The Zirkel Circle

August 12 – 19

During my second week in Steamboat Springs, the weather turns rainy, so it’s a laid back week. Monday I spend a few hours at the public library. I need to update Windows on the laptop and iOS/apps on iPhone and iPad. It takes a while to complete everything.

On Wednesday, I drive north to the town of Clark. One of the most popular hikes in the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness is here – the Zirkel Circle. When I learned of this hike, I wanted to do it not only because of the great scenery, but I love the catchy name! The hike begins at the Slavonia Trailhead at the end of Seedhouse Road, at an elevation of 8,394ft. It is a loop hike using the Gilpin Lake and Gold Creek Lake trails.

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Trail enters the wilderness area

Based on what I had read about the hike, I decide to go counter-clockwise around the loop. I head out on the Gold Creek Trail at 9:15am. It is evident that these mountains receive a good amount of precipitation. Ferns and moss are in abundance.

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Lots of ferns

Also, there are a lot of blowdowns along the mountainsides from an event known as the Routt Divide Blowdown which occurred in 1997. According to a High Country News article, 120 mph winds blowing from the east crested the Continental Divide and blew down a swath of trees 25 miles long, covering 20,000 acres. An aerial survey conducted by the USFS estimated 6 million trees had been downed. Per the USFS, this is the largest known blowdown to occur in the Rocky Mountain Region. In 2002, wildfires burned about two-thirds of the blowdown.

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Lots of downed trees

The trail winds up the Gold Creek drainage, passing some nice waterfalls.

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One of the larger waterfalls along Gold Creek Lake Trail

There are a few creek crossings. At this time of year, the water level is down. They are easy rock hops, with this one foot log bridge at 1.93 miles.

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Foot log over Gold Creek

From the foot log, it is about 1 mile to Gold Creek Lake.

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Lovely Gold Creek Lake

There is a lot of smoke/haze today, but it is still pretty. It is always enjoyable to hike to a nice destination like Gold Creek Lake.

From the lake, the trail continues up the creek to the basin.

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Above Gold Creek Lake looking at Continental Divide

Then turns north to the junction with Gilpin Lake Trail.

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Time to start climbing!

At this point the climb up the ridge begins, with many switch backs!

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Many switchbacks!

The trail flattens out at what I think is the basin for Gilpin Creek.

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Wondering if this is the basin for Gilpin Lake?

About a quarter mile or so across this flat, I see there is one more ridge to climb. The trail switchbacks up this steep, rocky ridge. The top of this ridge is the high point of the hike and is at about 10,750ft.

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A short climb up this rocky ridge

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Nearing the top of Gilpin Ridge

When you pop over this ridge an amazing view of a cobalt blue Gilpin Lake and the surrounding mountains greets you. On the right edge of the lake is 12,180ft Mt. Zirkel and the Continental Divide. On the left edge is 12,059ft Big Agnes (the namesake of Big Agnes Gear).  Most people choose to do this hike counter-clockwise because of this view of the lake. The approach from the other direction isn’t nearly as dramatic.

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Gorgeous Gilpin Lake

I stop a few minutes at the ridge top to take in the view. From here the trail switchbacks down to the lake, with continuous views! If hiked in the opposite direction, ones back would be to the lake climbing up this section. I definitely prefer this way.

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Switchbacking down to Gilpin Lake

At one point, the trail traverses along this wall which is a greenish color rock.

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Wonder what makes this rock green?

I stop a while at the lakeshore to rest and have a snack. Very peaceful.

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Oh my, what a beautiful place!

The trail continues along the north side of Gilpin Lake and then begins the descent along Gilpin Creek. The trail is exposed to full sun for much of the way due to the large number of downed trees. The afternoon sun is hot.

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Many downed trees all along the trail

This also allows more wildflowers to grow.

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Lots of Explorer Gentians along the upper part of Gilpin Lake Trail

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And these Pearly Everlasting

I arrive back at the trailhead around 3pm, tired but happy 🙂  According to my MotionX GPS app, the hike is 10.26 miles with 2,701ft total ascent. A nice workout!

Thursday, I stay home. Take a walk about a mile up FS296  where I am camped. There are a couple nice meadows near the top and several established campsites. The road is too rutted and rough for an RV. But okay for a truck or SUV.

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Nice meadow

Thursday night rain starts and continues for most of the day on Friday and Saturday. So I am inside most of the time. Hopefully the rain helps with the nearby Silver Creek Fire. On Sunday I’ll be leaving this camp to head towards Grand Junction. I have had a great time exploring a new area of Colorado.

8 Comments on “The Zirkel Circle

    • Hi Carin! I have hiked solo for a long time. But when I first started I was afraid also. The only way to overcome a fear of something is to do it. Starting out I would use different strategies so I would feel more comfortable. For example I would hike on trails that were very popular so I would know there would be other people on the trail. If afraid of wildlife don’t start the hike until late morning when animals are not as active. And do short hikes. After doing something for awhile it becomes more comfortable and the fear decreases. When I go to a new area I’m not used to I may be a little nervous. I didn’t used to carry bear spray here in CO, but I have started. Also I don’t hike solo in grizzly bear territory. Those are some ideas that may help you. Get out and try a few hikes and see how it goes 😀 Let me know how it goes.

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      • Thanks Deb! I’m in Sierra Vista AZ right now and am a bit afraid of coming in contact with illegals and/or coyotes with them. A gun perhaps?

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      • Yes, that is a situation unique to AZ and the other southwestern states. When I was at Organ Pipe NM I did hike on several of the trails. But there were also other people on the trail. I’m not familiar with Sierra Vista – not sure even exactly where it is. You might try to find a local hiking group that you may be able to join. Also some RV parks that have long term residents have hiking groups. Another option might be ranger led hikes at state parks or federal lands. And you could speak to the staff at public lands to see if they thought you would be okay to hike solo or if they caution against it.

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    • Hi Martha! Thanks so much, I appreciate that. I loved this hike and this whole area actually. I’m sure I’ll visit there again. I had thought of spending some time on Grand Mesa. But I ended up going to Humphrey RV Monday morning and when they were done headed to Telluride to meet up with some friends. Would have loved to meet up with you. Perhaps our paths will cross again, I would like that!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Deb, enjoy your blog immensely.
    We loved Telluride. We hope to catch up with you you one more time this year on our way home. Let us know your plans.

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