Friday, September 10, 2010

Barbour Forks Trail, exploratory hike, Idaho Springs Colorado

Looking up at the Aspen Trees
After hiking several 14ers in the past few weeks I was a little tired of hiking in the high altitude but I considered finishing off one of my last goals for the year; hiking a 14er alone.  But I felt under the weather yesterday and today had a high wind warning, so I decided to hike closer to home and found a trail on the Clear Creek County website that I wanted to check out. 
Now that it's fall, the trees are changing in the high elevation and the information about the Barbour Forks Trail says it takes the hiker through flowery meadows and aspen trees, which was something that sounded great to me instead of the rocky alpine tundra that I had become used to the past few weeks.  

I woke up early when Josh left for work, but it was so chilly out that I waited until 8am before leaving the house to drive to Idaho Springs.  After just a half an hour I made it to the trailhead and had a wonderful hike choosing my route up the Arapaho National Forest trails, hiking through meadows with wildflowers still in bloom and gold tipped aspen trees sparkling in the sunlight.  It was a perfect hike for me this week. 

Trail/Road market 194
Getting there:  From the west Denver area, get on I-70 and head west into the mountains; exit at #241B, the second Idaho Springs exit.  From the exit, turn left onto Colorado Blvd and continue toward town until you reach a fork in the road.  Turn left at the fork in the road onto Miner Street, this fork is near a playground.  Continue toward town and make left turn onto Soda Creek Road (there is no light here, just a left turn); pass the Indian Hot Springs Resort and continue up Soda Creek Road for 3.5 miles until you reach the trailhead. 
Specs:  Soda Creek road turns to dirt after 1.5 miles (2 miles of dirt) and gets bumpier with larger potholes and ruts.  My SUV made it up easily and a car could have made it as well with a few large ruts to go slowly over.  The road pretty much ends at the trailhead, there is a large parking lot to the left and you can see the traditional National Forest wooden fencing along the parking lot.  There are no bathrooms or any trail signs at the trailhead.  It was easy to find, but here is a google map to help you. 
Soda Creek Road does dead end at the trailhead, but from June 15th - late fall the trail/road#194 is open for off-road vehicles.  This section of the road is definitely for a 4x4 wheel drive vehicle, and I surely wouldn't have tried it myself with our SUV; there is no way you would miss the parking lot and continue up this road without knowing as it gets very rough immediately after the parking lot. 

Aspen meadow just before trail #48 turn
The Journey:  I was kind of in a 'blah' mood as I left the house for my weekly solo hike.  Maybe it was because we have hiked so much in the past couple weeks, including several 14ers in the past 14 days and after hiking a 14er everything else seems so simple.  But I knew if I just got outside in the wilderness I would love it. 
It was 44 degrees when I pulled into the deserted parking lot and started up the trail/road at around 8:30am with my hiking shorts and a sweatshirt on; it was chilly because the sun hadn't peeked over the mountains yet, but I was comfortable.  The trail begins on a 4x4 wheel drive road also called trail #194 and continues up the 4x4 drive road through the thick pine trees, aspens and ponderosa pines which were beautiful and reminded me of Oregon as I hiked through them. 
Trail #48 turn east
After about 40 minutes the road splits, and you can choose to turn left onto 194.2A or right onto 194.2.  I chose to take the right turn and continued through the forest until it opened up to a beautiful meadow with aspen trees and the remainder of the summer wildflowers.  What a great site with the morning sun filtering through the trees!  It was in this field that I was faced with another trail split; continue down the 4x4 road, or turn right or east onto trail (not road) number #48.  I picked trail #48 and continued uphill through the pine and aspen trees.  
This trail was a great choice and it took me up the hill to a high mountain meadow where the views looking south were magnificent with speckled golden aspen trees just starting to turn and the mountains beyond.  There was another trail sign in the high meadow with no trail names and I chose to turn right which continued through the woods again, then up higher to the top of the mountain with views of the surrounding area and I was even able to see the parking lot and my car below. 
Views to the north was blocked by numerous trees but I was able to see through them from time to time and could see the smoke from the FourMile Canyon Fire to the north.  The sky was clear and blue to the south and very cloudy to the north from the smoke which was just sitting in FourMile Canyon.  My heart goes out to the families who lost their homes in the fire. 
Views from high meadow
From the top, the trail then continued downhill on the other side of the mountain, and it was about this time that I was ready to head back.  Since I could see my car and the parking lot below, I continued on the trail going downhill in hopes of intersecting with another trail which could loop me back to the parking lot.  After another 20 minutes of hiking I realized there was no such luck as the trail just ended in a person's backyard.  It was here that I decided rather than trespass, I would hike back up to the top of the hill and when I could see my car, I would shortcut down the mountain back to the parking lot.  Now, shortcutting does cause erosion and I don't normally do this, but I was ready to head back and my car wasn't very far below.  Plus, this wasn't a highly used trail with lots of shortcutting and erosion issues.  I probably wouldn't have done this if I hadn't tired myself out hiking down into someones backyard and then retracing my steps; so if you do this hike, once you reach the top of the hill with great views then it's best to turn around and hike back the way you came. 
Cool hand-made teepee on the trail
I made short work of the mountainside and ended up back in the parking lot in 15 more minutes, just after 11am.  As I was leaving, I noticed another trail on the far side of the parking lot and decided to explore it a little more and found another entire trail system heading the opposite direction I had originally took from the parking lot.  I will definitely be back to this area to check out the other trails in the area, it will be great for fall or winter hikes this year. 
If you have hiked in this area, or know of other Idaho Springs hiking trails, I'd love to hear your comments! 

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