Park County represents the very heart of Colorado, spreading over 2,200 square miles and rises from a low point of just under 8,000 feet above sea level to five peaks topping 14,000 feet. It is just an hour and a half’s drive from either Denver or Colorado Springs, but feels like a journey back in time – to the days of gold prospectors, trappers and even to prehistoric man. Hiking this area is an experience in which the terrain provides a challenge for the body, and with every step, the spirit of the wild areas provokes the sensation of a time when an adventurer depended solely on his or her innate abilities to survive.
John Rankin, an expert on Park County trails, describes five of his favorites, going from mountain ranges to solitary peaks to gently flowing streams on the plain of South Park. Be prepared for high elevation and a whole lot of inspiration.
‘My Colorado’, John’s way:
Bison Peak in the Tarryall Mountains
This mountain is the jewel of the Tarryall Mountains, which stretch from near Kenosha Pass to the South Platte River near Lake George. Heard of Garden of the Gods? That’s just a pile of rocks compared to the rock gardens atop Bison Peak.
To get there, go east on Lost Park Road (Park County Road 56) in South Park near Kenosha Pass. Go 19 miles, to Lost Park Campground, at the end of the road. Take the left fork, and go to the end of the campground, at the trailhead for Brookside-McCurdy Trail (Forest Service Trail 607).Follow Brookside-McCurdy trail up Lost Creek, and then up Indian Creek. It’s just over five miles to the top of a ridge and an intersection with Ute Trail; turn left, staying on Brookside-McCurdy Trail, going up some switchbacks. When the trail turns south and goes downhill, turn north and follow the ridge to the top of Bison Peak
Mount Buckskin in the Mosquito Range
Trailhead: 12,597 feet
Loveland Mountain Summit: 13,682 feet
Mount Buckskin Summit: 13,865 feet
Hiking Distance: 5.5 miles
Mount Buckskin is a high 13er, at the end of a long, high ridge that goes over another mountain, through the heart of the Mosquitoes.
From Colorado 9 in Alma, turn left onto Buckskin Avenue (also Park County Road 8, or Buckskin Gulch Road). At 1.7 miles, turn left onto FSR 192; at 3.1 miles turn right at a 3-way split in the road. When the road isn’t climbing anymore, park and start walking. On your right (east) will be the great mass of 14er Mount Bross; on the left, Mosquito Gulch and the high ridge with Mosquito Pass. The ridge is wide and easy to the top of Loveland Mountain, but gets narrower and rockier on the way to the summit of Mount Buckskin.
French Gulch in the South Park Range
Trailhead: 10,498 feet
French Pass: 12,020 feet
Hiking distance: 6.5 miles
According to the web site for Pike and San Isabel National Forests , French Pass was used by an early trapper, “French Pete,” to travel between two of his preferred trapping areas, one in the Blue River Valley, and one in South Park. From Jefferson, go north on PCR 35. At three miles, turn right onto PCR 54, Michigan Creek Road. At 5.7 miles, take the right fork, following the sign to Michigan Creek Campground and Georgia Pass. The trailhead for French Pass Treil, FST 651, is at 8.9 miles from US 285, on the left side of the road.
The trail follows the valley, through the forest at the lower end, then giving way to high alpine vegetation. The valley slowly curves to the right, making for grand views up at Boreas and Bald Mountains. It appears that one can see to Wyoming from the top of the pass.
French Creek, French Pass and French Creek Trail are named for French fur trapper(s) who used that route between South Park and the Blue River valley. The pass is the low point between Bald Mountain and Mount Guyot in the South Park Range.
French1: Boreas Mountain rises above a pond near the lower end of the valley along French Creek
French2: French Creek Trail (Forest Service Trail 651) can be seen as a dim line through the high altitude plantlife, heading toward Bald Mountain.
Rich Creek and Tumbling Creek Trails in the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness
Trailhead: 9,973 feet
Highest Point: 11,578 feet
Hiking Distance: 11.7 miles
These two trails form an almost circular trail through the low mountains between the Mosquito Range and Buffalo Peaks. The hike is long but easy, with an elevation gain of only 1,605 feet. From Fairplay, go south on U.S. 285 about four miles to PCR 5, just past mile marker 179, following the sign to Weston Pass. PCR 5 ends at PCR 22 in 7.2 miles; keep going straight at the intersection. Stop at the parking for Rich Creek Traihead,10.1 miles from U.S. 285. As it’s a circle, you can go west on Rich Creek Trail (FSR616) or east on Tumble Creek Trail (FSR 617). The latter creek’s full name is Rough and Tumbling Creek, and it’s steeper, so starting on Rich Creekis the easier path. There are few long views, as the trails follow the valleys, but it’s a serene and beautiful hike.
RichCreek: From a trailhead on Park County Road 22, the Rich Creek Trail follows its namesake creek up and northwest, slowly turning to the south, and ending in this valley at the base of Buffalo Peaks. The mountain in the distance is in the Sawatch Range in Chaffee County.
TumbleCreek: Rich Creek Trail and Tumble Creek Trail end at the same place; following Tumble Creek Trail takes you back to your starting point, a 12.xx mile hike. Tumble Creek Trail goes down Rough and Tumbling Creek, mostly through the forest, but there are views of South Park.
Stoll Mountain, in the southern Puma Hills, is unique in Park County, maybe even in Colorado, in that it has five summits, all of a similar elevation.
Stoll 2 Spinney: One way to Stoll Mountain is from Wilkerson Pass south. On the way you might as well bag Pulver Mountain. This view of Buffalo Peaks and the north edge of Spinney Reservoir are from the slope of Pulver Mountain.
Stoll 5 Peaks: The five peaks of Stoll Mountain, as seen from north of Pulver Mountain. The center peak is the highest; our hike took friends and me around the north (nearest) summit, to the main summit, and then over the east summit (on the left). Elevenmile Reservoir is to the southwest.
Park County Recreation Maps are available from the website www.parkcotrails.org and downloaded to Smart Phones from the Avenza Map Store