Silverthorne - Gateway to the Wilderness
Compared to other cities in Colorado and in Summit County, Silverthorne offers unique access to designated Wilderness areas. To the west is the Eagles Nest Wilderness which includes the lakes and peaks of the spectacular Gore Mountain Range. East of Silverthorne is the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness which includes mountains and ridges between Ptarmigan Peak to the south and Ute Peak to the north.
Because wilderness areas do not allow motor vehicles or mountain bikes (see below), they provide visitors with a special opportunity to enjoy unspoiled scenic areas and wildlife away from the crowds. Twenty three back-country trails that provide access to the beautiful wilderness areas near Silverthorne are described below. Following descriptions rely heavily on information made available by the Dillon Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service. Other information sources are given at the end of the following section ‘How to Get There & More Trail Information’.
Silverthorne Area Trails
The Blue River Trail, open to bikers and walkers, is Silverthorne’s link to the county-wide paved trail system that connects Silverthorne to Dillon, Keystone, Frisco, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Vail Pass, Vail and Glenwood Springs. In Silverthorne, the Blue River Trail runs 3.5 mi from the Silverthorne Elementary School & North Pond Park north of town through downtown and climbs about 250 ft. to the Dillon Dam, where the trail connects with the Summit County Recpath with trails to Dillon, Keystone and Frisco.
Nordic Ski Trails at the Raven Golf Course. These groomed and maintained trails are open to cross-country skiing and snow shoeing. For more information including trailhead location and parking click here.
Back-Country Trails*For a complete downloadable description of Back-Country trails that include Name, Trail No#, Extent of use, Designated users, Difficulty, Distance and Elevation Gain, click here
*For more detailed information on these trails including trail maps, visit the web site:
#Trail number on the index map
**U.S. Forest Service trail number.
How to Get There & More Trail Information
All driving distances to a trailhead given below are measured north on Route 9 from Interstate I-70 exit 205 in Silverthorne. Most of these trails are largely or partly in wilderness areas. See regulations below that apply to hiking in designated wilderness areas.
Acorn Creek. Drive 10.7 miles north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway to County Road 2400 (Ute Park Road). Turn right and climb 1 mi past homes and forks in the main road to the trailhead at 8647 ft. In the winter, the lower 2 miles of this trail is an excellent snow shoe or cross-country ski route. Hiking the last 1.7 mi on faint trails to the ridge at about 11,330 ft. and left (N) 1.2 mi on the Ute Peak Trail (#24) to the summit of the peak at 12,303 ft. is steeper and difficult, requiring a map and compass or GPS. Views of the Gore Range from this trail and from the summit of Ute Peak are outstanding.
Angler Mountain. Drive 2.1 miles north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway. Turn right on Bald Eagle Road and drive over the bridge across the Blue River for approximately ½ mi to the trailhead on the right. There is no parking for horse trailers at the trailhead. The trail climbs steeply for 2.5 mi, from 8,620 ft. at the trailhead, to 9,820 ft. where it joins the Ptarmigan Peak Trail. A left turn (north) on the Ptarmigan Peak Trail and an additional 3.5-mile climb, takes you to the summit of Ptarmigan Peak at 12,498 ft. A right turn (south) on the Ptarmigan Peak Trail takes you about 1.9 mi back to its trailhead on Ptarmigan Road in Silverthorne at 9362 ft. Gore Range views are
excellent throughout from this trail. In the summer, the lower portion of the trail has many interpretive placards that identify plants including wild flowers.
Boulder Lake – Lower. This trail is accessed from the Rock Creek summer trailhead, where there is room to park horse trailers. (See Rock Creek Trail below). Hike 0.3 miles up the Rock Creek Trail (#46) to its junction with the Gore Range Trail (#60), which you take right for 1.9 miles to its intersection with the Boulder Creek Trail (#59). Go left on this trail for about ½ mi to reach Boulder Lake. The lake offers marvelous views of the Gore Range and often also of water fowl, osprey and moose. Because you climb a ridge on the Gore Range Trail between the Rock Creek Trailhead and the Lake and must re-climb this ridge on the return, the total elevation gain is about +830 ft.
Boulder Lake – Upper. This trail begins on the north side of Boulder Lake. (See the route to Boulder Lake–Lower). The trail continues for 2.9 miles along Boulder Creek to Upper Boulder Lake. The last half of this trail is faint and little used. Elevation gain from Lower to Upper Boulder Lakes is about +1180 ft. The solitude and scenery are special on this trail.
