Watch: Bootprints Hiking Guide to Gold Hill-Ophir Mountain loop
BRECKENRIDGE — With the recent snow up high, I opted Saturday morning for an ideal, lower-elevation hike that is still rewarding. To the east of the Tenmile Range, Gold Hill and Ophir Mountain are peaks that provide amazing views of Summit County. That’s because of their location close to the Tenmile Range and because of all the clear-cutting the U.S. Forest Service has done throughout the years to reduce fuel loading and mitigate fire hazards.
There is a great trail network, dubbed the Ophir Mountain Trail System, that is accessible via the Gold Hill Trailhead between Frisco and Breckenridge past the southern terminus of Dillon Reservoir and Summit High School. As you hike along the singletrack trail from the trailhead, remember that this is a popular route for mountain bikers and to always be cognizant of cycling traffic in both directions.
On this loop hike, the trail is near impossible to lose in the first 3 miles or so and has great signage thanks to it being a segment of the Continental Divide Trail. The Gold Hill trail meanders up through the clear-cutting with expansive views back east toward the Continental Divide and to the south with switchbacks providing a gentle yet steady gain.
Stay on the singletrack trail even when it butts up against Ophir Mountain Road at the right. Ascending the trail, there are some portions of canopy, though the sun will shine down on you for the vast majority of the hike. The wildflowers through here must be beautiful earlier in summer.
You’ll top out on Gold Hill just under 3 miles into the hike after 1,100 feet of elevation gain. The true summit is steps to the right past some blowdown. Continuing from the top of the trail, at 3.3 miles from the trailhead, my loop hike stayed to the right at another junction with Ophir Mountain Road. The Gold Hill Trail continues straight ahead through the road, where it descends to the Peaks Trail and the Miners Creek Road area. But I hung a right onto Ophir Mountain Road where a few moments later the Gifford Pinchot trail is in view in front of Buffalo Mountain. The start of the trail is denoted by an orange trail marker on a vertical wooden post.
At the 4-mile mark, a wide trail with loose sand comes in from the right. Hanging a right here eventually leads back to Ophir Mountain Road, but the loop continues on a Forest Service trail through the road.
At the 4.3 mile mark, a trail dubbed Faith breaks at right. I will come back to it to continue the loop after finding a way to the top of Ophir Mountain.
Continue hiking north toward Ophir Mountain and the wide Gifford Pinchot trail comes to an open space, where I took a left and hiked off trail toward the top of Ophir Mountain straight ahead. Hiking toward Ophir, I reached a faint social trail, where I headed left for a bit before spotting three more vertical wooden posts. Hiking off-trail, I ascended these fence posts before hiking straight up to the highest point I could see, which turned out to be the Ophir Mountain summit, at the top of which were rock piles, 5.1 miles and 1,500 feet of elevation gain into the hike.
This off-trail jaunt is worth it, thanks to the amazing 360-degree views at the top of Ophir. I spotted the opening where I could regain the wide Gifford Pinchot trail and hiked toward it, skirting some blowdown here and there.
After bearing left at the Faith trail, it’s worth noting that this trail is difficult to follow. Thanks to a map, compass and a topographic app with GPS coordinates, I was able to hike on Faith all the way back to the Ophir Mountain Road, which eventually led me back to the Gold Hill Trail. But I did lose the trail for a few minutes 6.5 miles into the loop and had to bushwhack toward the road to stay on course back to the parking lot.
Rating: Moderate to difficult
Distance: 8.2 miles
Elevation gain: 1,531 feet
Beginning and ending elevation: 9,291 feet
Top elevation: 10,315 feet
Elapsed time: 3 hours, 26 minutes and 12 seconds
Average speed: 2.39 mph
Average pace: 25.15 minutes-per-mile
Ideal for: Wildlife and wildflower viewing, a dry trail after some wet weather, hike with dog
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