Watch: Bootprints Hiking Guide to Ute Peak via Ute Pass | SummitDaily.com
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Watch: Bootprints Hiking Guide to Ute Peak via Ute Pass

There is only one way to describe Ute Peak, which resides in the Williams Fork Mountains north of Silverthorne: it’s an underappreciated Summit County gem.

Each summer the Colorado High Country conversation and hiking appetites quickly turn to 14ers. The state’s 14,000-foot mountains are great and should be appreciated, but for locals it’s smaller mountains with equally-demanding hikes, like the one up the 12,303-foot Ute Peak, that shouldn’t go forgotten.

On Saturday over the Labor Day weekend, while there were probably hundreds of hikers on 14ers like Quandary Peak, I saw only about a half dozen souls on the 5.9-mile trail from Ute Pass to Ute Peak. And most of them were bowhunters getting an early start on the season.

The hike begins from the top of Ute Pass Road at at 9,570 feet above sea level. The road can be accessed off of Colorado Highway 9 via a 15-minute drive north from the outskirts of Silverthorne. From the trailhead the views of the monstrous, jagged Gore Range to the west are stunning. Just 0.4 miles and 300-feet of elevation gain into the hike, you’ll get an even better view of the Gore Range.

Take note that this will be your final view of the Gore for miles, as the lion’s share of this hike is under a canopy of trees.

From here you’ll gradually gain some more elevation, totaling 700 feet, until you reach substantial blowdown of trees across the trail at 1.1 miles. These downed trees signify where you’ll begin to lose elevation as you continue toward the mountaintop. It’s every hiker’s worst nightmare, as it means that much more elevation gain total on the hike.

At 1.8 miles in, looking to the left I was able to see lingering plumes of smoke from the Williams Fork Fire. I didn’t taste smoke, but it was evident in the valley below.

A downed log across a creek at the 2.1-mile marker of the hike signified where the Ute Pass Trail proper continued on the left, though a faint trail — a shortcut up to the ridgeline, continued straight. I decided to stay on the main trail to the left as hunters at the creek warned of blown down trees on the shortcut trail.

It was 2.5 miles into the hike where I reached the junction of the Ute Pass Trail N31, which I was hiking on, and the Ute Peak Trail N24, which I took a right turn on to continue up to Ute Peak. After losing several hundred feet, the ascent from here punched me straight in the mouth. At the 4 mile mark, I gained 1,900 feet total in the hike but still had 1,200 feet of climbing to go. It was around there where a saddle between high points on the wooded ridgeline provided a slight reprieve, but then the climbing kept on coming.

At 4.75 miles the trail finally peeks above timberline. From here to the summit the singletrack trail is relatively easy to follow, though there are a few spots where cairns and upright sticks help point you in the right direction.

Because this trail resides on the shady side of the mountain, Ute Peak can have lingering snow early and late in the summer season, even if it doesn’t look snow-capped from the highway below. Be forewarned.

Staying on the trail, I skirted the couple of false summits as eventually the jaw-dropping 360-degree views all around came into sight. As I continued along the ridge, I has a prime view of several Front Range peaks to the east, Grays and Torreys to the south and Copper Mountain Resort’s ski runs at southwest.

As I approached the true summit there was one small lingering snow patch. Though faint in spots, the trail continued nearly to the summit before just a minute of scrambling was required to take in the phenomenal view of the Williams Fork ridgeline leading toward Ptarmigan Peak to the south.

Trail Fast Facts

Difficulty: More difficult
Distance: 5.9-mile one-way
Elevation gain: 3,115 feet one-way
Elevation loss: 398 feet one-way
Starting elevation: 9,570 feet
Ending elevation: 12,288 feet
Elapsed time: 2:50:59
Average speed: 2.06 miles-per-hour
Average pace: 29.08 minutes-per-mile
Parking: Ute Pass pull-offs at top of Ute Pass Road off Colorado Highway 9 north of Silverthorne
Ideal for: Wildflower views, views of the Gore Range, 360-degree views, alternative to 14er hike, canopied long hike with dog


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