Buffalo Mountain. To reach the trail head, turn west (up the hill) on Wildernest Road from the stoplight on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway, just north of the I-70 interchange in Silverthorne. Continue on Wildernest Road (which becomes Ryan Gulch Rd.) for 3.6 mi to the top of the subdivision. Trailhead parking is on the left at 9778 ft. Take the Buffalo Cabin Trail to a trail intersection after 0.4 mi. There you turn left on the Buffalo Mountain Trail and follow the road/trail to the ruins of two log cabins at 10,300 ft. Continue on the trail beyond the cabin on a most difficult climb of 1.85 mi and +2,477 ft. to the summit of Buffalo Mtn. at 12,777 ft.
Cataract Lake Loop - Lower. Drive 16 miles north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway. After mile marker 118 turn left onto Heeney Road (County Rd. 30). Follow Heeney Rd. for 5.3 miles, and then turn left on dirt Cataract Creek Road (County Rd. 1725). Continue for 2.5 miles bearing left to the Lower Cataract trailhead and parking at the end of the road. The loop trail around Cataract Lake can be taken clockwise or counterclockwise. There is a spectacular waterfall above the southwest end of the lake. However, there is no trail to the waterfall. The hillsides around the lake offer some of the best wild flower viewing in Colorado, particularly between May and mid-July. The lake is also popular for fishing and picnicking. Elevation at the trailhead is 8652 ft. The highest point on the trail is at 8770 ft.
Cataract Lake – Upper. Drive 16 miles north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway. After mile marker 118 turn left onto Heeney Road (County Rd. 30). Follow Heeney Rd. for 5.3 miles, and then turn left on (dirt) Cataract Creek Road (County Rd. 1725). Follow this road for 2.0 miles and park on the left at the Surprise Lake Trailhead. Most of this trail (#62) is in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. The trail climbs through aspen groves into fir and spruce forest, and intersects with the Gore Range Trail (#60) after about 3 miles. Turn right (west) on the Gore Range Trail and pass Surprise Lake after 0.2 miles. To reach Upper Cataract Lake, continue another 0.6 miles to the intersection of the Gore Range Trail (#60) with the Mirror Lake Trail (#63). Turn left
on this trail and continue for 2 more miles to Upper Cataract Lake at 11,744 ft. The lake is spectacularly nestled against the rocky cliffs of the Eagles Nest ridge which soars above at over 13,000 ft. A hike of another half mile with a descent on the Mirror Lake Trail takes you to Mirror Lake at 10559 ft. Both Upper Cataract Lake and Mirror Lake have good fishing.
Eaglesmere Lakes. Drive north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway for 16 miles. After mile marker 118, bear left on County Road 30 (Heeney Rd). Drive just under 5 ½ miles to County Road 1725 on the left. Make the sharp left turn on to a dirt road and drive a bit over 2 miles passing Cataract Creek Campground on the left. About 0.2 miles past the Campground, take the right fork to the Eaglesmere Lakes Trail parking lot. The trail winds through aspens and wildflower meadows with some marvelous views of the valley to the south. Tipperary Lake is seen across the valley. At 2.8 miles in a deep forest, the Eaglesmere Trail meets the Gore Range Trail. Turn right (west) here following the Gore Range Trail. Continue left past the next junction sign for a short hike to the two Eaglesmere Lakes. This hike is especially beautiful in the fall.
One can make this a ten-mile loop hike by returning to the Gore Range Trail and continuing on it to the east to Tipperary Lake and further east to Surprise Lake. Note the interesting geology on the way down to the Surprise Lake Trailhead, where you will need to make a short uphill walk to your car in the Eaglesmere Lakes trail parking lot. This circle tour has an elevation gain of 1850 ft.
Elliot Ridge Trail. Drive north about 27 mi on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway, and turn left onto Spring Creek Road (Grand County Rd. 10). Follow GCR 10 for 6.8 mi, cross the cattle guard at the junction with FDR 1830 (Dice Hill), and continue straight on FDR 23. Stay on FDR 23 for about 1.1 mi to a fork in the road, where you turn right on FDR 23/1831, and continue for 5.4 miles to the trailhead. The trail starts at 11,153 ft. and rises gradually above the tree line to 11,935 ft., offering great views of the Gore Range and surrounding peaks and valleys. After 5 mi the trail intersects with the Mirror Lake/Upper Cataract Trail (#63). Wildflowers usually peak on the ridge in mid-July.
