrete, were almost completely swept away.
Franktown, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.9
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The downside of the Chicago Lakes hike is that in includes a mile of monotonous road walking followed by another mile through the scorched remains of an old forest fire. Fortunately, the fire stopped short of the lakes themselves, and it is the last mile of the trail that really makes the hike worthwhile. The Chicago Lakes are extraordinarily scenic. The first lake is tucked away in the back of a steep glacial valley with thousand-foot granite cliffs plunging down to its eastern shore. The second lake rests 400 yards further south above a 300-foot wall of broken cliffs and steep grassy slopes. In my opinion this hike is not worthwhile unless you plan to go all the way to the upper lake. The lower lake is very attractive, but its scenic rewards are just not sufficient to justify two hours of walking on a road and through a burned area. The rugged beauty of the upper lake and the awesome view looking down onto the lower lake from above are the real prizes of the hike. The lakes are especially pretty in late morning, before the wind picks up but after the sun is high enough to clear the surrounding cliffs.
Idaho Springs, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 9.2
Aspen, probably the best known town in the Colorado Rockies, is famous largely because of its location on the northern edge of the spectacular Elk Mountains. Six of the state’s fabled 14,000-foot peaks are located in this range, including the Maroon Bells, the most recognizable of all of Colorado’s fourteeners. The area has long been noted for its scenic beauty, and in 1964 Congress established the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area south of Aspen. This was one of Colorado’s five original wilderness areas, and today it receives more visitors each year than any other Forest Service managed land in the state. The crest of the Elk Mountains runs roughly in a northwest-southeast direction some 14 miles south of Aspen, and hikers often backpack across the mountains to the town of Crested Butte on the other side of the ridge. People interested in doing this trip generally have three trails to choose from.
Aspen, CO - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 17.6
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Crag Crest is a particularly scenic section of the long east-west ridge that separates western Colorado’s Grand Mesa into its Gunnison and Colorado River watersheds. Some sources claim that the 50-square-mile mesa is the largest flat-topped mountain in the world. It rises abruptly from the desert environment east of Grand Junction into a lush conifer forest averaging over 10,000 feet above sea level. Dozens of deep blue lakes lie just below the crest of the mesa, making this an especially pretty hike. About 10 million years ago a series of volcanic eruptions covered the top of the Grand Mesa with a thick layer of basaltic rock, and from all appearances Crag Crest must have been a major volcanic vent during the eruptions. Today the rocky ridge rises 500 feet above the surrounding plateau. Over the course of time the great weight of the volcanic deposits pressing down on the mesa caused the land to tilt slightly inward, forming long, narrow depressions along the top of the mesa. These depressions eventually became the jewel-like lakes that are now scattered below the ridge.
Grand Junction, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 9
Dark Canyon is often explored as a short day hike from the Erickson Springs Trailhead. From there the trail follows along the north side of Anthracite Creek, entering almost immediately into one of the most scenic parts of Dark Canyon. Anthracite Creek is a fast-flowing stream that is very popular with fly fishermen, and Erickson Springs Campground is conveniently located just a few hundred feet from the trailhead. The walk up Anthracite Creek makes a fine alternative to the hike described below if a shuttle to the Horse Ranch Park Trailhead cannot be arranged. If a shuttle can be arranged, however, I recommend beginning your hike at Horse Ranch Park. The total distance between the two trailheads is 13.6 miles, which may be too long for some, but the trail is an easy, mostly downhill path. Furthermore you probably won’t see anyone else until you reach Anthracite Creek.
Crested Butte, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 13.6
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The Delores River, which drains the western side of the Uncompahgre Plateau and the San Juan Mountains, offers an often-overlooked hiking opportunity near the Utah border. The waterway is particularly scenic where it flows between the towns of Slick Rock and Bedrock, for here it has carved a winding gorge in the desert sandstone that is frequently over a thousand feet deep. This section of river, called the Delores River Canyon, has been recommended for designation as a wild river under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the surrounding terrain is also being studied by the Bureau of Land Management as a possible wilderness area.
Grand Junction, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.4
Rocky Mountain National Park’s East Inlet Trail is well known to hikers for its scenic waterfalls and gorgeous alpine lakes. For 7.8 miles the trail follows a fastflowing creek through a pristine U-shaped valley, passing two waterfalls and four lakes along the way. In an effort to maintain the pristine quality of the valley the Park Service restricts overnight camping to 7 established sites along the trail. You will be assigned a campsite when you receive your backcountry permit. My favorite sites are the Lake Verna and Upper East Inlet Campsites, but unless you make advance reservations you will probably have to settle for one of the sites further down the canyon. The hike described here ends at Fourth Lake; however if you are looking for more adventure you will find a faint, unmaintained trail than continues from Fourth Lake further up the inlet to Fifth Lake. Fifth Lake is not well visited because it is 500 feet higher than Fourth Lake, and the steep, primitive trail is often obliterated by winter avalanches.
Grand Lake, CO - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 15.6
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This hike is most notable for the panoramas that can be seen from the summit of Colorado’s highest named mountain pass. No fewer than five of the state's 14,000-foot peaks can be seen from the 13,500-foot vantage point. The area is also home to a fair number of mountain goats, and when I did this hike in the summer of 2002 there were Cathedral Peak through a shimmering forest of quaking aspen, paralleling Castle Creek Road for the first ten minutes until it reaches Pine Creek. It then bends to the right and follows the creek upward in a westward direction for the next 1.1 miles. The steep terrain prevents the trail from approaching the stream too closely, but the sounds of the rushing water are never far away. Over the next mile the trail gains 1,000 feet of elevation as it struggles to stay above the cascading creek.
Aspen, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 8.7
Emmaline Lake is one of those scenic alpine jewels that make hiking in Colorado so enjoyable. It is set in a deep mountain cirque on the northern side of the Mummy Range. The lake lies 1,700 feet below the summit of Comanche Peak, the highest point in the Comanche Peak Wilderness Area, and is fed by three permanent snowfields on the slopes below. At 11,000 feet, the shores of the lake are just above timberline, and the views of the rugged alpine country that surrounds Emmaline are unimpeded.
Fort Collins, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 10.6
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State Log Book

Jan 2019