Wilderness Wanderings: Bear and moose encounter hikers in Mount Zirkel habitat
August 10, 2017
Hikers often ask whether there are bears on Gilpin and Gold Creek Lake trails in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
The answer is a "confirmed" yes, along with moose. Both large animals have been sighted by hikers on those trails in recent days and weeks.
In fact, two different bears – one black as well as another resembling the cinnamon colored bear seen often in that area last summer – have been frequenting the Gilpin Trail near the lake.
Although recent bear sightings have not been reported on Gold Creek Lake Trail, at least one has left scat on the footpath as evidence it has been feasting on twinberry honeysuckle that has been plentiful lately.
A moose sighting near Gilpin Trail early last Saturday morning was a bit of a surprise despite the abundance of tasty willow on various sections of the trail.
Just days before an official with Colorado Parks and Wildlife told me she wasn't aware of moose in the vicinity of Gilpin, Gold and Mica trails. She added that moose were more likely to frequent other areas of the Zirkels including Three Island and North Lake trails.
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Surprised? We shouldn't be.
Although bears, moose and other animals are more shy in the wild than those we frequently see in Steamboat Springs, that's not always the case.
The bears frequenting Gilpin may have become more accustomed to humans due to the numerous hikers and backpackers on that trail in recent weeks. And they do not appear to be afraid of people, dogs or horses. We hope that's all there is to it and that campers are not leaving food where bears can help themselves to a snack. Hanging your food is mandatory when camping in the backcountry.
According to Parks and Wildlife there are more bears in this popular wilderness than we might think. Twelve is a good estimate for just the area around the trails leading to Gilpin and Gold Creek Lakes.
So what else might be lurking around the next bend in the trail, near a creek or up on a rock outcropping? Other large mammals in the Zirkels include mountain lion, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, coyote and fox.
Smaller wildlife in the wilderness include marmot, beaver, porcupine, skunk, squirrel, chipmunk and, at higher elevations, pica. Among birds, ptarmigan are spotted in open areas of the high country and a family of grouse has recently surprised hikers near the footbridge on Gold.
So remember, unlike Steamboat where we have bears and moose visiting where we live, it's the opposite in the mountains – bears, moose and mountain lions have to deal with us in their home.
Know before you go:
• Parks and Wildlife recommends being super loud or wear bells when walking the trail to help bears know you're coming. Chances are they'll hear you and take off.
• If hiking with a dog, it should be leashed or under firm voice command. Since wolves are moose's historic predator, moose retain the instinct to attack dogs.
• If a bear is blocking the trail, give them space and choose a wide route around them or turn back down the trail.
• Hike and camp in groups and plan your trip so that you get back to the trailhead before dusk.
• Stay calm and do not run if you are surprised by a bear or mountain lion. If you are with a small child, pick them up so they won't panic.
• If a bear or lion behaves aggressively, throws stones or sticks. Wave your arms slowly and firmly.
• For the latest trail conditions call the Steamboat office of the U.S. Forest Service, 970-870-2299.
Bob Korch is president and trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness, which assists the U.S/ Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public in the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops Wilderness areas.