Features: Fall Colors — River/Creek — Views — Waterfall — Wildflowers
Some steep segments of trail have loose gravel over a packed surface making the trail a bit like walking on ball bearings. Extra care is needed not to slip.
The trail starts on the west side of the highway, so be very careful crossing the highway. Because the trail starts right off Hwy 550 it is accessible by even low-riding vehicles. Just watch for bumps in the dirt parking lot.
The trail crosses above the highway on the overpass and continues into a series of switchbacks that have you gaining about 1000ft in the first mile. The views looking up and down Uncompahgre Gorge are stunning and make the effort worthwhile. Soon the trail moves onto a series of ledges on cliff walls that tower above you and drop to the roaring Bear Creek far below. This trail is not for anyone with a fear of heights. Others are well advised to use hiking poles to improve their stability.
The trail continues to climb steadily with brief reprieves of flatter stretches. The trail alternates between forest and meadow. There are a few water crossings which vary in difficulty from stepping over a small trickle to maneuvering over a tough log bridge. Pause now and then to look back down Bear Creek canyon to see some of the rugged San Juan Mountains to the west.
The first remains of a mine you'll come to are Grizzly Bear Mine. You'll find some old rusting equipment and the remains of some buildings. A bridge used to stretch across the canyon to the mine. Soon afterwards there's a level mining shaft that extends back a very short distance. Be wary of exploring. There was water and equipment on the floor when we were there. Grizzly Bear Mine had a high peak production of gold and silver at the end of the 19th century. About 20 people were living by the mine at the time. Just think of the long trek down to get groceries.
The remains of the Yellow Jacket Mine sit in a high meadow with large pieces of mining equipment strewn amongst the wildflowers. Watch out for nails sticking out of lumber. Some of the equipment is stamped with Rogers, Joplin. They are from a foundry that was located in Joplin, Missouri. A building with old metal cots, a hanging staircase and leaning walls stands precariously nearby.
This is the end of the National Recreation Trail (#241) and a good turn around point. It is the junction with two other trails that continue higher: #241.1A and #242. The USFS has a brochure available here
We've found some interesting Purple Wild Geranium along the trail blooming in late June.