Friday, July 3, 2015

Wilder Gulch

Distance: 6 miles round trip
Elevation: 10,600 ft - 11,279 ft
Elevation Gain: 708 ft
Date Hiked: 28 June 2009
Update Hike: 2 July 2015
Bathroom at the Trailhead: Yes
Dogs: Off leash

Verdant Wilder Gulch near Vail Pass
The Wilder Gulch Trail off of Vail Pass is a private oasis of green grasses, giant spruce trees, stunning wildflowers, and hair-frizzing humidity. All that green comes with a price, so get a haircut before you go! You won't see many people, blessed be,  and the gradual dirt path will be a great way to spend a few hours away from the hordes on nearby Shrine Mountain.

Vail Pass Rest Area. The Wilder Gulch Trail starts to the right across the road.
The start of the route. The stream crossing is in the depression just in front of the hiker. 
The trail starts just off the lower parking lot of the Vail Pass Rest Area. The lower lot is for the bathroom only and has a one hour time limit, so park in the upper lot and walk down and through the lower lot. A small forest service sign marks the start of the trail.

Segment that parallels I-70
Heading up the gulch. Ptarmigan Peak is visible in the distance. 
Twenty yards up the trail is a stream crossing that until late in the season is a boot soaker. You can bypass this spot by going a little further upstream or by avoiding the area all together and walking on the bike path (see appendix below). Most people rock hop or slog on through however. Conditions vary greatly, so walk on down and check the flow before deciding your route.

Jacob's Ladder was just one of the many wildflowers already blooming. 
It is 0.76 miles across several rolling hills before the trail turns sharply and enters the gulch itself. This initial segment parallels I-70 with all it attendant noise and distraction. Once in the gulch the trail weaves ever so slightly up and down, crossing numerous streamlets, many modified with large stones to make the passage easier.

Green, green, green!
Spruce trees get thicker towards the upper end of the route.
The vast majority of the trail is exposed to the stunning blue sky that always seems to look down upon Vail Pass. Storms may build, rumble, and rain but down in the gulch the threat of lightening is minimal.  Occasionally, the vegetation and trees encroach on the trail and provide some welcome shade. Views of Ptarmigan Hill (12,143 ft) are visible from many spots along the way. 

The trail officially ends when it intersects Forest Service Road 708. You can turn left here and travel another 0.8 miles to the top of Ptarmigan Pass, or turn around and head back down.

Some early wildflowers
Wilder Gulch is open to mountain bikers but they are few and far between. On this trip we only saw two and they were very polite. Unfortunately, we ran across three jeeps that were trying to travel down the gulch from FSR 708.  They quickly became mired in mud and downed trees. The trail is really much too narrow in places for motorized vehicles.

A shot from the return route that is mostly in the trees. 
The intersection with FSR 708. Turn left to hike to Ptarmigan Peak
Appendix A: Alternate route to bypass the stream crossing 

If the stream crossing near the beginning of the route is unpassable, another option is to travel along the paved bike bath to the base of Wilder Gulch. A small sign underneath an overpass marks the junction. The downside of this option is the extra distance (0.86 along the path and another 0.5 miles up the gulch), and the unattractiveness of the bike path itself. Cyclists on the path travel almost as fast as cars on I-70 and they don't appreciate pedestrians. The path itself winds down and along the valley and at times is perilously close to the highway itself.

Trail junction with the Vail Bike Path. The overpass is the east bound lanes (photo from 2009). 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Reynolds Park: Oxen Draw-Eagle View-Raven's Roost Loop

Distance: 5 mile loop
Elevation: 7,265 ft - 8,179 ft
Elevation Gain: 914 ft
Bathroom at Trailhead: Yes
Dogs: On leash (Jefferson County Open Space)
Date Hiked: 23 August 2013

Banner Peak viewed from the Eagle View Trail in the Reynold's Park Open Space
Reynolds Park Open Space south of Conifer contains some pleasant Front Range trails that will get you moving even in the off season. On this trip I went with a group and we hiked up the Oxen Draw Trail for 0.6 miles to the Eagle View trail (2.3 miles) and then back down the Raven's Roost Trail (0.6 miles). This route traverses variable terrain with lush meadows near the parking lot, dark piney woods on the way to the view point, and sandy Ponderosa slopes on the way back down.

Trail map. Note that while the Elkhorn Trail is listed, it is far more convoluted on the ground.

Starting out on the Elkhorn Trail that traverses lush summer grasses. You can see why this might have been a good place to feed a mule train.

The one tricky aspect of this route is the Elkhorn Nature Trail, which serves as an intermediary connector trail to both the Oxen Draw Trail going up and the Raven's Roost Trail coming down. The Elkhorn Trail contains numerous social connectors and winds in a loop near the river. Be advised that finding the exact route might take a couple of tries.

Starting out on the Oxen Draw Trail. The lower reaches are shaded with lush riparian plants.

As the route climbs, the area becomes more wooded but still dark, a pleasant respite on a hot summer day.
The best aspect of this area is the middle portion of the Eagle's Roost Trail, which travels along an open ridge with views of the surround foothills. Here rocky Banner Peak (8, 504 ft) stands out in sharp relief.

Looking southeast across the foothills. That is Platte View Drive in the distance.

Hiker lounging on a log bench with a view of Banner Peak.
Reynolds Park does have an interesting history.  Before it became open space, it was once a stop for pack trains traveling between Denver and Leadville. Now locals can zip up the highway, hike, and return home in the time it took to water a mule!

The upper reaches of the Eagle View Trail continue along an open ridge.

Heading down the Raven's Roost Trail
Finally, this route is not open to mountain bikers, which lends a level of serenity that other trails in the area don't have.

The lower sections of the Raven's Roost Trail are dry slopes filled with Sagebrush and Ponderosa Pine.