Savoring summer snapshots in Routt County |

Savoring summer snapshots in Routt County

Scott Franz
Sandhill cranes are a common sight on the memorable trip to California Park north of Hayden.
Scott Franz

— It’s about this time of year the guilt really creeps in.

You know, the guilt of spending any free time indoors and missing precious chances to explore Routt County in the summertime.

Thankfully, alleviating this guilt is easy here.

There are the abundant hiking and biking trails. There will be several magnificent sunsets to watch at the base of Sleeping Giant. There’s also a picturesque road to drive with your camera at the ready.

The hardest part is choosing which direction to travel.

Here are four memorable ways to spend an afternoon with your camera this summer, one for every direction:

California Park (head west)

This time of year, California Park is a sparsely traveled treasure northwest of Steamboat Springs. The gold wildflowers commonly known as mules ears are abundant this time of year, creating colorful fields at the bases of aspen groves.

Go later in the day for good light and less company.

Also be on the lookout for the sandhill cranes that thrive in the area and aren’t afraid to cross the less-traveled roads.

To get there, travel to Hayden and turn right onto North Walnut Street. Cross the Yampa River and turn right when the road comes to a T intersection, following the sign to California Park.

Stay on Routt County Road 80 for 23 miles until you arrive at the park, descending through aspen groves into a valley. Explore after that at your own pace.

Wildflower stroll (head east)

Master gardener Deb Babcock has convinced me that within a week, I need to head toward Buffalo Pass and hike the Soda Creek Trail.

“I would call it one of the prettiest wildflower hikes I’ve taken in quite a long time,” she said Thursday. “It’s nice that it’s close in. It’s only going to take you a few minutes to get to from downtown. And it’s not one of the steep, difficult ones.”

Plan to carry some sandals along this time of year or be willing to take off your shoes to cross a creek that still is running a little high a couple of miles into the hike.

Babcock didn’t have any pictures to share of her memorable hike, which is even more reason for you to bring a camera.

Access the trailhead from the Dry Lake Campground on Routt County Road 38.

Back road beauty (head north)

For a sparsely traveled, scenic drive to North Routt County, head north on Elk River Road (Routt County Road 129), turning left at Routt County Road 44 near the entrance to the Steamboat Springs Airport. Continue along on this dirt road, past the base of Sleeping Giant until reaching Routt County Road 46, a road labeled “Mystic.”

Continue on this road for several miles, veering right onto Routt County Road 52W before it becomes Routt County Road 56. After driving through a healthy mix of aspen groves and ranches nestled among the mountains, continue straight onto C.R. 52E and then C.R. 54, and, you’ll arrive just south of Clark. Continue north on C.R. 129 to picnic at Steamboat Lake, Pearl Lake or Hahn’s Peak.

Flat Tops byway (head south)

With sweeping views of golden aspens, the Flat Tops Scenic Byway is breathtaking in the fall, but it’s also breathtaking and abundant with wildlife in the summer.

Just two weeks ago, the last gasps of snow on the Flat Tops really complemented the lush and green forests below.

To start this drive, take Colorado Highway 131 south to Yampa, turning right at the north end of town and following a sign adorned with a Columbine flower marking the start of the byway. Continue on Routt County Road 17 until you hit Routt County Road 132, again marked with the Columbine flower.

The scenic byway lasts for 82 miles from Yampa to Meeker, so you can travel the entire route or only a small part of it.

Don’t turn around before you make it to the top of Dunckley Pass, about 12 miles west of Yampa.

The view won’t disappoint.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email

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