Over the hills but not far away

Tanglewood Trail a North Routt gem

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— I have a theory that the best backcountry experiences start in a coffee shop.

That theory proved true again last week. Over a hot cup of black tea, a friend told me about the Tanglewood Trail, a winding path through miles of forested public land near Hahn's Peak. The trail is ideal for snowshoes, cross-country skis and hours of unbroken silence.

What: The Tanglewood Trail, a winding, forested path along miles of public land near Hahn's Peak

How to get there: Take Routt County Road 129 north from Steamboat Springs for 30 miles. Go past Hahn's Peak Village to Columbine. Park at the Columbine Cabins and General Store.

Degree of difficulty: Moderate. A steady uphill climb on Forest Service Road 490, a public right-of-way through private property, leads to a left turn marked by a sign to Tanglewood Trail. The trail winds through the woods, along a creekbed and can take you all the way to Hahn's Peak.

Equipment: Snowshoes or cross-country skis will be needed for at least a few more weeks. Bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen and warm clothes for sudden changes in weather or emergencies. As always, tell a friend or family member about your plans and your expected return time.

Having not been north of Clark since moving to Routt County in October and having longed for a hike during days of unseasonably warm weather, Tanglewood sounded ideal.

A few hours later, leaving work early with a pair of borrowed snowshoes, I drove to the Clark Store for a sandwich before continuing to Hahn's Peak Village and Steamboat Lake. Surrounded by beautiful ranchlands on a road cleared of snow and ice by the sun, I kicked myself for not exploring North Routt sooner.

Following the coffee shop instructions, I parked at the Columbine Cabins and General Store, 30 miles north of Steamboat Springs. The dogs that jumped onto my car proved to be friendly.

Walking across the street from the cabins to Forest Service Road 490, a public right-of-way through private property, I had a clear view of Hahn's Peak.

Cross country tracks cut a path through the deep, packed snow, and for the next 30 minutes, I had a steady uphill climb past private cabins.

The sign for Tanglewood Trail is on the left, and it's easy to miss if you're not looking. The ladies at Columbine Cabins told me that if you come to a big "T" on Road 490, you've gone too far.

Starting out on Tanglewood, following faint ski tracks, I realized that the only sound breaking the silence was the eerie creaking of tree limbs weighed down with heavy, wet snow. I thought of "widow-makers," a term used by trail maintenance crews to describe dead branches that can suddenly break and fall onto somebody working or walking beneath. I decided to keep one eye looking up.

The silence continued as I followed ski tracks and blue diamond trail-markers through the trees -- I had been on my snowshoes for more than an hour and was yet to see another person.

I had forgotten about the pleasure of silence.

Stopping atop a hill with a good view of Iron Mountain to the west, I ate my lunch. I was pleasantly surprised by the free cookie the folks at the Clark Store had included with my sandwich.

Although my friend at the coffee shop told me the Tanglewood Trail goes all the way to the summit of Hahn's Peak, I decided to leave the top for another day, and I headed back down the trail. After all, it was getting late in the afternoon, my watch had stopped, and I had a few things to take care of in town. Those are my excuses, and I'm sticking to them.

The thinly marked trail could be tough in the summer, when tracks in the snow won't show the way, but I'll be back all the same -- North Routt is gorgeous, Hahn's Peak beckons, and my day on Tanglewood excited me for fast-approaching hiking season.

It's time to make more visits to the coffee shop.

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