The White River National Forest contains nearly 2.3 million acres in northwest Colorado. It is considered the most visited forest in the US and has 11 ski resorts, eight Wilderness areas, 10 mountain peaks over 14,000 feet and 2,500 miles of trails. Although the majority of its visitors come to ski, the best hikes in White River National Forest described below are incredible recreational experiences that can be enjoyed in the summer. Maroon Bells Scenic Area, near Aspen, CO is one of the most iconic areas in Colorado. The area is a great place to visit for the day, venture out on a day hike and enjoy a picnic. Official Website.
|Nearest Metro Area||Aspen, CO|
|Area Size||2,285,970 acres|
|Established||June 28, 1902|
|Hiking Trails||2,500 miles|
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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in White River National Forest
(*** = Best hikes in White River National Forest)
Booth Creek Trail #2011*** – 3.6 miles out and back
The trail climbs steeply from the trailhead through aspen groves for the first mile. Then, the trail climbs more gradually following along Booth Creek. At mile 1.8, the trail passes Booth Creek Falls and makes for a good turnaround spot after you’ve enjoyed the falls. Beyond the falls, early season hikers may encounter snow patches as the trail winds through conifer forests and meadows filled with wildflowers. Above 10,000 feet the trees thin and the terrain changes offering views of the Gore Range. The last 1/4 mile to Booth Lake is steep and rocky.
Cathedral Lake Trail #1984*** – 5.6 miles out and back
The trail climbs for 3/4 of a mile through an aspen forest before it enters the Maroon-Snowmass Wilderness, then begins a steeper ascent, following Pine Creek cascading through the canyon just off the trail. It levels briefly at the top of the canyon then begins another ascent through spruce forests and rockslides, deadending at a series of short, very steep switchbacks. The lake is 15 minutes from the top of the switchbacks. The trail will fork several times. Take the left forks, the right ones go to Electric Pass. The trail crosses Pine Creek on a new bridge. The lake lies just beyond the meadow on the other side of the creek.
Conundrum Creek Trail – 17.0 miles out and back
The Conundrum Creek Trail, in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, generally parallels Conundrum Creek weaving 8.5 miles and 2,500 vertical feet up the valley and through the woods and meadows to the popular Conundrum Hot Springs. Mt. Hayden looms at the start of the hike followed by views of Cathedral Peak, Conundrum Peak and Castle Peak. The trail crosses Conundrum Creek three times before the hot springs. The first crossing at 2.5 miles and the second at 6 miles are spanned by primitive log bridges. The third crossing requires wading through the creek. This creek crossing can be hazardous, especially during spring runoffs. At 8 miles, there are remnants of a cabin, and the hot springs are just ahead on the left on the other side of the creek. A log bridge spans the creek for accessing the hot springs.
Four Pass Loop – West Maroon to Buckskin*** – 28.0 mile loop
An ambitious backpacking trip located in the beautiful Maroon Bells/ Snowmass Wilderness that is routed over four mountain passes (West Maroon-12,500′; Frigid Air-12,415′; Trail Rider-12,420′; Buckskin-12,500′). Regardless of the length, this is easily one of the best hikes in White River National Forest. The variety of terrain encompasses scenic forests, mid to late summer wildflowers, challenging river crossings, and provides spectacular views of the Maroon Bells and numerous other peaks of the Elk Mountain Range. Begin at the parking lot near Maroon Lake. Highlights of the loop also include great views of Maroon Peak and Pyramid Peak, Crater Lake and Snowmass Lake. It is recommended to take the loop counter-clockwise. Make sure to plan ahead and know before you go! Early summer snowmelt makes the river crossing perilous and deep snow persists on the passes until late in the summer. Sudden thunderstorms can catch travelers exposed far from the cover of tree-line in mid-summer and snow fall returns to the high country early.
Hanging Lake Trail #1850*** – 2.4 miles out and back
Hanging Lake, a National Natural Landmark, was formed by a geologic fault which caused the lake bed to drop away from the valley floor above. Water flows into the lake over Bridal Veil Falls. The lake edge is built up from dissolved carbonates which are deposited on the shore as the water flows over. The trail to Hanging Lake is a steep and rocky 1.2 mile scenic trail climbs 1,000 feet up from the bottom of Glenwood Canyon up through Deadhorse Creek Canyon to Hanging Lake. Hikers should wear sturdy shoes with good tread. The trail to Hanging Lake consists of multiple switchbacks up steep terrain. There is a short offshoot from the trail before the boardwalk that leads to Spouting Rock, where for centuries water has dissolved a passage through the limestone to exit out of a sheer cliff wall as a spectacular waterfall.
Mayflower Gulch #1178 – 5.6 miles out and back
The trail begins from the parking area by following an old mining road. Lodgepole pine trees on either side of the road give the impression of a tunnel. Approximately 1 mile from the trailhead you will come upon some mining ruins on the right side of the road. A little further on and you will see the ruins of a mining cabin on the left. When you emerge from the trees you will see an immense amphitheater of mountains formed by the Tenmile Range. After you exit the trees, the trail descends easily toward the Mayflower Amphitheater, providing magnificent views of Mayflower Hill (12,389′), Pacific Peak (13,950′) and Fletcher Mountain (13,951′). The trail continues past an old mining camp called the Boston Mine.
McCollough Gulch #43 – 5.2 miles out and back
The trail is located south of Breckenridge on the north side of Quandary Peak. From the trailhead you will be hiking on an old mining road through the McCullough Gulch drainage. Although private property exists along this trail, hikers and mountain bikers are allowed access and are asked to stay on the trail. Eventually you turn onto a trail that leads you to a viewpoint of White Falls. You can continue up the trail to a beautiful alpine lake with a magnificent view of the entire McCullough Gulch drainage.
North Tenmile Creek #37 – 6.9 miles out and back
This is a great trail that is easily accessible from the town of Frisco. The beginning of the trail climbs between Chief Mountain and Wichita Mountain as it continues up the Tenmile drainage. You will travel near the creek and open meadows before entering the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. There are signs of previous beaver activity along sections of the trail. This is a great hike since you can just go a short distance and turn around or hike up to the junction with the Gore Range Trail which provides access to other areas.
Quandary Peak #47*** – 6.2 miles out and back
Quandary Peak is widely regarded as one of the easier 14ers to summit. Hikers that make it to the summit are rewarded with spectacular views. From the summit of Quandary Peak to the north you can view the Tenmile and Gore Ranges. Off to the east are Grays (14,270′) and Torreys Peaks (14,267′) To the south is a fantastic view of the South Park Ranger District. Finally, to the west is Mount of the Holy Cross (14,005′) in the Holy Cross Ranger District.
Shrine Ridge #2016 – 4.0 miles out and back
Follow the trail southwest as it climbs through pine-studded meadows. After about 1.3 miles the trail turns west heading through pine forest before the steepest part of the climb to the saddle to the west of you. From the saddle turn right and travel northwest to Shrine Mountain where you can enjoy spectacular 360-degree views. Named “ Shrine” for its excellent view of the Mount of the Holy Cross, the pass was originally a Ute Indian trail and later used by silver miners and settlers.
Spruce Creek (Mohawk Lakes) Trail #58*** – 6.8 mile loop
This trail offers a variety of scenery as it climbs through lodgepole, spruce and fir forests and eventually to Lower Mohawk Lake which is nestled against the mountain walls. Beyond this lake the trail continues a short distance to Upper Mohawk Lake where you can enjoy views of Mt. Helen and the rugged southern section of the Tenmile Range. On your way back to the trailhead, stop by Mayflower Lakes.
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