Get lost beside the Gore Range on Acorn Creek Trail in winter
BY THE NUMBERS
Mileage: 8.3 miles out and back
Time: 5-6 hours, depending on athletic ability
Elevation gain: Roughly 2,671 feet
Gear: Snowshoes, cross-country skis, splitboard
Getting there: From Interstate 70, take Exit 205 for Silverthorne. Travel north on Highway 9 for about 11 miles. After the bridge over the Blue River, turn right onto Road No. 2400. If you go past the turn for Ute Pass, you’ve gone about two miles two far. Follow Road No. 2400 for a half-mile until you reach a fork in the road. Take the right fork onto Road No. 2402. Follow this road another half-mile to the trailhead.
The next best thing to hiking in the Gore Range itself is hiking a trail that lets you look at the range all day. The Gore offers breathtaking views, and more than that, it offers locals and visitors alike the opportunity to feel a sense of remoteness.
Head north on Highway 9 out of Silverthorne, and soon enough, the shopping centers, stoplights and neighborhoods start to disappear. It’s a classic stretch of road that I can always count on for relief and sheer beauty (not to mention that stretch of highway is graced with trailheads galore). Acorn Creek Trail is one of the many trailheads one can find between Silverthorne and Green Mountain Reservoir.
A TRAIL FOR ANY HIKER
From the trailhead alone, I could tell it was going to be a stunning hike. The entire 45-mile Gore Range stretched out before us, a view that would surely get better as we climbed higher on the trail.
I headed out with two friends, Alyssa and Lacey, and right off the bat we realized how versatile Acorn Creek was. The first quarter-mile is open, gradually inclining. Almost immediately we came across a fork in the trail, which we followed left.
After this fork, the trail slowly dips into a thick aspen grove. I really enjoyed this alternating pattern of open and forested stretches, as it keeps the trail more interesting, as opposed to a tunnel-like trail or one that feels endlessly flat. The trail led us through myriad different forests: thick aspen groves with bare, spindly branches led to sections of spruce and fir trees that buried the trail and us.
As the trail became less straightforward, more wooden signs were posted with arrows or just “trail” carved in block letters. To me, this made Acorn Creek feel even more magical and seemed to fit the storybook-sounding trail name.
OVER THE CREEK AND THROUGH THE WOOD
Following the trail down into the thicket of spruce and fir was the steepest of only a couple declines. For this section I found it helpful to have poles.
Surrounded by a massive cluster of trees, we felt this was the lowest point of the trail, elevation-wise. In this forested valley we crossed a plank bridge over a partially frozen creek — let’s call it Acorn Creek for assumption’s sake.
The appearance of the surface was deceiving — this creek wasn’t frozen. It rushed and churned below a thick layer of ice. I stopped for a couple minutes with my eyes closed, listening to its song. The creek sung for me a tune of strength and persistence, the same tune that it would sing in the summer months. Despite the bitter cold, the creek still flows endlessly, and I was reminded of nature’s steadfast resilience.
PEAKING ON THE GORE RANGE
We next moved slightly uphill after the creek, still in a deeply forested section. Over my right shoulder, looking west, I saw the mighty Gore. It was a fun personal exercise to see how my perspective changed as we hiked.
At times the Gore’s craggy peaks were swallowed in clouds, leaving only the bases to be seen. Other times, I could only see tips of the peaks through breaks in the tree line. The juxtaposition was powerful.
The trail began to make more turns as we gained elevation. After about another half-mile through more forest, the trail opened up dramatically. The hillsides to our east became more visible, looking less like hills and more like mountains the closer we came to their bases.
MORE MOUNTAIN THAN HILL
The trail became narrower around this point, and I was glad to have poles for balance and additional power in my step. We’d hiked a bit over two miles at this point and could tell that we hadn’t hit nearly all the elevation this trail contained.
We came across the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness boundary and decided to press on another half-mile or so. The trail began to switchback and the snow was much less compacted as we moved along. By then it was nearly 2 p.m. and we were breaking trail. If we had known better, we’d have started earlier in the day. This section was much steeper and harder to follow.
I had the satisfaction that I’d spent a little time on the mountain and spent a little time on the hill. We turned back about two and a half miles into our trek, still awed by incredible views and the trail’s versatility. We saw only one other person on the trail all day — that too is a feat, I’d say.
Acorn Creek Trail eventually intersects with Ute Peak Trail and Ptarmigan Trail, both of which allow the hiker to continue at will. The hike can be as long or as short as you like.
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