Where to go skinning and fly-fishing for mud season in Summit County
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When lifts stop spinning and snow starts melting, Summit County sees an exodus. Welcome to the official start of mud season — random April snowstorms be damned.
For outdoors junkies, the stretch between closing day and Memorial Day is just about the only time they’re forced to stay inside or find a beach somewhere. But it doesn’t have to be so. The mid-April storm will likely extend the backcountry season for a few more weeks above 10,000 feet, while trails and fishing holes at lower elevations will be mud-free (or mud-minimal) until the real runoff begins in mid-May.
Then, there are the resort holdouts: Peak 8 at Breckenridge is open daily until April 24 and Copper Mountain reopens from April 22-24, while Loveland Ski Area is cranking until early May and Arapahoe Basin is guaranteed through Memorial Day.
In short, there’s plenty to do around here if you can’t afford cabin fever or a plane ticket. We talked with experts from all four corners of the county for their favorite local distractions when mud season rears its ugly head.
Touring at Baldy and Mayflower Gulch
The heat of early April did a number on the trails leading to Bald Mountain east of Breckenridge and Mayflower Gulch south of Copper Mountain. Thankfully, this weekend’s snowfall promises to fill in the gaps for alpine touring, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing.
At Baldy, the main access (Mount Baldy trailhead at the intersection of CR 528 and CR 536) is covered enough for most types of non-motorized winter travel. Biking and summer hiking will wait until June. The road is about 4.5 miles from the trailhead to the summit, but most folks stop at the Iowa Mine around mile 3, rest a bit, and then make the final push to one of several bowls and glades on the west-facing slopes surrounding the Carbonate Mine.
At Mayflower, the main access (Mayflower Gulch trailhead found 5.3 miles south of Copper on Highway 91) is about the same as Baldy. It’s a 2.8-mile trek from the trailhead to the abandoned Boston Mine, which leads to dozens of steeps and bowls on west and southwest-facing slopes.
A word of warning: Both routes head above tree line and are popular from December to late-April, but that doesn’t mean avalanche danger is nothing. Take the proper precautions, bring the appropriate gear and double-check your backcountry safety checklist. To paraphrase backcountry veteran Jeremy Jones, if just one item on the list is missing, turn around and live to ride another day. If you don’t have a list, stick to the resorts.
Fishing on the Blue
True mountain anglers have a secret hole for every season, and local guides like Nick McDonnell of The Colorado Angler in Silverthorne are no exception.
“As always, it depends on the weather,” McDonnell said. “We see the runoff get bad at the end of May into most of the month of June. That’s our mud season for the rivers, when everything gets too cloudy.”
Until then, McDonnell recommends trying tail waters on the Blue River below Dillon Reservoir. Colorado Division of Wildlife has been stocking the reservoir all spring, and the stretches of river along Highway 9 between Silverthorne and Green Mountain Reservoir are fishing nicely right now for a day trip. For a weekend trip, head out of the county to the Fryingpan River, a tail waters tributary of the Roaring Fork River near Basalt.
Come May and June, when river runoff is at its heaviest, McDonnell suggests trading muddy riverbanks for still-water fishing at Green Mountain and portions of Dillon Reservoir. The current cold front might delay the thaw at local brook trout ponds for another two weeks, McDonnell said.
Hiking Oro Grande
Hiking season seems so very far away right now, but in about two weeks most south-facing trails will be clear and ready for travel. Foot travel, that is.
“For mountain bikers this is still considered winter, so we don’t encourage that right now,” said Ken Waugh, recreation ranger with the Dillon Ranger District. “It’s time to get out and hike, go until you run into snow and turn around.”
One of Waugh’s favorite early-season hikes is the Oro Grande Trail on the southwestern face of Tenderfoot Mountain. The trail (accessed by CR 51 just outside of Dillon) weaves through exposed meadows and the occasional aspen stand for 3.5 miles before ending just east of the Dillon Cemetery. The southern aspect helps the trail and surrounding meadows dry out as early as late April. Just remember: It’s called mud season for a reason.
“People go out this time of year and find snow drifts on trails or runoff on trails, and when they try to avoid that it creates braids and ruts,” Waugh said. “Our main message going into mud season is stay on the trail and be prepared to get your feet muddy.”
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