Hike Summit: Deer Creek Trail
Special to the Daily
The Deer Creek watershed is created by the snowmelt of the Continental Divide, the eastern boundary of Summit County. Deer Creek descends through a valley that once supported several silver mines on Teller Mountain (12,602 feet). These mines include Lower Radical, Upper Radical, Arabella, Star of the West, Mohawk and Cashier.
The creek flows north in the valley east of Glacier Mountain (12,443 feet), an area famous for General Teller, Wild Irishman and Saints John mines.
The Deer Creek Trail begins close to where Deer Creek pours into the Snake River. In an area designated open for multiple uses, the hiking trail is actually an old mining road used for mountain biking, cross-country skiing and four-wheel-drive recreation.
From the trailhead, the hike is 4 miles total, from 10,600 feet to the Continental Divide at 12,600 feet. The 2,000-foot vertical ascent on hard-pack road takes about two hours — a typical intermediate Summit County hike.
Since the area is dense with a plethora of deer, elk, moose, ptarmigan and mountain goats, allowing dogs to be loose is not advisable. However, the Deer Creek area is general National Forest lands where dogs are legally allowed to run. Backcountry camping is allowed. Several established campsites are scattered in the lower valley, located within a short walk of Deer Creek to filter for drinking water. Local National Forest regulations require dispersed camping be set at least 100 feet from road, trail, or waterway, but established campsites that deviate slightly from the rule are generally acceptable. Campfires are allowed throughout the valley.
Carry standard essentials in a day pack when taking this hike. Due to the exposed high-altitude tundra on the Continental Divide, take either a windbreaker or down jacket as well. Carrying 2 liters of water is not excessive, especially since there is no water source above tree line, which is about the last 1,000 feet of ascent. A high-energy snack, sunglasses, map or GPS, headlamp, pocket knife, adhesive bandages and cell phone are reasonable supplies. As with any outdoor adventure, pack out any trash and leave no trace of your visit.
The Deer Creek Trail rises quickly on switchbacks and past lush fields of wildflowers, including primrose, penstemon, Parry primrose, paintbrush, King’s Crown and mertensia chiming bells. In the higher tundra, frosty ball thistle and Old-Man-of-the-Mountain grow.
Once on the ridge, hike east along cliffs overlooking Park County, south of the Continental Divide. Walk east to Webster Pass and view the brilliant slopes of Red Cone (12,801 feet). North, beyond the Snake River and Peru Creek watersheds, the summits of Grays Peak (14,270 feet) and Torreys Peak (14,267 feet) should be visible. When the day is quiet, without motorized vehicle traffic and no harassing dogs, I have found ptarmigan among the stunted willow thickets and a herd of mountain goats comprising more than twenty nannies and kids.
How to get there
The drive from Silverthorne to the Deer Creek Trailhead beyond Montezuma is approximately 20 miles. From the I-70 interchange in Silverthorne, drive east to Keystone on U.S. Highway 6. At the bridge east of the Keystone Resort parking lot at River Run, exit to Montezuma Road. Ascend to the town of Montezuma and pass beyond it to a large winter recreation parking area. Continue on a mildly steep and rough gravel road. Drive carefully across water diversion berms and protruding rocks at a slow pace. Proceed from the Forest Service entrance to the Deer Creek watershed. You may park at the side of the road at an existing pull-out, without blocking access routes. Do not proceed across Deer Creek unless you have a low-gear, high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Kim Fenske has written extensively on hiking trails throughout Colorado. His writing includes “Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties” and “Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness,” available from Amazon Kindle Books.
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