1 Aug 2017
As Colorado’s year round playground, Summit County sits right in the middle of miles and miles of hiking trails. From quick trips around a lake to top of a fourteener, Summit County has something for every level of difficulty.
Before setting out on any hike, be sure to let someone know where you’re going and to pack a bag with a few things; specifically sun block, extra water and a jacket. In the Rockies, weather can and will change quickly and being unprepared can quickly become a dangerous situation. The second bit of advice for an excellent hike in Summit County: take altitude sickness seriously. The air is much thinner at higher altitudes and it is easy to get fatigued, short of breath or nauseous. The only way to make it better is to head back down towards sea level.
For a family friendly hike that’s not too far, not too steep, and with just the right amount of wildlife, Rainbow Lake offers access from Main Street in Frisco, a boardwalk through wetland and meanders onto a beaver pond.
Located between Keystone and Breckenridge on Swan Mountain Road is Sapphire Point Overlook Trail. This loop trail, running a little over .6 miles, offers views of 9,500-foot vistas of Lake Dillon and the snow-capped Ten Mile Range.
If you like your adventure with a side of history, Iowa Hill is an easy, 1.5-mile hike located just south of downtown Breckenridge. Explore an original mining site with authentic artifacts, restored buildings and interpretive markers show just how gold was panned in that very spot.
For the more adventurous, Mohawk Lakes ascends 1,700-feet past a waterfall and several mining structures, reaching Lower Mohawk lake in under three miles. Those who aren’t tired yet can continue to Upper Mohawk Lake – if they’re willing to climb another 300 feet! With fantastic scenery and gorgeous views, this hike is a photographer’s dream.
McCullough Gulch makes up in vertical incline what it lacks in length (roughly 2.7 miles) but the scenery makes it well worth it. Multiple waterfalls, lakes and the usual sighting of a mountain goat (very common in the area) make this the quintessential Summit County experience.
Looking to gain some ground in the mountains? Come through Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 West and the first ridge you’ll see is Buffalo Mountain. A local favorite, it’s 12,777 feet stands tall over Summit County. This intense hike is over three miles one way and gains 3,000 vertical feet in less than 1.5 miles, ending with incredible views of Dillon Reservoir.
For hikers looking to go the distance, the Ptarmigan Trail climbs 12 miles through meadow, forest, and alpine tundra. Thick forest gives way to open spaces with views of the Gore Range and lower Blue River valley, and once above treeline, lookout for the area elk herd. Elk are dangerous and wild animals so be sure to keep your distance and your dog on leash. The views from the top are a true reward, including four 14,000-foot peaks, the Gore and Tenmile Ranges, and Dillon Reservoir.
If you’re still wondering what a fourteener is, it’s Colorado’s name for any peak that rises above 14,000 feet from sea level. Three fourteeners lie within Summit County’s boundaries– Grays, Torreys and Quandary. These peaks are for experts only – altitude sickness really is a thing – and research and preparation are advised. A list of fourteeners and their elevations can be found here.
Adventuring through Summit County is easy and fun. Lather on that sunscreen, stash a poncho in your pocket and grab some extra water and you’ll be checking the fourteeners off your list in no time!