If you go
Devil's Causeway and Bear River Trail
How to get there:
- Take U.S. Highway 40 south out of Steamboat Springs for about 4 miles
- Turn left on Colorado Highway 131. Drive 26 miles through Oak Creek and Phippsburg
- In Yampa, turn right onto Main Street. Drive a half-mile until the paved Main Street ends
- Turn right onto Routt County Road 7. The paved road eventually will turn to dirt and become Forest Service Road 900, but continue until it reaches a dead end near Stillwater Reservoir.
Hike length: Six-mile roundtrip to Devil's Causeway, or 10 1/2-mile trip for the entire loop
Time: Three hours for Devil's Causeway, out and back; six hours for entire loop
For whom: Physically fit hikers without a fear of heights. The climb to and across the Causeway can be daunting.
Yampa Many hikes yield stunning views of far-off mountain ranges or expansive valleys, and the hike to Devil's Causeway isn't any different. But unlike so many others, the biggest thrill of this hike actually is crossing the Causeway, as so many in Routt County have discovered.
Still, the Causeway isn't the only feature hikers should take note of when hiking around it. Rather, it can be only part of a 10 1/2-mile loop that is littered with fantastic views and miles of excellent, easy, relaxing terrain that could have adventurers questioning what state they're in or what year it is.
Three miles of pain
Access the appropriate parking lot by turning down Routt County Road 7 in downtown Yampa, and follow the road until it ends. It will go nearly 17 miles, switch to a dirt surface and become Forest Service Road 900. Go around one lake and pass another before ending at a parking lot on the north end of Stillwater Reservoir.
Follow the East Fork Trail, No. 1119, which departs from where the road reached its dead end and runs out along the lake. It eventually turns into a forested ascent with just one fork. An information kiosk, oddly devoid of information, as well as a sign that also doesn't provide much information, help mark the turn. Hang a left and go down the Bear River Trail, covering the easiest seven miles of the loop. Although you eventually will reach the Causeway, it will be a while, as the trail follows a much longer but more gradual climb.
Go right, staying on the East Fork Trail, and a brutal two-mile climb awaits, followed by a long, slow descent on the other side of the Causeway. Right is the correct choice, if you don't have time to hike the entire loop and just want to make a six-mile out-and-back to the signature feature. It also doesn't hurt to get the most difficult part of the day out of the way first.
The path to the right gives way to the wide-open face of the Causeway as the trail crawls above the tree line. A series of switchbacks leads hikers to a large flat area, the final leg - a straight shot to the top of the ridge - climbing up off to the left. The path is well maintained, and it would all make for a breath-taking experience anywhere, but it's even truer at an elevation 5,000 feet higher than Steamboat Springs.
Devil's Causeway itself is, of course, stunning. It's probably never actually as dangerous as it seems, but even the most industrious of hikers will fall to all fours to avoid a fall off a cliff.
No one who makes it across will forget anytime soon.
A rough hike turns into a leisurely stroll just a few hundred yards after the death-defying Causeway crossing. If the "Devil's Causeway" moniker was obvious, so, too, becomes that of the "Flat Tops." Wide meadows stretch to either side of the track. Is it Colorado? The setting looks more like western Kansas, the single-track trail weaving between low rises and small rock outcroppings.
A sign directs hikers left, back toward the reservoir after several mikes trekking through the meadows. That trail becomes the Bear River Trail and veers back down to the forest that was left behind miles ago. There is no problem passing through, but dead trees litter the path and fill the scenery on either side. Unlike the ugly, dull red that marks fresh mountain pine beetle kill, these trees are long gone, most the victims of a spruce beetle outbreak that happened six decades ago. Fresh trees live next to their decrepit ancestors, many of which still stand but long ago were robbed of their color and needles. They all tower over thousands of fallen, rotting trees.
It's not ugly, because many of the bone-white relics lay in beautiful contrast to the bright green saplings pushing through their carcasses and the red and blue flowers that peak from beneath every crevice.
Is it 2008? Maybe, but it's easy to imagine an eerily similar scene when the current crop of beetle-killed trees have endured half a century of wind, snow and regrowth.
The couple of miles after re-entering the forest are the best of the hike, aside from the Causeway itself. The trail is downhill but never too steep. It passes several still-running streams - a few patches of snow linger at the trek's highest elevations - and it leads hikers across three creeks bridged by just a single log each. If balancing across a log proves too much, there are stones aplenty to make hopping across easy.
Eventually, the loop meets back up at kiosk and the fork, and hikers can follow the trail back along the shores of Stillwater to the parking lot.