Mountain Hiking

by Harold Sears

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Bluebird Lake

alpine wildflower

From the summer trailhead in Wild Basin, Rocky Mt. Natl. Park, it is only a 0.3 mi. walk to Copland Falls, a long series of cascades -- beautiful water and water sounds, too. I passed golden Aspen in early October, and on the forest floor, stands of bracken in a paler gold. As I walked, I had a steady musical accompaniment, off to the left -- the bubble, rush, and gurgle of St. Vrain Creek.

About a mile in, I came to a bridge just downstream of another cascade, and I crossed to the south side of the creek. Another half mile brought me to Calypso Cascades. Here, we learn that these waters contain native greenback cutthroat trout -- with green, bright yellow or orange sides, and with red at the throat. The trout was thought to be extinct back in 1939, given all the dam construction, water diversion, overfishing, and competition with introduced, non-native species, but it was rediscovered in Como Creek in the 1960s, and it's coming back. We're taking out the rainbow, brown, and brook trout and some of the dams, and fishing is better controlled. There are an estimated 147 lakes and 421 miles of cold streams with rapids and falls in the Park. The greenback cutthroat is being restocked and is now the state fish of Colorado.

At 2.1 mi., I came to Ouzel Falls. It's not huge, but it does fall free for 15 feet or so and it sparkles and dances. From a little farther on, there are wide views over the St. Vrain valley with little spots of bright gold against the green-black of the pines and firs.

I passed the intersection with the trail north and west to Lion and Thunder Lakes and continued more due west. There is a section here through the 1978 Ouzel Lake fire zone. It was a lightening strike in August that ignited it and, being "natural," it was allowed to burn for a month or more. When Allenspark was threatened, hundreds of folk did fight it, but it wasn't declared out until December, and over 1,000 acres had burned. Grasses have come back, but mostly you notice burned trunks standing, burned logs like pick-up-sticks, and exposed rock -- like the flesh has been burned off the bones. In the summer, this is still a hot, bright, exposed, dusty trek.

There are certainly good views -- of Mt. Copeland to the south and Mt. Orton and Mt. Meeker to the north. I curved around a bit to the WSW and looked up the Ouzel-Bluebird valley to Ouzel Peak on the Divide. At 4.4 mi. I turned south toward Ouzel Lake and walked back into unburned forest. This is a 0.5 mi. side trail down to Ouzel Creek (with trout) and to the secluded lake.

I bushwhacked across wet meadow and back up to the Bluebird Lake trail and on west. Here, the trail rises steeply among rocks, cliffs, and stunted fir and pine. At 5.9 mi., I emerged high above the banks of Bluebird Lake. There were two old snowbanks across the water and against the Continental Divide. I love the great cliffs and tumbling talus.

It was with a certain amount of longing that I gazed at the cirques on either side of Ouzel Peak. I knew that there was a lake in each one, high up and far away -- Junco Lake to the south of the peak and Pipit Lake to the north -- and I wanted to climb up there and admire them. I wanted to climb the peak, for that matter, but I couldn't do it. I contented myself with the slate-blue waters of Bluebird, rippling in the sun, the heather patches along the banks, the rock and talus, and the quiet solitude. I listened carefully. There was wind, but nothing else -- lunch time.




Bluebird Lake Trail

Copland Falls


Bluebird Lake Trail


Bluebird Lake Trail

At the bridge

Bluebird Lake Trail

Calypso Cascades

Bluebird Lake Trail

Ouzel Falls


Bluebird Lake Trail



Bluebird Lake Trail

Aspen


Bluebird Lake Trail

The old burn area and Mt. Copeland


Bluebird Lake Trail

Ouzel Creek


Bluebird Lake Trail

Ouzel Lake


Bluebird Lake Trail



Bluebird Lake Trail

Looking back toward Ouzel Lake from the main trail


Bluebird Lake Trail


Bluebird Lake Trail


Bluebird Lake Trail

Bluebird Lake and Ouzel Peak

Bluebird Lake Trail



 

Trail MapTrail Map

Getting There

From Boulder, take route 36 north to Lyons and route 7 west and north through Allenspark.  Cross the North St. Vrain Creek at mile marker 13, pass a sign for the Wild Basin Area, and turn left onto CR 84 W.  Pass the Wild Basin Lodge on the left and turn right into the Rocky Mt. National Park Wild Basin entrance station, 0.4 mi. from the highway. Drive 2.6 mi. to the trailhead at the end of a dirt road.

Click on the thrumbnails above for photos of my trail maps. A good trail map for all of Boulder County is available from the Boulder Area Trails Coalition (link on home page).



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Cautionary Note -- If any of the hikes described on this site sound like something you would like to do yourself, please use good judgment and prepare yourself according to your skills, your interests, and the season. What was fun for me under one set of circumstances might not be fun or even safe for another under other circumstances. Do not consider these descriptions to be unqualified recommendations.


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Harold and Meredith Sears, Boulder, CO, harold@mountainhike.net. All rights reserved.