Sawmill Creek |

Sawmill Creek

Mary Ellen Gilliland
Special to the Daily
An early snowstorm yielded this "baby seal" figure, a snow-capped rock in Sawmill Creek.
The Summit Hiker / Special to the Daily |

Sawmill Creek

Time: 1-2 hours

Distance: 0.8 miles one way

Elevation gain: 240 feet

High point: 9,920 feet

Rating: Easy

Usually open: June to mid-September

Topo: USGS Breckenridge

Kids starting school will love a last foray into the forest with a children’s hike before classes begin. This one, Sawmill Creek, is one of several new Kids’ Hikes from the new full-color, completely revised 2013 edition of “The Summit Hiker.” Encourage their imaginations as the young hikers walk the trail.

A deep ravine spliced by a noisy, splashing stream creates a magic world for kids and adults to explore. It’s Sawmill Creek, tucked into a residential neighborhood five minutes from Breckenridge Main Street. Short and easy for tykes ages 4 and older, the thickly wooded trail draws hikers through sun-dappled shadows to suddenly emerge upon a bright lake shining in a flat, grassy meadow.

Quick, convenient and fun, the Sawmill Creek Trail offers a forest-and-stream nature experience without leaving town.

Drive Breckenridge’s Park Avenue (which is parallel to and west of Main Street) to Four O’Clock Road. Turn west, and drive uphill 0.35 miles to the junction of Four O’Clock Road and Kings Crown Road. Just beyond King’s Crown, you will spy the Sawmill Lift and a very small parking area.

The trail begins just below and west of the chairlift and trail signboard. The footpath soon hugs Sawmill Creek as it winds upward through the forest, which crowds in on the narrow trail. Rocks and roots punctuate the path. Kids can listen to the conversation of the creek, touch and feel the satiny evergreen needles, inhale the musty scent of the moist forest floor, search for animal burrows and spot shy wildflowers blooming in the wood. Remember to observe but not pick flowers, so that others can enjoy them.

If trees could talk, they’d tell you lots. The aspen trees at the trail’s beginning grow as a family, not individually from seed. Under the soil, all the trees in the aspen colony spring from one connected root system — no loners here! Baby trees join the family when the main root sprouts a new shoot. The little trees soon flutter their leaves like their bigger brothers and sisters. In fact, the family’s name is quaking aspen, or Populus tremuloides in Latin. They are part of a much bigger family of trees called poplar.

Lodgepole pines seen here each have their own shallow root ball. Their green needles grow together in little bundles. Their cones, tight and compact, get sticky with syrupy pitch. The lodgepole got its name because the Plains Indians used the tall, straight mountain pines for teepee poles or “lodge poles” to support their homes.

Bridges span the tiny creek. The trail begins its climb from the ravine on wooden stairs and two bridges that barely top the rushing water. Surprise! Hikers pop out of the woods to confront a lake, once the main water reservoir for the 1859-born gold rush town of Breckenridge. (Sorry anglers: no fishing allowed in either the lake or Sawmill Creek.) Turn around as you leave the creek valley, and note the trail access location to find it for your return.

Views from the mountain lake include 11,412-foot Mount Argentine to the south. Further south lies 13,229-foot Red Mountain. Look southeast for 13,082-foot Boreas Mountain.

A walk around Sawmill Lake on a good path — and maybe some water play in the sandy shallows — completes the walk. Now find your access from the lake to descend the wooden stairs into Sawmill Creek’s depths to return to the trailhead.

Do elves and fairies live here? Or trolls beneath the bridge? Only children know for sure.

Author-historian Mary Ellen Gilliland has revised and expanded Her Guidebook “The Summit Hiker.” It’s available at local book, grocery and sporting goods stores or online at

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