Gore Range Trail–Copper Mountain to Silverthorne

This month’s hike is one of my favorites because of it’s scenic quality and accessibility. I’ve hiked the entire Gore Range trail in the past and had a good time.  Most of the northern part of the trail stays deep in the woods, though, with only an occasional view through the trees. The southern part, on the other hand, leads over two passes that top 11,000′. In addition, it’s easy to set up a shuttle here using the Summit Stage, a free local bus system. No trailhead is more that two miles from a bus stop. If you want to leave your car behind entirely, you can hop on the Greyhound from Denver to Frisco and take the local shuttle to either end of this hike. My strategy this time was to park my car at the Mesa Cortina trailhead, walk 1.8 miles to Fourth and Adams in Silverthorne, hop on a shuttle to Frisco and transfer to another bus to Copper Mountain. The bus will drop you off at the entrance to the resort. You just need to turn around, cross I-70 on the overpass and look for the southern end of the Gore Range Trail to your left.

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It’s a strange way to begin a hike with cars whizzing beside you on the interstate. Just keep walking, though, and you’ll lose the traffic noise within a mile.

DSCF1109A couple miles up the trail,  there’s a short spur trail leading to Wheeler Lakes and this lookout beyond.  This is a popular destination for dayhikers. I meet a couple  from Frisco who warn me about the bears.  A number have been spotted in town raiding the bird feeders and generally being annoying. The locals have even taken to giving the bears nicknames.  “Cinnamon” is one of the offenders.  I reason that if all the bears are in town, they won’t bother me up here.  But I don’t quite convince myself.

The low spot on the horizon is 11,900′ Uneva Pass which I’ll be crossing tomorrow morning.  Tonight’s destination is Lost Lake, just below the pass.

DSCF1111A look back at Copper Mountain Resort.

DSCF1117It’s been a wet spring up here.  Wildflowers are plentiful.

DSCF1127A couple of small ponds in a marshy meadow.

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Plenty of views of the Ten Mile Range on the way to Lost Lake.

DSCF1139Marsh marigolds are everywhere.

DSCF1138The trail cuts across a rock slide.

About the gear:  I’m keeping cool by wearing a stream- soaked bandana on my head under my Sunday Afternoons hat.  The shirt is a Railriders Adventure shirt which has mesh under the arms to allow cooling breezes through.  The pants are REI Saharas, the only pants I have on this trip.  Traditional  base layers, both top and bottom, were left behind .  On my feet are New Balance trail runners.

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Lost Lake.  I had planned to camp here but the mosquitoes are horrible.

About the gear:  My shirt, pants, hat and socks are treated with permethrin and I’m also using a hooded windshirt.  I’ve applied 20% picaridin (good stuff) to my face, hands and ankles. It’s all working but the mosquitoes are still driving  me crazy, so I move on.

Initially,  I find a good flat spot on a ridge above the lake.  After I set up my tent and start to settle in,  I notice a number of freshly turned- over rocks near my camp. Cinnamon’s friends or relatives must have been here recently.  Searching around, I find another place to camp.  My bear bag will be hung high tonight.

DSCF1152Yeah, this is more like it.

About the gear:  I had gone back and forth before this hike. Tarp or Tarptent?  Knowing that the mosquitoes might be bad up here, I decided to suck up the ten extra ounces and bring the Tarptent.  But I seem to have evaded the mosquitoes here and hopefully the bears.

DSCF1157It just don’t get no better than this.

DSCF1171A full moon lights up the night sky.

DSCF1173The way up to Uneva Pass has a few patches of snow to get through but nothing too difficult.

DSCF1181I hang out at the top of the pass for a while  admiring the view.

DSCF1182The wildflowers seem to like it here, too.

DSCF1183Looking back at the pass.  There are a number of patches of snow to get through on the north side of the pass, some of them quite large.  Anyone reading this  might think twice before venturing out onto the snow,  especially early in the morning when the snow is still hard.  A slip or loss of balance could end up in a “game over” situation.  It’s better to find a way around, if possible.  There’s no shame in turning back, either.

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Another mountain lake.

The trail now  plunges deeply into the forest.  I cross a meadow where I had previously surprised a bear at close range.  Nothing happened. The bear looked at me and I looked at him.  I pretended that I wasn’t bothered and continued down the trail.  Hearing a crashing sound,  I turned around and watched the bear charge up the mountainside.  Still, I get a little  spooked being here. The path continues downward until I hear the sound of North Tenmile Creek at 9,800′.  The creek is running faster and deeper than I’ve ever seen it.  After looking up  and down the creek for a better place to cross, I come back to the trail, which crosses the creek at it’s widest point.  Although the water is cold and swift, it only comes up to my knees and I’m able to cross  with the help of trekking poles.  On the  other side my legs feel pleasantly numb from immersion in the cold creek.  My muddy shoes are washed clean, at least for the moment.

About the gear:  There are different schools  of thought on footwear for crossing streams.  My technique is to walk in wearing my regular synthetic trail running shoes and wool socks.  The shoes drain quickly on the other side and start to dry.  My pants are nylon and dry quickly in the sun.

