Hike of the Week: One of the Best Hikes in Colorado, Mount Royal Summit
July 1, 2005
Gnarled and twisted tree limbs, with ghostly arms that reach out to entreat visitors, create an eerie fascination at Mt. Royal’s summit, one of the best hikes in Colorado. The trees are limber pine, one of 110 species in the pine family, and reminiscent of its long-lived cousin, the bristlecone. Climbing Mt. Royal is a bit like going to the viewing deck of a city skyscraper. Its cliff-top summit provides drop-dead views.
Drive I-70 to Frisco exit 201. Turn east and proceed 0.1 miles to the bike path parking area. Enter the paved bikeway trail system and veer left for the route to Breckenridge. Walk 0.5 miles on asphalt to the signed Mt. Royal trail, which angles off to the right. The trail meanders through aspen glades and past caved-in mine tunnels to the ruins of Old Masontown, destroyed by an avalanche in 1926. (Stay right at the trail fork before the townsite.) Later note the active slide path as you climb above the town’s remains on a sharp right angle turn.
This local hiking trail provides a huffa-puffa workout; hiking upward results in a gain of 800 feet altitude in the 0.4 miles beyond Masontown to the Mt. Royal trail junction. There a 90-degree right turn puts you on the short 0.1-mile path to the Mt. Royal summit.(Hikers looking for an easy trail can proceed only to the ruins of Old Masontown at 0.9 miles, a moderate walk.)
A broad open area at the top, encrusted with rock, provides a viewing platform. Through a dramatic cleft in the rock, note the sheer drop to the Ten Mile Canyon. “Toy” cars and trucks shoot along the tiny I-70 route 140 stories below. The panorama takes in the five-mile deep North Ten Mile Canyon; 12,777-foot Buffalo Mountain; Lake Dillon with the Continental Divide beyond (good views of Grays and Torreys Peaks also); a sweep across 10,199-foot Ophir Mountain to the Swan River valley; Swan Mountain; and the ski runs of Keystone, North Peak and the Outback. Mt. Guyot rises starkly in the southeast.
Mt. Royal’s summit offers some good picnic spots. A peeled log structure atop the knoll serves as a conversation piece and lunch spot. After lunch explore the former mining area. The footpath continues southwest for a short distance to a mine shaft hewn in the solid rock.
En route down this Summit County hiking trail, spend some time at old Masontown. (See Mary Ellen Gilliland’s SUMMIT, A Gold Rush History of Summit County, Colorado for Masontown’s history.) Symbolic of the town’s silver-studded past is a trio of thick aspens growing beside a ruined building’s foundation. The trees, located beside an old cut trunk, sprang up from an aspen root that refused to die. Echoes of Frisco’s mining past linger on cool currents of mountain air. In the stillness, sounds from Frisco and busy Hwy. 9 waft up the mountainside. Certainly, Masontown’s early day residents heard sounds of an occasional barroom brawl in Frisco or the noisy chug-chug and warning scream of the narrow gauge locomotive arriving from Breckenridge. Each engineer had his own signature whistle, recognized by residents.
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Masontown generated its own noise during heyday years. General Buford’s 1866 gold-copper strike here grew to 12 active claims. Around 1905 the huge 200×300-foot stamp mill, crushing 50 ore tons daily, created a massive boom. The brick smelter clanged as workers wielding iron implements tended the furnace. During The Prohibition moonshiners operated a whiskey still near Masontown. Visit the Frisco Historical Society’s jailhouse exhibit after your return to see a copper still on exhibit.
Enjoy one of the best hikes in Colorado! The New Summit Hiker is a guide for 50 historic hiking trails near Breckenridge, Frisco, Copper Mountain, Keystone, Dillon and in the Ptarmigan Peak and Gore Range/Eagle’s Nest Wilderness Areas. The book is available in Summit County and Vail bookstores, supermarkets and sporting goods shops or by calling Alpenrose Press at (970) 468-6273. For additional trails information for both the Vail and Summit county areas, visit http://www.alpenrosepress.com.MT. ROYAL SUMMITTime: 2 1/2-3 hours.
Distance: 1.4 milesElevation gain: 1,407 feetHigh point: 10,502 feetRating: More difficultUsually open: Mid-June-early Oct.Topo: USGS Frisco 1970, rev. 1987
Originally published in the July 1, 2005, issue of the Summit Daily and regularly vetted for accuracy