Take a Hike -- Trails all over Routt County

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— Hikers visiting Steamboat Springs will find trails both convenient and adventurous all within a short walk or drive from downtown.

More than 350 miles of trails blanket Routt County. With individual trails ranging from 40 miles long to just under a mile, hikers have the opportunity to explore the area for 20 minutes or several days.

Popular hiking destinations near Steamboat include Howelsen Hill and Emerald Mountain, Spring Creek Trail and the must-see Fish Creek Falls.

Many people begin their trek up Howelsen and Emerald at the Fairview parking area reached by turning left on 13th Street, left on Gilpin Street, left on Saratoga Avenue and right on Blackmer Drive.

The gradual ascents lead to open meadows with spectacular views of the Yampa Valley. For hikers wishing to continue upwards, a former rock quarry will greet them at the conclusion of their climb.

Spring Creek Trail begins at the intersection of East Maple and Amethyst near Steamboat Springs High School. A lot near the intersection permits drivers to park for free and connects directly to the trailhead.

The first 1.5 miles of dirt road branches off into a single-track path that climbs 1,200 feet. Hikers will pass through aspen stands to Dry Lake Campground on Buffalo Pass, concluding a 3.6-mile course.

Fish Creek Falls, the prime destination for tourists, provides hikers the chance to choose the length and difficulty of their hike.

For a small fee, hikers can park at the lot at the end of Fish Creek Falls Road, which begins directly behind the downtown post office.

A small, mostly downward hike will bring people to the breathtaking waterfall. Depending on the time of year, people will be greeted by a roaring fall powered by the melting snow in early spring, or by a peaceful flow later in the summer.

Regardless of the waterfall's magnitude, the boulders and bridge at its base provide great photo opportunities and a quick glimpse of the beauty near Steamboat Springs.

People who, because of age, disability or health reasons, are unable to walk down the path and back up from Fish Creek Falls, have wheelchair/stroller access on an ADA-access paved path, which overlooks the falls from farther up.

Hikers wishing to continue their ascent past the lower falls can follow the signs and make a day of it, reaching a second waterfall, about 2.5 miles past the base. Another destination on the same route concludes at Long Lake, another 3.5 miles past the Upper Falls.

The trip to Long Lake from the Fish Creek Falls base is a long, sometimes strenuous 12-mile roundtrip day hike.

Because of the popularity of the trails near Steamboat, hikers are asked to observe a few guidelines when hiking: controlling dogs, being considerate of other trail users and staying on the paths as much as possible.

The same applies for many backcountry and wilderness hikes located in the Routt National Forest that spans from Steamboat up to the Wyoming border.

"For the most part, staying on the trail is the easiest and safest route," recreation forester Ed Patalik said. "Cross country travel can impact vegetation or start new trails that we don't want."

Obviously, Patalik said, hikers are encouraged to enjoy the natural beauty of Northwestern Colorado, which is a main reason tourists are attracted to the region. He and the U.S. Forest Service just ask that hikeRs observe signs, heed warnings and always enter the wilderness prepared.

Hikers, particularly those planning a multi-day trip, should enter the backcountry with 10 essentials

  • A map and compass.
  • Water and food.
  • Lightweight rain gear.
  • A first-aid kit.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Insect repellent.
  • A weather-proof fire starter.
  • A flashlight
  • A Swiss Army knife or multi-tool.

Hikers are encouraged to call the U.S. Forest Service at 879-1870 to check restrictions on open fires, status of trails or other questions.

Hikers are also encouraged to check the weather forecast, keeping in mind that weather in the Rocky Mountains is unpredictable and ever changing. Clear, blue skies in the morning often give way to afternoon showers and thunderstorms. Plan accordingly by starting a hike early in the day or bringing appropriate clothing and protection along.

Also, tell family or friends your planned route and when to expect you back.

Obviously, restrictions, warnings and rules are there to protect hikers, not discourage them from exploring the trails around Steamboat and into North Routt.

If there is time on your vacation, venturing farther away from Steamboat is certainly worth the trip.

The Continental Divide Trail, to the east of Steamboat, begins at Dumont Lake. Motorists can access the trail by following the signs and parking near the campground's "the monument," a large rock that points the way to Buffalo Pass and other destinations.

The Continental Divide Trail offers several multi-day hikes for the more adventurous hiker.

The large number of trails and the length of many of them allow Forest Service personnel limited opportunities to check each one, though they do the best they can, especially in the early season.

"We do a lot of maintenance," Patalik said. "Early in the year when all the trails open within a short time frame, we can't be on all at once. It takes a while to clear the blowdown and fix drainage problems."

Visitors new to Routt County may also encounter snow at higher elevations, even in July. You can hike in the snow and often people do, but pay attention, Patalik said.

"If you are starting to get up to your ankles or shins in mud you are probably pushing it."

As of early May, there was still 11 feet of snow on Buffalo Pass.

Again, hikers can call the Forest Service when in doubt on availability of trails.

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