This hike is amazing. The views are stunning. The elevation gain isn't too bad and there are plenty of places to stop and soak it in! This loop is an ideal option with access to water, views, and side scrambles to tack on more miles. The majority of visitors approach the loop from the west at the trailhead for the Gilpin Trail with ample parking and campgrounds along the road leading to the trailhead, but longer and more remote options lie to the east as well.
The high point for this loop is almost exactly at the midway point, so it doesn't really matter which direction you choose to go. Generally speaking, going clockwise is a higher sustained grade overall but with fewer steep sections, while going counterclockwise is generally lower grade but with at least a couple steep sections. There is water on either side of the pass above Gilpin Lake.
Once in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness, there are a number of camping options along the loop as long as you observe Wilderness regulations. The Mica Basin Trail #1162 is an obvious spur up along a creek drainage that descends from Mica Lake at the base of the Agnes peaks with numerous dispersed camping spots.
*It's a long hike. Some say 10 miles, some 11, we clocked 12.3 miles. So make this an all day trip.
*Bring a hammock and hang out in the trees and floats to relax on the lake. It's so worth it to stop for a few hours; eat, drink a beer, relax and enjoy the views.
*Be sure to download the trail map on your phone prior to losing service. And put your phone in airplane mode to preserve battery and take a ton of Instragram photos. Cause if you didn't post... did it really even happen!?
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DOWNLOAD THE MAPS:
Hiking Project is a free app that tracks elevation gain, locates your location without cell service, and has driving directions.
AllTrails app is also free-, but I highly recommend the paid version if you plan on doing a lot of trips. Very helpful and worth the $14 or so bucks. Very detailed maps and lots of options. Every hiker should have this.
From Denver- it's about 4 hours. 70 West to Hwy 9 north until it meets up with 40. The easiest way is to plug in the exact GPS coordinates and follow the Google Map directions.
-Lots of water/snacks/beer
-Good hiking boots or shoes
Strawberry Hot Springs
Tucked beneath the aspen trees and nestled alongside Hot Springs Creek you'll find one of the most impressive natural hot springs in the country, Strawberry Hot Springs. Though the spring is natural, the area around the springs has been built up extensively. The masonry work was done with care, and it fits well within the natural surroundings. Check it out in the winter too. Absolutely beautiful and romantic place to stay!
Pearl Lake is one of the gems of the Colorado State Parks system. It is a beautiful, secluded location that is perfect for camping, paddling, hiking, or just relaxing by the water. The south end of the lake, just a short hike away from campsites, is a great spot to see the sunrise, as calm waters reflect Farwell Mountain. The trail provides National Forest access and offers great views of Hahns Peak.
Upper Fish Creek Falls
One of the most popular attractions in the Steamboat Springs area is Fish Creek Falls. This beautiful feature is easily accessed on a paved trail with nice picnic areas--all just a few minutes outside of town. Most people never venture beyond viewing the lower falls, but for those who want a bit more solitude and a very satisfying hike with an even better waterfall, the trail to Upper Fish Creek Falls is perfect.