Gore Range. This trail connects most of the trails in the Eagles Nest Wilderness between Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway, north of Silverthorne and I-70 west of Silverthorne. Its northern end is in the Spring Creek area north of Green Mountain Reservoir. The trail climbs over Uneva and Eccles Passes with its southern end at the Copper Mountain exit of I-70. Elevations attained on the trail range from 9,795 to 11,960 ft. The trail is open to hiking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing, horse riding and camping. Access to the trail is described in detail on the web site: (http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whiteriver/recreation/ohv/recarea/?recid=40689&actid=30).
Harrigan Creek. Drive 10.6 miles north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway. The trailhead is on the left at the south end of a long, flat meadow at about 8270 ft. After the first mile, the trail climbs for another 2.5 mi through pleasing fields and woods with wildflowers and the creek until it reaches Gore Range Trail at about 9810 ft. A left turn (south) on the Gore Range Trail after about 1.1 mi takes you to its intersection with the Boulder Creek Trail about a half mile below Boulder Lake.
Lily Pad Lake. Drive north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway to the first traffic light, where you turn left onto Wildernest Road which becomes Ryan Gulch Road. Drive 3.6 mi to the end of the road, and a trailhead parking lot on the left. Start the hike at the signed Lily Pad trailhead. The trail is relatively flat with great views as you approach the Lake. From Lily Pad Lake you may wish to continue beyond the Lake down the Lily Pad Lake trail for 0.7 mi to the Meadow Creek Trail (#33) which you can take left & down to its trailhead. This trailhead is at the end of the frontage dirt road (CO RD 1231) which starts at the I-70 exit 203 rotary, opposite Frisco. Of course this option requires a car shuttle.
Mahan Lake Area. Mahan Lake can be assessed from the Mahan Lake trailhead, or from a trailhead on the Gore Range Trail via the North Fork Elliot Creek Trail which connects with the Mahan Lake Trail. To access both trailheads, drive 27 mi. north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway. Turn left on Spring Creek Rd. (County Rd. 10), and proceed for about 6.5 mi to a junction. To reach the Gore Range TH: Bear left at this junction onto Road 1832. Proceed about 7.5 mi to the TH at the end of the road. To reach the Mahan L. trailhead: Bear right at this junction onto Road 23. After 2.5 mi turn left on Road 1834. After another 2.5 mi, turn left on a rough 4 WD road, Road 1831, which you follow for 2.4 mi. to the TH at the end of the road. Mahan Lake is 12 acres in area and has good fishing.
Mesa Cortina/Willow Falls. At the first stoplight north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway, turn left on Wildernest Rd. At the third stop light continue straight ahead up the hill on Buffalo Mountain Rd. After about 0.8 mi, turn right on Lake View Rd. Continue on Lake View Rd and then turn left up the hill on Aspen Rd. Trailhead parking is on the right side of Aspen Rd at 9217 ft. The Mesa Cortina trail intersects the Gore Range Trail after about 2.7 mi, at which point you turn left on the Gore Range Trail. Willow Falls, which is on South Willow Creek (at 10,007 ft.), is 1.5 mi further up the Gore Range Trail on a short spur to the left off the main trail. Beyond the falls the main trail takes you into a beautiful mountain bowl, and with further climbing you can attain Red Buffalo Pass (11,748 ft.) and Eccles Pass (11,900 ft.). Willow Falls can also be reached from the Willow Creek trailhead. See below. Many other trails connect to the Mesa Cortina Trail. For a map of these trails and their connections see: http://www.dillonrangerdistrict.com/recreation.htm
Ptarmigan Peak. This trail and the peak can be accessed starting from the Angler Mountain Trail (see above), or from the Ptarmigan Peak trailhead in Silverthorne. To access the main trailhead, at the first stop light on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway heading north, turn right onto Rainbow Drive. Get in the right lane and turn right on Tanglewood Rd, then right again on Ptarmigan Rd. which becomes dirt. Continue for about 0.8 mi to parking on the right side of the road opposite the trail head. The trail starts at 9362 ft., and is steep for the first 3/4th mi, which has spectacular wild flowers in early summer. The next 2 mi. is more gradual, with great Gore Range views. The Ptarmigan Peak trail intersects the upper end of the Angler Ranch Trail at about 2 mi from the trailhead. The last roughly 2.6 miles to the peak is relatively steep to the ridge line, then more gradual to the peak summit at 12,498 ft.
