Monday, February 16, 2009

North Rock Creek Snowshoe

Distance: 6 miles round trip
Elevation: 9,180 to 10,000 ft
Elevation Gain: 900 ft
Dogs: Off leash for the first 1.8 miles. On leash after this (wilderness).
Tags: #winter, #snowshoe, #wintersports, #powerdays
Snowshoes in Silverthorne: Mesa Cortina,  Lily Pad Lake,

Keller Mountain viewed from our lunch spot in the meadow

North Rock Creek, near Silverthorne, CO is one of my winter favorites. It is in the lesser-used area and is one of the many finger trails that head west from Highway 9 and into the Eagles Nest Wilderness. This was my first time on this trail and I was quite impressed. With a little bit of everything, it has a lot to offer. There are sweeping views of Ptarmigan Peak and Old Baldy to the east, some huge Aspen groves, an expansive meadow, and lot of “peak”-a-boos to the west. The rewards exist all along the trail, which is much better than slogging 5 miles to get a glimpse of something interesting. For both the snowshoer and the skier, this trail is very easy. There are a couple of short hills to ascend, but nothing major. If you are new to snowshoeing, give this one a try.

View from the parking lot, looking east across Hwy 9

To start, head up Rock Creek Road, a plowed road right across from the Blue River Campground on Highway 9. The plowed section ends right before the large switchback you see on the topo map. There is medium-sized plowed parking area on the left marked by a sign that says Rock Creek Trailhead. Don’t be confused here. The road actually heads sharply up behind this parking area while a more prominent spur road continues due west. This road is not on the map, so it may easily be confused with the main route. It dead-ends shortly at a gate for some private homes.

Typical portion of trail, still on the road, and the ever present Aspens
Glimpse of a typical wide-open area

After a series of switchbacks, the trail straightens out and heads due west as one would expect from the map. The first mile is open and filled with young Aspens. Despite a typical NOAA doomcast of cloudy skies and cold, we had startling blue skies and no wind. It was not long before we stripped down to our base layer. I stayed that way until we stopped for lunch several hours later.

Meadow and Keller Mountain (13,085 ft)

There are several easy milestones on this trail to keep you aware of your distance. It is 1.5 miles from the winter parking area to the summer trailhead. 0.1 miles beyond that is the boundary for the Eagles Nest Wilderness. 0.3 miles beyond the wooden wilderness sign is the intersection with the Gore Range Trail, which is prominently marked by another wooden sign.


Right after the junction with the Gore Range Trail, the Rock Creek Trail heads sharply downward. In another 0.6 miles is the large meadow off to the left with the ruins of a cinderblock hut on its southern end. It was in this meadow with its nice views of the Gore Range that we stopped for lunch. This meadow is 2.7 miles from the winter trailhead.

The trails heads downwards after the intersection with the Gore Range Trail. Note the dead Lodgepole pines.

We ran into a couple of skiers who came out of the woods to the west end of the meadow and told us the meadow continued to the west and if we wanted to follow their tracks it would lead us back up to the main trail. After a pleasant break, we continued on and tromped through the western side of the meadow. The views here were exceptional. There were peaks to the west, and entire hillside of aspens and lots of boulders covered in snow.

Looking east, down the expanse of the meadow. The abandoned cinder block hut is out of the scene to the right.
Bushwacking through the far west side of the meadow. Where the trail disappears is the intersection with the main trail.

We had just started heading up the trail again when a discussion ensued about the time. It was already 2 PM, and we wanted to get back to the car and on the road before the hordes of skiers hit I-70. I am guessing that that we had gone another 0.3 miles from the meadow, which means the end of the trail, the Boss Mine, was another 0.5 miles further on. Given a day with less traffic, which never happens, we could have easily have finished the route. I have never been to the end, and the guidebooks merely mention piles of tailings and some old buildings. I don’t know if the views were any better after the meadow or not. I will tell you that on snowshoes, the meadow is a very pleasing destination indeed.

Aspens viewed from the west end of the meadow. The main trail go right through them.

Faded tracks from a another voyager

I should make a note about the trees. The trail also transits through a mixed Ponderosa and Lodgpole Pine forest. The majority of the Lodgepoles have been killed by the nefarious Mountain Pine Beetle. They are quite dead, quite brown, and very sad to see. Most of Summit County is dead and this trail is no exception.

There were so many Aspens, I couldn't help but take a picture of every single one! Just think of this trail in the fall!

We always take a group of novice snowshoers out early in the season. In the past, we have chosen Peru Creek for its wide road and easy grade. Rock Creek may supplant Peru Creek because of it constant rewards. Please give it a try and let me know what you think.


Linda said...

I've really enjoyed this virtual tour through country I would love to visit. Any chance of having a glimpse of those aspens in autumn?

sylvia murphy said...

I certainly hope so!

shaker said...

Thanks for the virtual trip !
A pleasure !

Anonymous said...

Sylvia - COMPLIMENTS on your site! Excellent; photos are great, explanations clear and not so "dry".
Question: Can dogs be off leash on the North Rock Creek trail? I always hike with my dogs but like to be cautious.
THANK YOU, Barbara (and the dogs) (having difficulty posting this, so will try "anonymous")

sylvia murphy said...

Hi Barbara,

Thank you for the kind words. Technically, dogs are supposed to be on leash in wilderness areas. I am finding in Summit County that that rule is very lax. I just did Lilly Pad Lake today and there were many dogs off leash. In winter it is not as much of an issue in my mind because with deep snow, fido is not going to get very far off trail.

The official word though for this trail is that 1.8 miles in is the wilderness boundary and dogs must technically be on leash.

There are many trails in summit county that are 100% dog friendly, however, if you really want to be cautious. That is why I keep coming back here.