Monday, March 27, 2017

Lionshead Rock (aka Cougar Trail)

Distance: 4.5 miles round trip
Elevation: 8,005 ft - 9,463 ft
Elevation Gain: 1,458 ft
Dogs: Off leash
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Tags: #coloradooutdoors, #hiking, #minturn, #vail
Nearby hikes: Game CreekTwo Elks Recreation Trail

The view from the Lionshead Rock near Minturn, CO
Lionshead Rock in Minturn, CO is a local icon and a quick jaunt to this dramatic promontory is a great way to boost the blood flow to brain while getting fido out at the same time. While the route is mostly in the trees, the views at the end of the Mt. of the Holy Cross and surrounding valleys is worth the wait.

Heading into the Aspen Grove
Lionshead shares the first half mile with the Game Creek Trail, and the initial sign only mentions Game Creek. Both start out next to a home and quickly climb uphill to a small shelf skirting private property. Strings of rope and surveyors tape admonish the hiker to stay way from their land. Once past this property, the trail dips back down to the valley floor and crosses the creek at a small bridge. The route then stays on the left side of the creek until the junction with the "Cougar Trail", located on the other side of the creek. It is this trail that takes you to Lionshead Rock. There is no bridge over the creek and in the spring run off this can be a raging torrent.

A softer trail segment
The remainder of the trails switchbacks up through the trees. At one point is passes around a large Aspen grove that is filled with brim in the spring with wild raspberry bushes. At 1.0 miles is a small overlook and shortly thereafter the trail turns sharply eastward and heads dramatically and painfully upwards for almost half a mile. This segment is both unrelenting and very rocky but cardiovascular distress is what makes Lionshead so popular, so dig out the defibrillator and take it at a jog. At 1.9 miles is a second overlook while the rock itself is at 2.25 miles.

Lionshead is part of a larger escarpment that is all slowly eroding
While the trail continues beyond the rock, you'll recognize the destination without difficulty. A short spur trail heads slightly downwards and then upwards onto a broad flat plateau suspended in the air above Minturn. Be advised that a large chunk of this rock broke off in 2014 so use caution while venturing outwards. Eventually mother nature will claim the entire promontory in her perpetual desire for a new look through the geological equivalent of a lift and tuck (mountain building and erosion for those who like to impress their friends with scientific jargon).

The spur trail to the rock itself
If you don't mind the extra weight, Lionshead rock is a great spot for an afternoon libation combined with gourmet snacks. The adjacent hillsides are filled with Aspens and the wind always seems to blow sweetly, if sometimes a tad forcefully. As a bonus, the route down is not technically difficult in case your decide to consume all your provisions to save the weight on the way down.

You get to the Lionshead Trail from Hwy 24 in Minturn, which is just south of I-70 and just west of Vail. As you enter Minturn, look for bridge to the left as 24 merges into Main Street. Take this left turn and pass north of the large Saloon. Just past the Saloon is Rail Rd. Turn right here and then left on Taylor Road. This dead ends nears some homes. You will probably see one or two cars parked in a small parking area to the left. The trailhead itself is up a short (100 yard) spur that travels between the houses. A small wooden sign marks the start. Note this is the same trailhead for Game Creek. Lionshead splits of a half a mile up the trail.

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