Snow lingers on some area hiking trails

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Buffalo Pass remains unattainable for hikers trekking into the holiday weekend, but the trail to Three Island Lake is providing limited access to the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.

Lingering snow and difficult creek crossings continue to limit wilderness access as July begins, said Jon Halverson, wilderness manager for the Hahn's Peak Ranger district of the U.S. Forest Service.

Three Island Lake Trail, accessible by Seedhouse Road and Forest Road 443, north of Clark, is an exception.

Halverson said the three-mile hike to the lake is mostly snow free, though it is very wet just below the lake. There is a stream flowing on the trail, and the lake is ice-free.

The trail beyond Three Island Lake to Beaver Lake is still covered in snow.

The Buffalo Pass Trailhead, which had been open for a couple of weeks at this date last year, is another story. The upper gate (at "the overlook") on Forest Road 60 (Buffalo Pass Road) remains closed.

The road is blocked by snow about three miles below the summit, and three feet of snow remains at the pass. Summit Lake remained 80 percent frozen as of June 29, Halverson said.

Diamond Park (outside the wilderness area) is an accessible destination for people setting out to enjoy the Routt National Forest this weekend. Diamond Park and the North Fork of the Elk River also are accessible via Seedhouse Road and then Lost Dog Road (F.R. 433), Stiletto Road (F.R. 44) and the new concrete bridge, which ties into F.R. 431 just south of the park. Wildflowers in the region were thick last summer.

Popular wilderness destinations such as Gold Creek Trail, Gilpin Trail and Mica Basin Trail are problematic because of raging creek crossings that pose real danger to hikers.

Mountain bikers have some good options on the Swamp Park and Red Dirt trails this weekend, Halverson's report said. Elk Park Trail is inaccessible because of a seasonal road closure. Halverson said bikes are usually OK on trails outside the wilderness unless specifically prohibited. However, bikes are not permitted within the wilderness boundaries. Swamp Park and Red Dirt Trail are popular for mountain bikers, but cyclists must be aware that they lead into the Mount Zirkel Wilderness, and violations are punishable with fines.

Hikers seeking detailed maps may visit the Hahn's Peak Ranger District on South U.S. Highway 40. The visitors center is opposite the Holiday Inn and adjacent to South Side Station convenience store.

The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. The visitors center will not be open July 3 and 4.

Another good source for backcountry maps is Ski Haus, at U.S. Highway 40 and Pine Grove Road (second stoplight as motorists approach downtown Steamboat from Rabbit Ears Pass).

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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