Winter Hiking Guide: Tenderfoot Trail offers unbeatable views of Tenmile Range
March 11, 2017
BY THE NUMBERS
Mileage: 3.6 miles round trip
Time: 2-3 hours, depending on athletic ability
Elevation gain: Roughly 621 feet
Gear: Snowshoes, cross-country skis, splitboard, hiking boots
Getting there: From I-70 take exit 205. Travel south on Highway 6 towards Dillon and Keystone. At the traffic light at the top of the hill turn left on Evergreen Road. Then, take an immediate right onto Straight Creek Road. Follow this road for approximately 0.6 miles to just past the forest service work center and Dillon water tank. After the road turns to gravel, pull into the parking area on the right.
Editor's note: This is a bi-monthly winter hiking guide. Until the trails thaw, stay tuned for more winter hiking reports from now until April.
The view atop Tenderfoot Mountain is so expansive it can barely be captured in a camera lens. On the far left is Keystone Resort and glimpses of 13ers Mount Guyot and Bald Mountain. Also on the left, the Tenmile Range and Breckenridge Ski Resort unfold with unobstructed clarity. All the way down the line, I count the 10 peaks. The town of Frisco rests straight ahead directly underneath Mount Royal. With my gaze, I trace the rolling tree-covered hillsides that bridge the gap between the Tenmile and the Gore.
The sleepy town of Dillon rests at the base of the mountain, nestled along the shoreline of Lake Dillon. Wildernest Road is traceable as it snakes its way up the hillside underneath Buffalo Mountain. To the right, the mighty Gore Range pops up dramatically, starting with the noticeable Buffalo Mountain. From this vantage point, the entire Gore Range is in plain site. This hike offers so much to the beholder and at the top of Tenderfoor Mountain hikers are given clear views of Summit County in its entirety.
I hadn't gotten a view this good in a long time — not since climbing 14ers during the summer months. Tenderfoot Trail was an easy hike: not much elevation gain and not very long. To reach Tenderfoot Mountain I traveled on the Oro Grande Trail for about half a mile. Oro Grande was a gentle trail that weaved through aspen groves until topping out on a high hill.
A small signpost on the left indicates the start of the Tenderfoot Trail. The trail steepens briefly during this initial portion. At this point the views are at my back, as the trail takes me uphill towards the Tenderfoot summit.
ON FOOT TOWARDS TENDERFOOT
With each quarter mile underfoot I would turn around to catch glimpses of the improving views of the Gore and Tenmile. The trail eased up the hillside without sharp turns or any steep pitches. I was blown away by the simplicity of this trail and how little effort was needed to reach such stunning views.
Bristlecone pine trees were scattered on either side of the trail during the 1/2 mile. Snarled and weathered, the ancient bristlecone trees had intricate designs along their bark. With such grace in its resiliency, the bristlecones twist and turn against the elements yet stand firm with deep roots. The sun was getting high and the trail was slushy in places. Grass, roots and sagebrush stuck up through the snow in sections. A south facing hillside, the trail was already showing signs of intense spring sunshine.
TRUST IN THE TRAIL
The Tenderfoot Trail didn't have signposts or any markers to keep hikers on the trail. Most Summit County hiking trails during the winter become a social trail through the snow: a beaten, well-packed path. Winter trails ask hikers to invest a certain amount of trust. You might not be on the official trail. You might be a few paces off, or you could be a couple yards off.
You trust the well-beaten path set down before you and make strides towards a summit. Tenderfoot Trail was fairly straightforward. From about a 1/2 mile in until the summit the hike weaved through thick lodge pole pine and aspen forests. The trail was a bit spotty at times with smaller trails breaking off from the main vein.
SOUNDS OF SILENCE
Stopping for a water break about a mile and a half in I heard a repetitive, soft knocking sound. The sound was relentless and had a force of determination behind it. I followed the origin of the sound and a flash of red caught my eye. It was a red headed woodpecker about 30 feet off the ground digging into an aspen tree for food.
All day I'd only seen two groups of people. One group I passed very close to the start of the trail and the other group I'd seen along the Oro Grande Trail. I was an hour and a half into my hike at this point and hadn't seen a soul since I'd hopped on Tenderfoot Trail. Back against an aspen trunk, I enjoyed the mountain view through trees.
I could hear the very distant whisper of traffic below in Silverthorne and the slight dripping sound of melting snow falling from trees. The wind caressed the aspen and pines making them sway, creating the faintest of sounds. Up above, the woodpecker continued on in an endless pursuit.
I had a feeling atop Tenderfoot Mountain that I was just a visitor in this raw, removed place. I eventually reached a wooden bench, which from reading the trail guide I knew marked the end of the official trail. From this point the trail sort of dissipated. So, I carried on a bit longer. The top section was less forested, which meant even better views. For about 10 minutes I continued on, breaking trail and sinking deeply into untouched snow. At my chosen turn-around spot, I stood for a while taking in the views.
Out of all my Summit County hikes, Tenderfoot has been a favorite. The views are incomparable. Never before had I encountered a hike that reveals the entire Gore Range and Tenmile Range, as well as Keystone, Breckenridge, Dillon and Lake Dillon — all the hugely recognizable, beautiful aspects of this county.