The trail to Gold Creek Lake is golden itself, covered by the leaves from overhead aspens.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

The trail to Gold Creek Lake is golden itself, covered by the leaves from overhead aspens.

There's still time left in Routt County's hiking season

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It can be a great time of year to hike in North Routt County. A hiker doesn't even need to go to the end of the trails to enjoy the colors. Once the trails get out of the aspens, the bright yellows and golds give way to greens and greys.

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The south fork of the Elk River meanders beneath a forest of color Thursday in North Routt County.

— It’s the time of year for rumors, mostly about snowfall, that tend to sweep through Steamboat Springs like hookup gossip through a class of high schoolers.

But if it’s snowfall rumor season, that means it’s still hiking season — the last gasp of it, anyway — and Steamboat’s hiking godmother, the Rand McNally of Routt County trails, Diane White-Crane had no trouble coming up with a list of must-hits in the waning months of the season.

Any hard-core ski bum worth his or her skins is hoping the higher-elevation trails won’t be an option in a month, but in the meantime, some peak-of-fall-color hikes await in all corners of the county.

North Routt

■ Gold Creek Lake

Accessed from the end of Seedhouse Road, Trail 1150. Page 240 in White-Crane’s “Hiking the Boat II.”

Endorsements don’t come much greater: “If there’s only one hike you can do, then the trail up to Gold Creek Lake is the hike,” said White-Crane, who penned the definitive collection of area trails in “Hiking the Boat II.”

The climb to Gold Creek Lake is a little more than six miles roundtrip, out-and-back. The lake makes for a popular destination, but the trail paved with golden aspen leaves on the way there is what sets the area apart this time of year.

■ Three Island Lake

Accessed from Forest Service Road 443, Trail 1163. Page 223.

Three Island Lake is about seven miles roundtrip and appeals to White-Crane because of the mixed vegetation.

“It has some of the best mixes of evergreens and aspens. It’s a gorgeous mix of colors,” she said.

South Routt

■ Heart Lake

Accessed from FSR 900 south of Yampa, near the Flat Tops, Trail 1110. Page 149.

Heart Lake is a long hike, about 13 miles total, but can be spectacular, White-Crane said.

“It’s not actually in the Flat Tops, but you’re hiking through glorious stands of aspens and cooling, thick forests of spruce and fir,” she said.

Rabbit Ears Pass

■ Rabbit Ears Peak

Accessed off U.S. Highway 40, FSR 291. Page 104.

It’s a classic local hike, but White-Crane said it’s great this time of year. The six-mile haul to the top of Rabbit Ears Peak and the base of the giant signature rocks is pretty along the way and beautiful once you make it, overlooking the vast stretch of valley to the south and east.

■ Windy Ridge Indian Quarry Trail

Accessed off U.S. 40, FSR 238. Page 112.

It’s a sweet trail and, at five miles roundtrip, on the shorter side. Don’t take any of the artifacts at the quarry, but enjoy the trip to and from.

“That’s a really pretty hike,” White-Crane said.

Tips

■ It’s hunting season, so it’s a good idea to wear some orange. Slip some on the dog, too.

■ If you’re looking for fall colors, don’t waste time at the highest of elevations. There aren’t aspens up there, and all the evergreens turning red, then grey, was a one-time deal.

■ Take a drive. It’s a beautiful time of year.

“Just driving up Seedhouse Road, if people are physically unable to hike, is great,” White-Crane said. “Just do the drive and have a picnic.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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