Autumn color in the Eagles Nest Wilderness (Colorado)

The Eagles Nest Wilderness is about 133K acres in north central Colorado encompassing the Gore Range, just north of Silverthorne and Dillon. A friend (JH) and I planned a 4-day excursion there for September 27-30. This was the first time I’ve been in the Rockies late in the season to see some of the autumn color. Unfortunately, something went wrong when recharging my camera after the last trip and I was unable to get as many photos as I would have liked.

We spent the night before the trip at the nearby Blue River Campground. It’s a USFS facility just off CO-9 about 7 miles north of Silverthorne. Watch out for the shoe-stealing fox. The plan was to start at the Rock Creek trail head, head a short distance west on the Rock Creek trail before turning north on the Gore Range Trail and then west again on the Boulder Creek Trail to the Boulder Lake area – only about 3 miles total.

Day 1: We arrived at the southeast part of the lake and found dozens of camp sites, many merging with their neighbors to form “super sites” – a very heavily impacted area. Due to its proximity to urban areas and the short hike in, this place is very popular with day-hikers so don’t come here expecting solitude. As well, Boulder Lake is now just a shadow of its former self. I guess something happened to the dam that dropped the water level several feet. The newly exposed ground was quickly overtaken by grass and willows.

After setting-up camp we headed further west along the south side of the lake and ended-up on a path through the willows at the edge of what used to be the lake. After crossing the inlet we found the well-worn trail on the north side of the lake and followed it back east to the outlet and then across to our camp site.

Day 2: We hiked up the Boulder Creek trail on the north side of the lake. There is an upper lake about 3 miles away, with a couple waterfalls nearby. We learned in advance that the last 1.5 miles of trail were no longer maintained and getting to the lake would be quite a challenge due to abundant deadfall. About a half mile along the trail it started raining lightly off-and-on. After another half-mile we started encountering deadfall on the trail – an early end of the maintained area – and the rain got heavier and was mixed with grapple. We weren’t in the mood to press on through 2 miles of deadfall to see the upper lake and 2 more miles back, possibly all in the rain, so we hunkered down for a snack then turned back.

Of course, by the time we got back to camp in the early afternoon the rain had stopped. I discovered that my Keen Klamath boots were starting to fall apart – the soles were separating from the uppers. They’re 8.5 years old and hadn’t been worn that much but I guess the glue failed due to age. I was glad this wasn’t happening in the middle of a Wind River Range trip! By late afternoon rain returned with very low clouds and we could see a lot of new snow above treeline on the nearby mountains. We took refuge under a big pine tree while having dinner. The rain continued more on than off through the night.

Day 3: The rain stopped about 6:30 AM but the low clouds remained. I rushed to get packed before it started again. We originally planned to start back toward the trail head and camp near Pebble Creek so we wouldn’t have as far to hike out on day 4. Given the weather and my footwear failure we decided instead just to hike out and head home. My buddy had some duct tape that I wrapped around the one boot that was in the worst shape. Although it fell off 1/2 mile from the trail head it helped delay the final failure long enough.

We never did get snowed-on and the overnight lows didn’t get much below freezing so I guess we were fortunate on that score. The yellow color of the aspens often made it seem like the sun was shining even when it wasn’t.

About Michael R

I enjoy hiking, landscaping with native plants, nature photography, dark chocolate, fine dining, good movies, and old jazz.
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