The Trail: Rabbit Ears Peak

 

Download the free ViewRanger GPS app and the coordinates for a fall adventure to the top of this peak near Steamboat Springs.

by CHRIS KASSAR

Due to recent erosion, Rabbit Ears Peak no longer exactly resembles its namesake—a change made worse when part of the east tower toppled a few years ago. Despite the continual reshaping of this volcanic plug, the summit remains an iconic and popular peak with hikers, bikers and runners of all abilities. The following moderately challenging five-mile roundtrip adventure is only a short drive from Steamboat Springs. It follows an old road winding through open meadows and pines to reach the base of the peak (at about 10,550 feet).

Rabbit Ears Trailhead

From Rabbit Ears Pass Summit (9,426 feet), continue on US 40 to Dumont Lake. Turn left onto Forest Road 315 and follow it for about 1.5 miles. Turn left onto Forest Road 311. Park at an informational kiosk. You can also continue straight over a rougher stretch of road to reach an intersection with Forest Road 291. Turn right and park under some trees near the junction between FR 311 and 291. The route up Rabbit Ears follows the old jeep road (291). Right after you begin hiking, you will turn a corner and get your first glimpse of the tall monoliths.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 2.15.33 PM

Cross the Creek

Heading north, continue climbing slightly to reach a creek lined with lush vegetation. Leave the creek behind and ascend through an open meadow along a rocky, wide path heading straight toward the Rabbit Ears.

Soothing Seep 

Grizzly Creek parallels the road, creating a rich riparian corridor. After 1.3 miles, you cross a tranquil tributary that trickles across the road. Hop across the seep and follow the road as it ascends steadily through a section flanked by impressive stands of spruce on both sides. Alternating between open meadows and forest, the road travels upward, more steeply now. Though the Rabbit Ears will have now been out of view for some time, take solace in the fact that you aren’t far from topping out. The trail turns sharply east, levels and then drops (for the first time since the trailhead) to pass through a wide-open meadow.

Short But Sweet

After a total of 2.2 miles, you reach the bottom of this descent. From here, the trail climbs again very steeply to reach a giant pine in the middle of the trail. A small adjacent open area offers views back across the valley and toward the rocky outcrops leading up to the Ears. The route increases in verticality offering a very challenging, lung-busting climb that is (thankfully) very short. Take your time and push through for a few minutes to reach the top.

Rabbit Ears Base

Various social trails meander around the base and to the back of the Rabbit Ears. Explore and soak in the views, but take care. We’d recommend you stay on the front side since loose rocks and slippery, narrow trails make this a potentially dangerous spot. After enjoying this spot and refueling, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Note: The Rabbit Ears towers formed from a plug, the remnants of pyroclastic materials—or volcanic rock and ash. That means bits of the pillars can crumble off in your hand, making it sketchy to climb. Though many people tackle the class 4 summit pitch to the top of the west tower (10,654 feet) or a technical route (5.5) to top out on the east tower (10,657 feet), our description ends at the peak’s base.

Trail Gear

KEEN_aphlex

KEEN APHlEX

This hiker melds function with comfort: Extra coverage at the heel and toe keep feet protected while enhanced support and a cool PhlexoSkeleton keep your foot stable. All that means this  waterproof/breathable shoe won’t hold you back when you want to hustle, making it ideal for fall rambles.  $160; keenfootwear.com

F16 M Monkey Man Jacket

MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR MONKEY MAN JACKET Tried-and-true fleece stands the test of time in this durable, lightweight, thermally efficient Polartec jacket. Newly updated for fall, the warm, stretchy top can be worn alone or layered under a shell making the Monkey Man (and Woman) a must-have for mountain hikes.  $160; mountainhardwear.com

—C.K.

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