Rock Creek. Drive north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway for 7.7 mi. Turn left up the hill, directly opposite the Blue River Campground on Rock Creek Road. Climb the hill for 1.2 mi, and turn left on a dirt road labeled Rock Creek. The parking lot adjacent to the main Rock Creek Road at about 8800 ft., is the winter trail head for cross country skiing and snow shoeing. For the summer trail head, continue on the dirt road beyond the winter parking lot (most suitable for SUVs) for 1.7 mi to a large parking lot & the TH at the end of the road at about 9522 ft. Because of heavy traffic, it is recommended that horses not use this road. At 0.3 mi from the TH, Rock Creek Trail crosses the Gore Range Trail (#60). A right turn here goes to Boulder Lake (see above). Continuing straight ahead on the Rock Creek Trail for about 1 mi takes you to an old mine building in a meadow on the left. Most cross country skiing and snow shoe groups turn near this point. Thereafter the trail steepens and ends at the abandoned Boss Mine at about 10,242 ft. From the mine there are excellent views of the upper valley and the 13,000 ft. high Gore Range ridge beyond.
Salt Lick. Drive north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway to the first traffic light, where you turn left onto Wildernest Road. At the third light go left, continuing up the hill on Wildernest Road. Just after Wildernest Road first turns sharp right, make a left turn onto a dirt road which takes you to the trailhead at about 8965 ft. The lower portion of the trail is a dirt road. After about 1 mi. where the road ends, go left on a bridge across the creek and continue on the main trail for another mile to the Wildernest boundary at about 9600 ft. Just beyond this boundary the trail steepens as it climbs to the Lily Pad Lake Trail. A left turn on this trail and another 0.7 mi takes you to the Lake at 10,040 ft. There are many secondary trails off of the main Salt Lick Trail before it reaches the Wilderness boundary. In the summer, these outside-of-the-wilderness trails offer an excellent easy-to-moderate mountain biking experience. In the winter, Salt Lick and the secondary trails provide an excellent variety of routes for XC skiing and snowshoeing,
Surprise Lake. Drive north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway for 16 miles. After mile marker 118, bear left onto County Road 30 (Heeney Rd). Drive just under 5 ½ miles to County Road 1725 on the left. Make the sharp left turn and drive just over 2 miles passing Cataract Creek Campground. Park by the Surprise, Upper Cataract and Mirror Lakes Trailhead sign. Begin hiking on the trail up a grassy slope continuing through aspens and lovely wild flower meadows. The trail becomes steeper as it joins an old road and winds into a lodgepole forest. Just after 2 miles, join the Gore Range Trail. Make a sharp right turn for a short walk to Surprise Lake at 9,920 on your left. If you are feeling energetic, continue on to Tipperary Lake (see next description).
Tipperary Lake. Continue west from Surprise Lake on the Gore Range Trail for an hour’s hike to Tipperary Lake, climbing through a heavy pine forest and reaching 10,400 ft, and then dropping down to Tipperary Lake at 9,760 ft. If you are still looking for more adventure, continue west on the Gore Range Trail up to Eaglesmere Lakes. On the way down, take the Eaglesmere Trail left off the Gore Range Trail and continue down to the Eaglesmere parking lot. Walk down the short access road to your car at the Surprise, Tipperary and Mirror Lakes Trailhead. You will have completed a 10 mile plus hike with an elevation gain of 1,850 ft.
Ute Pass/Ute Peak. Drive north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway from the I-70 interchange for about 13 miles to the intersection with Ute Pass Road (CR 15). Turn right (up the hill) on CR 15 and continue for 5.2 miles to the top of Ute Pass and a large parking lot and the trailhead on the right side of the road at 9568 ft. The Ute Pass Trail (#31) heads southeast and east from the pass for 2.5 miles to a junction with the Ute Peak Trail (#24) on which you turn right and climb west and south an additional 1.9 miles to gain the summit of Ute Peak at 12,303 ft. Views of the Gore Range from this trail are spectacular as you approach the summit.
More ambitious hikers can continue south along the ridge line on the Ute Peak Trail. After about 1.2 miles this trail junctions with the Acorn Creek Trail (#71) which descends to its TH on HWY 9 to the west. (See the Acorn Creek Trail above). In another 7 miles you reach the summit of Ptarmigan Peak at 12,498 ft., from which you can descend the Ptarmigan Peak Trail to its trailhead, or to the trailhead of the Angler Mountain Trail via the Ptarmigan Peak Trail. (See the Ptarmigan Peak and Angler Mountain Trails above). These trails provide hikers with several opportunities to arrange longer hikes with connecting car shuttles.
Williams Peak Road. Drive north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway for 27 mi, about 1 mi past Green Mountain Reservoir, and turn right on Williams Peak Road (County Road 200). This is a road for 4-wheel drive vehicles only, best driven when dry and snow-free. The road starts at 7,787 ft, and after 2.6 mi climbs Haystack Mountain, with great views of the valley, the Gore Range and Green Mountain Reservoir. After about 6 miles the road levels, and follows the ridge line for another 5.4 miles towards Williams Peak at 11,617 ft. Williams Peak Road is very busy during hunting season.
