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Mt. Zirkel Wilderness
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Aaron Armstrong
(traderaaron) - F

Locale: Colorado
Mt. Zirkel Wilderness on 02/18/2011 09:27:08 MST Print View

I've been doing some map work on the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness area in Colorado, a place I rarely see mentioned anywhere but which features some potentially good looking trips.

The CDT runs right along the crest of the Park Range on a plateau like mountain top, lots of open meadows and lakes and lots of Elk.

However, this is also one of the hardest hit areas for Pine Beetle in Colorado after the big blowdown of trees in the 1990's.

I've mapped out a 40 mile loop and just overall some interesting looking backpack trips.

So, any firsthand experience in this area from BPL folks, perhaps CDT hikers? I am looking to get up here this summer.

john griffith

Locale: Southeast U.S.
Mt.Zirkel on 02/24/2011 11:49:46 MST Print View

Aaron, I did a day hike all around the inside of that large bowl in the middle of the wilderness. It was awesome and beautiful. I would have loved to had more time to wander around there, but that was all the time I had. I did about 15 miles just traipsing all around in there. The sky was too threatening to attempt the peak of zirkel on that day so I stayed inside the bowl but there was still a lot of interesting stuff to see. Highly recommended.

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: Mt. Zirkel Wilderness on 02/24/2011 12:06:56 MST Print View


Did the CDT last year. Camped on top of Lost Ranger Peak. Some of the trails down in the trees were closed last summer due to beetle kill removal. I'd check with the government to see if anything will be closed during your time frame.

Anything in particular that you'd like to know?

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Mt. Zirkel Wildernes on 02/24/2011 13:10:40 MST Print View

I grew up taking trips into that area every summer! My last trip there was in 2008.

I would want to stay up out of the lodgepole pine area because so much of it has been devastated by the bark beetle. Up near or at timberline, the trees are spruce and fir, so the beetle is not an issue.

I suspect that any loop of the type you describe would include a long stretch in the dead lodgepole forest. There's no way they can keep those trails clear until all of the dead stuff falls down. For that reason I'd suggest planning a trip (even if an out-and-back along the Divide rather than a loop) that keeps you above 10,000 feet for most of the way. And, as Jack suggests, double check with the USFS before going. I had a big problem in 2008 with closed trailheads (they were cutting beetle-killed trees to keep them from falling on your car), and it's only gotten worse (I'm sure the trees that were still alive in 2008 have died since, so the FS will have to go back and cut those).

The most spectacular part of the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness is the section along the Continental Divide from Summit Lake north to Gold Creek Lake. That includes the section over Mt. Ethel and Lost Ranger Peak that Jack describes. If there's any way you can work out a 2-car shuttle between Summit Lake and Seedhouse or Slavonia, or find someone in the Steamboat Springs area who's willing to provide transport, that would be perfect. Be sure to include side trips to Luna Lake, Roxy Ann Lake, Ptarmigan Lake, upper Red Canyon and others in cirques just off the Divide below Mt. Ethel and Lost Ranger. Also to Ute Pass, Bear Lakes, and to Red Dirt Pass, right next to Mt. Zirkel. You'll see as much spectacular scenery on those side trips as on the CDT (known locally as the Wyoming Trail). While loops can be great, do remember that the scenery looks different when you're hiking the opposite direction on an out-and-back trip! It's certainly better than trying to do half of a loop through dead and down timber!

Edit, later--fishing on the side trips I mentioned can be awesome, too!

Edited by hikinggranny on 02/25/2011 16:58:39 MST.

Eric Jahn-Clough
(ejcfree) - F

Locale: off grid
I love this area on 02/25/2011 20:16:16 MST Print View

Hi Aaron, I have done at least 5 multi day hikes there. I use it as a warmup for my month or two of summer backpacking in the Rockies after driving three 800 mile days from Maine. The Slovonia trailhead is the one that I like. Two loops that I can heartily recommend are 1. Slovonia-Gold Creek Lake-south on CDT Wyoming Trail-out and back over Lost Ranger to some lake-off trail north on the actual Continental Divide to Ute Pass, this involves a little class 3 scrambling over a modestly exposed ridge-up over Flat Top Mountain to Red Dirt Pass-out and back to Mount Zirkel summit-Slovonia mine to Gilpin Lake, to get to this lake you can go west then north to the trailed pass or scramble over the ridge near the mine-back to Slovonia trailhead 2. Slovonia-Mica Basin, from here you can summit Big Agnes-abandoned trail south then west then north of Little Agnes-drop east into the heavily burned basin-follow creek on the east side-cross larger creek-meet east bound trail following the crossed creek-when trail turns north continue along creek off trail to the end of this drainage where there is a high but small waterfall-scramble south and east up to a small lake-out and back to a larger and very lovely lake just east of Big Agnes-small lake then over the pass just west of Mount Zirkel, here there is some maybe 30 degree sloped snow but it can be bypassed on the large talus to the east-drop west into this basin and find nice camp spot a small bit north of the confluence of a couple small creeks, from here you may like to go west up to another nice lake south of Big Agnes, summit is also doable from here, and you could go onto Mica Basin or back to camp-then on northwest of creek around corner-cross wet area and connect with Gilpin Lake Trail at the stream crossing and out to Slovonia. You could connect these loops by reversing either one. Have a great time and best wishes, Ericgazing north from Lost Ranger the heart of the area which way does the water go here? on the Divide looking south at Lost Ranger which way does the water go here? the ridge to Ute Pass looking back at the ridge to Ute Pass camp near Gold Creek Lakecamp near Gold Creek Lake

Edited by ejcfree on 02/25/2011 22:15:05 MST.

Aaron Armstrong
(traderaaron) - F

Locale: Colorado
Thanks all for the info on 02/28/2011 07:57:44 MST Print View

Thanks all for the information, these kinds of pictures and comments are exactly what I was looking for to fill in what I was looking at on my maps.

I really love that high alpine plateau type of backpacking and when looking at the maps is what drew me to this area, the pictures reinforce that. The South San Juan and this area appear to have some of the best of that type of open meadow/open alpine hiking in the state-as long as you stay above the beetle kill.

I will probably try to work a pick-up at the Slavonia TH and do a trip along the CDT in the wilderness from south to north and try and get a summit of Mt. Zirkel too.

Edited by traderaaron on 02/28/2011 08:03:48 MST.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Mt. Zirkel Wilderness on 02/28/2011 12:19:50 MST Print View

Looking forward to your trip report!