Trail of the week: Gold Creek Lake
My Instagram feed is full of travelers, photographers and Coloradans, so I am constantly being tormented by the cerulean blue of Alpine lakes nestled in a valley surrounded by snow-speckled crags.
Usually, such lakes take miles upon miles to get to and require a day’s journey and a massive backpack to supply the trip. Not Gold Creek Lake.
Gold Creek Lake is just 3 miles from an easily accessible, popular trailhead in North Routt. The hike to the lake is part of the Zirkel Circle, a well-known, 10-mile loop that features a few lakes and sweeping views. Getting to Gold Creek Lake requires less climbing and less effort than the whole loop.
Since the Slavonia trailhead is so popular, the road is well-maintained. If my tiny, 2005 Toyota Corolla can get there, anyone can. The trailhead is 30 miles north of Steamboat Springs. Head up Routt County Road 129 to Clark. Shortly after passing the Clark Store, veer right onto Routt County Road 64, Seedhouse Road. The pavement will give way to gravel and then turn into a rougher dirt surface for the last 3 miles. All the way at the end of the road is a small parking lot.
The popularity of the area gave me more than enough confidence to head into the national forest on my own. I did bring my dog, Dallas, though, for company. I also made sure a few people knew where I was going and when I was expecting to be done.
I wedged my car between two others about a quarter of a mile from the actual trailhead, where there is a vault toilet and an area map. A short distance up the trail, the paths split at a sign-in stand. I veered right, keeping on the Gold Creek Trail, No. 1150.
I was dazzled by the diversity and density of wildflowers. I knew the names of the blue lupine and the red paintbrush and the purple prairie flax, but there were swarms of this thin, deep pink flower that I was unfamiliar with and enchanted by. After getting back to cell service, I googled it. It is fireweed, and it’s name comes from its ability to inhabit land ravaged by wildfires.
The elevation gain is 1,100 feet in total and is gradual and consistent. The trail gets slightly steeper in the final mile after crossing the creek over a large log.
I wasn’t sure if Dallas was going to be able to navigate the crossing. I figured he would refuse, and we would both have to step through the stream, but after a few wobbly steps, his lanky hound legs figured it out and made it across the log. He was so proud of himself.
It was a hot day, but since we had frequent access to water, Dallas was able to stay cool. The trail was only partially exposed, so I never got too hot. I brought a pair of water bottles for drinking and used the stream water to splash the back of my neck to keep cool.
After the worst of the incline, the world seemed to get a little wider and the trees a little thinner. Ahead of us was Gold Creek Lake. There were picnickers, swimmers, families and other dogs. We made our way partially around the lake and found a spot to wade into the cold, but not freezing, water.
I felt like a tried and true Steamboatian taking in the views while eating some Honey Stinger chews. I expected to find trash on such a busy trail, or at least at the trailhead, so I brought a trash bag and gloves. Thankfully, I didn’t have to use them. Remember to always pack out everything you bring into the wilderness with you.
If you’re up for the challenge and started early enough to avoid summer storms, keep going past Gold Creek Lake on to Gilpin Lake, the gem of the Zirkel Circle.
Once Dallas and I felt cooled down and fueled up, we started the descent. The trail was dusty and dry, so it was occasionally slippery, even with my hiking boots. Exhibiting caution, we made good time and returned to the road right as some afternoon storms were rolling in.
No hike is complete without a stop for ice cream afterwards. The Clark Store is the perfect place to grab a sweet treat, a sandwich and some more water after a long day in the woods.
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