Willow Creek/Willowbrook. Drive north on Hwy 9/Blue River Parkway for 1.9 mi, and turn left onto Willowbrook Rd. Continue about 0.9 mi through a stop sign, to trailhead parking on the left at 8840 ft. Overnight parking is not allowed here. Two trails start at this TH. These are the South Willowbrook Trail (#9154) which goes left, and the Ditches Trail (#9156) which goes straight ahead and connects with the North Willow Creek Trail (#9157). The South Willowbrook Trail, which is the most enjoyable choice, climbs along South Willow Creek for 0.7 mi and ends at the Mesa Cortina Trail. A left turn at this junction and a 2.5 mi. hike, would take you back to the Mesa Cortina TH. If instead you turn right on the Mesa Cortina Trail, that trail intersects the Gore Range Trail in about 0.2 mi. Straight ahead on the Gore Range Trail and a 1.5 mi hike takes you to Willow Falls on South Willow Creek. A right turn on the Gore Range Trail at this junction and a 1.9 mi hike north connects you with the North Willow Creek Trail. Successive right turns on that trail and the Ditches Trail return you to the TH after an additional 1.0 mi. This long loop of about 4 mi can be remembered as involving all right turns if you start at the South Willowbrook TH, and all left turns if you begin the hike on the Ditch Trail. The highest elevation on the long loop is 9600 ft. on the Gore Range Trail.
Willow Lakes-Salmon Lake. These lakes can be accessed from the Rock Creek summer trailhead to the north which allows overnight parking, facilitating camping at the lakes. See directions to this trailhead above. To get to the lakes from the Rock Creek summer trailhead, go 0.3 mi on that trail (#46) to its intersection with the Gore Range Trail (#60). Take it left and continue 5.1 mi to its intersection with the Salmon-Willow Lakes Trail (#36). Turn right on this trail and climb 1.5 mi. to Salmon Lake at 11,165 ft., and an additional 1.2 mi to the Willow Lakes at about 11,429 ft. Hiking to the lakes from the Willowbrook trailhead is much shorter, and can be accomplished in a long day, however overnight parking is not allowed at the Willowbrook trailhead. (See above). To reach the lakes from this TH, take The Ditches Trail (#9156) to the North Willow Creek Trail (#9157) (1.3 mi. total distance). Then go right on the Gore Range Trail (#60) for 1.6 mi to its intersection with the Salmon-Willow Lakes Trail (#36). Turn right on this trail to reach Salmon Lake in 1.5 mi and the Willow Lakes 1.2 mi further. These lakes are often used as a base camp for climbing surrounding peaks, which include Red Peak (13,189 ft.) and jagged East Thorn Peak (13,333 ft.).
Useful Sources of Information Including Maps, on Back-Country Trails in the Silverthorne Area
The Virtual Dillon Ranger District. www.dillonrangerdistrict.com/recreation.htm
Dillon Ranger District Recreation Guide (2014) available at:
Copies of the Recreation Guide are also available at the Dillon Ranger District offices at 680 Blue River Parkway in Silverthorne (970-468-5400), and at the Colorado Welcome Center at Silverthorne at 246 Rainbow Drive (970-468-0353).
Summit County Colorado Trails. (2014) Recreation Topo Map. www.latitude40maps.com
Summit, Vail & Holy Cross Trail Map 4th Edition. (2012). www.skyterrain.com
Vail, Frisco, Dillon (National Geographic Trails Illustrated -Folded Map) (2014).
Gaug, M., (2006), Hiking Colorado’s Summit County Area: A Guide to the Best Hikes in and Around Summit County. Regional Hiking Series. A Falcon Guide.
Gilliland, M.E., (2011), The Summit Hiker and Ski Touring Guide. Alpenrose Press, Silverthorne, CO
Eagles Nest & Ptarmigan Wilderness Regulations
Most hikes on the west side of HWY 9 enter the Eagles Nest Wilderness. Many trails on the east side of HWY 8 enter the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness. Hikers and others must comply with U.S. Forest Service regulations when in wilderness areas. These include:
1. Motor vehicles, mountain bikes and motorized equipment are prohibited.
2. Dogs must be on a leash at all times.
3. Group size is limited to 15 people.
4. Camping is prohibited within 100 ft. of lakes, streams and trails.
5. No campfires (stoves only) allowed within ¼ mile of all lakes in wilderness areas.
6. If you have further questions regarding wilderness areas, contact the Dillon Ranger District Office.