Bear Creek Trail
UNCOMPAHGRE NATIONAL FOREST, COLORADO
There would be no Bear Creek Trail without gold. In the late 1800s, miners in Ouray discovered ore in the steeps surrounding the brittle, slate-and-quartzite canyon walls of the Bear Creek gorge. They promptly blasted a path along the side of the vertical cliff to access the seams, but it’s no cakewalk: It narrows to just 2 feet wide as it teeters 200 feet above serpentine Bear Creek.
Today, you can follow the historic mining trail—which has earned National Recreation Trail status—on a 7-mile out-and-back. Start out hot, climbing 1,000 feet in less than a mile through stands of aspen (foliage peaks the last two weeks of September) before leveling off for the catwalk: For .8 mile, balance on the shoulder-width, dynamitehewn shelf above Bear Creek. After crossing a rock drainage near mile 1.8, you’re back on solid ground and moving again through aspen groves on a wide trail. Look for abandoned mining equipment starting at mile 2; you’ll pass the Grizzly Bear Mine before continuing on to Yellow Jacket Mine (do not enter either one) at mile 3.5. Set up camp in the meadow for a tent-door view of 14,150-foot Mt. Sneffels.
Trailhead Bear Creek (38.0029, -107.6620) Season July to October; July and August for wildflowers, September for foliage Permit None Contact www.fs.usda.gov/gmug