Thursday, June 27, 2019

Colorado Trail - Three Elk to Silver Creek

Colorado Trail - Three Elk to Silver Creek
Three Elk TH to Bunnys Trail to Colorado Trail to Silver Creek TH

Start Elevation: 8,829 ft.
High Point: 10,745 ft. (CT / Bunnys Trail Jct)
Harvard Lakes Elevation: 10,243 ft.
Silver Creek TH Elevation: 9,435 ft.
Distance: 6.76 mi.
Elevation Gain: 2,031 ft.
Elevation Loss: 1,367 ft.
Start Time: 8:43am
End Time: 12:29pm

Trip Report:
June 2019 hiking in Colorado has been like nothing I've seen out there before. As I began my research and my brainstorming of fun options I started with the hope the "skies the limit". The massive, well above average, snow of winter 2019 in Colorado changed these plans and lofty ideas quickly. Aspirations of hiking Frenchman's Creek up and over Harvard or the Halo Ridge route on Holy Cross quickly went out the window with reports of those basins still being buried in spring snow.

Hiking on the old road to start

To avoid the challenges of the snow, and with this being my first day out in the mountains, we found a wonderful option that would could us in elevations below the snow line. We found a great section hike on the Colorado Trail near our base of operations that would get us close to the mileage we had hoped for in a first day. We had initially looked at starting at the Frenchman Creek trailhead and then hiking past Harvard Lakes on down to the Silver Creek trailhead. We found, however, that the road up to the high Frenchman Creek TH was still closed, so we bailed on that option. Instead, my father who has been hiking a lot of the local Buena Vista trails in the past year noted a start at the Three Elk TH would be accessible and make for a great, easy dayhike. So we opted with that.

The road just keeps going up

We arrived a the TH and found a large group of 15-20 hikers getting ready to head up to the Lakes. A few other cars were also present. My mother was dropping us off with the plans of picking us up at Silver Lake. This would make for a great shuttle hike. We had plans of hiking what is called the "Bunnys Trail" all the way up to the Colorado Trail.

End of the road, singletrack from here

At about 0.8 miles in after having hiked up a 4WD road we came to the first junction. Left would be the Three Elk Trail which heads up to the CT and continues onward up into the basin on Mt. Columbia's east side. Heading straight would continue up the road and become the Bunnys Trail. We continued onward. The road was steep and didn't switchback much as it went pretty much straight west up the hill. Eventually it was gated and the trail became singletrack at about 1.7 miles in. From there it was another 0.75 miles up to the Colorado Trail. Not long before we met the CT we walked by an old log cabin along the trail.

Old log cabin

Once on the CT we had hit our high point of the day already and it would be pretty easy sailing from then on. Much of the CT in this area of the Sawatch traverses at a pretty even keel unless it is ascending or descending into the valleys.

The CT is like a superhighway trail

Creek crossing on a "log bridge"

It was about a mile and a quarter of nice easy hiking to make it to the Harvard Lakes. They are quite the popular hiking destination near Buena Vista. The northern lake had nobody present when we arrived but had beautiful views with the eastern slopes of Columbia in the background. The southern lake just a stone's throw down the trail had a number of people already hanging nearby. We could certainly see why many people enjoy the nice dayhike up to the lakes as a destination. We saw one group having camped along the south side of the lake. We grabbed a bite to eat and took a few minutes to enjoy while at the lake.

Northern of the Harvard Lakes

Pano of the southern of the Harvard Lakes

From the lakes it was 2 more miles of great CT singletrack to enjoy with a few spots that opened out of the trees for pictures. The descent down to the Silver Creek TH was the last 0.9 miles or so. The switchbacks in this section are fairly easy never getting too steep. The trailhead had a number of cars, a dozen or so parked in places near the road and the trees. Technically, the true Silver Creek TH is just a quarter mile up the north Cottonwood road and it has a bathroom as well.

More of the CT superhighway

Open views of the Arkansas River Valley

Mount Yale hiding in the background

Looking up into Horn Fork Basin

I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk).  

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