The trail climbs steeply up the opposite hillside as the day is heating up.     There is plenty of water around so I’m able to drink freely without carrying much between sources.

DSCF1193I reach my destination at the head of Meadow Creek by mid-afternoon.

DSCF1195My tarptent is nestled in the shade beneath the trees in the foreground.  The mosquitoes instantly converge and I decide to take a nap inside the tent.  I’m glad I brought it.  Meanwhile, the resident marmot whose territory I invaded is checking me out.  I looked up while napping and found  him  sitting on the rock just outside my clump of trees.  Later, while waiting for my dinner water to boil,  I decide to check on my tent.  The marmot is sitting right beside it.

DSCF1198These guys emerge cautiously  from the forest to graze in the meadow.

DSCF1207After dinner,  I explore the headwaters of  Meadow Creek right up to the melting snow.  This cascade is just one of many.

DSCF1216Bedtime for Donzo, 11,600′.

DSCF1219Looking north from the top of Eccles Pass, 11,900′.  Though there is still  a lot of snow on the north side of the pass, I’m able to descend without incident.

DSCF1222The peak to the right is Red Mountain.  The low point  on the ridge is Red Buffalo Pass.  A trail goes through here and descends all the way to Vail. But that’s another trip.

At this point my camera batteries run out and I have no spares.  This was a bad way to try to save weight.  I put my camera away and descend into the trees to the right. The trail falls steeply into the South Willow Creek drainage over a sometimes very rocky trail.  I encounter a deer grazing by the creek.  Eventually,  I hear the  roar of  the falls and start running into day hikers.  South Willow Falls is a popular destination,  as is Wheeler Lakes, at the beginning of this hike. For greatest solitude this hike is best done mid-week or after Labor Day.

Later, I turn onto the Mesa Cortina trail, which heads to the trailhead where I parked my car.  It’s been a few years since I’ve hiked this trail and I’m shocked at the change. While this was always a hot, dry trail,  I remember it as being green. Not anymore.  The bark  beetle infestation has decimated the forest, leaving mostly dead and dying trees.  I’m pretty shaken.  It’s a relief to get to the green aspen groves closer to the trailhead.

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13 thoughts on “Gore Range Trail–Copper Mountain to Silverthorne

    • Thanks, Roger. Your blog at Nielsen Brown Outdoors is one of my inspirations to start doing this. Looks like you have some brand new content. I’ll be checking it out.

  1. Fantastic pics! My wife and i are headed to Breckenridge August 13th. I normally backpack and hike, but with her we’ll do day hikes. I think she can cover 15 mile roundtrips in a day. Do you have suggestions in and around Breck for trails, either loops or in and outs? Thanks. jb

    • Hi, jeff. Thanks for checking out my blog. The section of the Gore Range Trail illustrated in my post can also be done as a couple of day hikes. You can hike up from Copper Mountain over Uneva Pass and down Ten Mile Creek to Frisco and use the Summit Stage to get back to your car. From Frisco you can hike up either Ten Mile Creek or Meadow Creek over Eccles Pass and down to Silverthorne, again using the Summit Stage to return. For more ideas take a look at The Summit Hiker and the National Geographic maps #108 and #109.

    • It really was a lot of fun, Kari. This trip had about twenty trail miles and a couple more of road walking. But it may feel longer because of all the ups and downs.

  2. Lovely pictures. Thinking about taking a friend on their first backpacking trip – Copper to Lost Lake for a one-nighter at the end of August. Do you think the Mosquitos will still be in full effect? I was planning to camp at the lake but might need to move higher like you did.

    • Thanks, MJ. By the end of August, it’s cool enough at night at altitude that most of the mosquitoes will have disappeared. Have a great time at Lost Lake. It really is a beautiful spot.

      • Thanks for the tip. Deciding either between the Lost Lake route or Gore Creek Trail to Gore Lake. (I wish work didn’t block all blogs now, I used to look through all your trip reports for ideas around here.)

        WordPress.com Dondo commented: “Thanks, MJ. By the end of August, it’s cool enough at night at altitude that most of the mosquitoes will have disappeared. Have a great time at Lost Lake. It really is a beautiful spot.”

  3. Dondo – I will be heading to this area in a few weeks. My daughter is in a camp at Copper, so I was just going to roam the mountains for the week. If I wanted to set up a tent base camp and do dayhikes for four days. Which spot would you recommend for the camp? Somewhere near Lost Lake or somewhere else? I can drive to any trailhead.

    • Hi Mark,

      I hope this isn’t too late, but Lost Lake would be a lovely spot. The area around Eccles Pass is also beautiful and is more centrally located and would make it easier to do side trips over Red Buffalo Pass to Gore Lake, south on the Gore Range Trail to Willow and Salmon Lakes, and north to Uneva Pass and Lost Lake. Check out the Summit Stage, which is the free local transit system. From the hub in Frisco, you can catch a bus to Copper and to Silverthorne which isn’t far from the Mesa Cortina trailhead. From the hub in Frisco, you can just walk across the highway to another trailhead which leads to the center of this area.

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