Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cucumber Gulch

Distance: 3.4 mile exploration
Elevation: 9,800 ft
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Date Hiked: 26 July 2015
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Dogs: On leash only (critical wildlife habitat). No dogs allowed in the center of the gulch.
Restrictions: Not open until after July 1st of each year to protect calving Moose and migratory birds.
Tags: #Breckenridge, #ColoradoHiking, #Wetland

Boardwalk and waterfall in the scenic Cucumber Gulch, Breckenridge.
Cucumber Gulch is a protected wetland located underneath the gondola in Breckenridge. There are numerous summer trails that circumnavigate the area and a couple of places that extend inwards for views of the many Beaver ponds that make the Cucumber Gulch so unique.

Winter Trail Map of the Cucumber Gulch Area. Not every trail listed exists in summer. In particular, the Beaver Meadows Trail, which crisscrosses the area in winter is wet and impassible in summer. 
The trails around Cucumber Gulch are marked by the Breckenridge Nordic Center, which is closed in summer except for special events such as weddings. You get to the Nordic Center a few miles up Ski Hill Road on the Highway 9 bypass.  The trails are marked with signs and maps at each numbered location (see map). The names of the trails are not always evident, so it might be useful to print out a map before you go.

The upper forested section near the nordic center carpeted in wildflowers. 
While there are lots of ways to follow the trails down to the wetlands, I did a major exploration of the area. From the parking lot I headed to the right until I reached signpost #4, and then took the Gold Digger Trail through the Pines blanketed in Lupine. The Gold Digger Trail loops around and eventually heads southwest (uphill).

Example of a trail sign
At signpost #23 the Willow Trail and the Gold Digger Trail converge at a interpretive site that is often manned by local graduate students studying the area. They can discuss the feeding habits of the Beaver, Moose, and Muskrat that call the wetlands home.

Walking on the Gold Digger Trail
From this spot, the Willow Trail enters the woods and becomes dark and root bound. It is easy walking however around the north side of the wetlands to signpost #29, where there is another overlook. At this point the summer route heads north on the Engleman Trail and passes under the Gondola at signpost #33. I turned around at signpost #35 and retraced my steps to signpost #18 where the Willow Trail branches off of Gold Digger Trail.

At a wetland viewpoint
From signpost #18, I traveled down to Josie's Cabin and signpost #17 for scenic view looking up the wetland itself.  From there I returned to the nordic center.

The wetlands are directly under the gondola. 
Beaver lodge
So why all the fuss? Cucumber Gulch is a fen wetland. Fen wetlands are peat forming wetlands that can take up to a 1000 years to develop. This type of rare wetland occurs when water bubbles up to the surface. The water saturated grounds support a plethora of plant life. Cucumber Gulch is also located in the center of one of the busiest ski resorts in Colorado. Home to a zoological treasure trove of wildlife, it is simply a unique yet fragile place. While other trails in Breck can be dry and warm, Cucumber Gulch is moist and shaded. If you go, say hi to the Beavers for me.

Josies' Cabin

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