Bootprints Hiking Guide: Tenderfoot Mountain loop
DILLON — At just over 3 miles, a loop hike on Tenderfoot Mountain is a great route that’s perfect for a novice hiker looking to push him or herself, or for a trail runner looking to get a great workout in. Either way, it’s the kind of adventure you can add to your day here in Summit County — whether in the morning or for a sunset — that will allow for you to do other things with your day besides hiking.
You’re going to want to park at the lot and pull off on County Road 51 just above the Dillon Water Treatment Plant. It’s here where you can access the northwest terminus of the Oro Grande trail, a main vein near the base of Tenderfoot Mountain that is very popular among hikers, trail runners mountain bikers and other kinds of recreators.
You’ll move through the first 1,200 feet of distance on the wide trail before a canopy of trees gives way to a truly glorious view of Peak 1, the Dillon Reservoir and much of Summit County. It’s here where you’ll find a sign directing you up to the left to access Tenderfoot Trail No. 76.
It’s worth noting just past this junction there is a flat open-space overlook that is a great spot to snap photos, take a break or picnic.
Once on the Tenderfoot Trail, you will climb steadily on a singletrack trail. You’ll enjoy consistent views of the Dillon Reservoir, which will get better and better as you climb. Along this entire loop balance out gawking at the views with remaining cognizant of other recreators, namely mountain and dirt bikers, as the trail is very popular among cyclists.
About three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead you will have gained 300 to 400 feet. The nice thing about the Tenderfoot trail is it’s been built with switchbacks to make the scaling easier, but also has lengthy stretches with great views between the switchbacks. As a result, you may forget at times that you are indeed climbing a mountain.
Staying on the trail isn’t very difficult, though it’s worth noting locals have carved some social-trail spurs. There may be two or three times on your hike where you’ll think twice about where to go, so be sure to scope out the terrain around you and it should be easy enough to find the right way to stay on course. You’ll find one of these instances just under a mile into the hike, amid a stand of dead trees, where you’ll want to continue right rather than heading straight into the woods.
It was just over a mile into the hike where I gave my canine companion Ruger his biggest rest and refuel of the hike. If you climb the Tenderfoot loop in the direction I describe, be wary that the sun above 9,000 feet will beat down especially hard on your dog thanks to all those open views. Be sure to find shade and let your pooch lap it up, even if you’re not feeling that worn down.
It’ll be about 1.5 miles into the hike, just over 600 feet of elevation gain in, where you’ll hike under the power lines and come to a fence-like gate. It’s here where the Tenderfoot Trail No. 76 joins in with U.S. Forest Service Trail 9509 coming in from the right. Continue straight to head toward the back half of the loop.
From here Ruger and I enjoyed trail running much of the rest of the way, as the switchbacking singletrack provided a steady descent with no steep pitches. Through here, again, be wary of mountain bikers coming from both directions, as this singletrack trail is a mountain-biking heaven.
Just about 2.5 miles into the hike you’ll find U.S. Forest Service Trail 9516 coming in from the right. Again, stay straight to continue on the Tenderfoot loop.
Distance: 3.2-mile loop
Elevation gain: 657 feet
Starting elevation: 9,325 feet
Peak elevation: 9,982 feet
Elapsed time: 1:20:19
Average speed: 2.51 miles-per-hour
Average pace: 23.90 minutes-per-mile
Parking: Above Dillon Water Treatment Plant on County Road 51
Ideal for: Hiking with a dog, wildflower views, novice hikers and out-of-towners, sunset views, fall foliage
About 3 miles into the loop you’ll be blessed by one final grove of Aspens, making this hike an ideal autumn jaunt. Not too far from here you’ll find another fence-like gate at left of the trail. Make a left here to descend the final portion of the Tenderfoot loop back to your parked car.
This loop can be hiked in reverse, and may be best executed that way for a sunset hike, as the open vistas under starlight and moonlight on the southeastern portion of the loop will provide great golden-hour views after you top out the route.
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