Vail Hiker column: Nolan Lake sits in middle of a flower meadow
August 17, 2012
Editor’s Note: Mary Ellen Gilliland is the author of the ever-popular “The Vail Hiker” book. She just released a full-color, sixth edition of the guidebook, available for purchase at The Bookworm of Edwards and outdoor stores for $19.95.
An intriguing early-day town named Fulford serves as a trailhead for a rewarding hike to Nolan Lake. First called Nolan’s Creek Camp after an early prospector who discovered rich mines nearby in 1887, the two-part town later took the name of Arthur H. Fulford. A huge, powerful and strikingly handsome man, Fulford grew up on an early Brush Creek ranch, then became town marshall for Red Cliff. He later operated a rest station on the Eagle-Fulford stagecoach line. On a trek up New York Mountain to check out his mine claim on New Years Day, 1892, the amazon-like Fulford was swept to his death in an avalanche. Nolan, the lake’s namesake, had blasted out his tongue when his gun discharged while crossing Brush Creek on a slippery log-and bled to death. This trail explores the beautiful stamping grounds of these ill-starred miners.
Drive I-70 to Eagle, exit 147 Go south 0.4 miles to the U.S. 6 roundabout. Turn right onto U.S. 6/Grand Avenue; continue 0.8 miles to the next roundabout. Now take the third right onto Sylvan Lake Road. Proceed 1.6 miles to Brush Creek/Sylvan Lake Road and go right. Continue on paved highway 9 miles to a fork where pavement ends. Turn left onto East Brush Creek Road, no. 415 and drive 6.7 miles, continuing just past Yeoman Park Campground to the Nolan Creek Road, no. 418. Turn left and travel uphill 3.6 miles to the Nolan Creek trailhead. A road goes uphill right here leading to Upper Fulford, your trailhead. A sign at left points to Lower Fulford, road no. 419. Park at a small turnout ahead left.
The trail begins on the road uphill right. It crosses a bridge over rushing Nolan Creek and heads east into White Quail Gulch where Upper Fulford sprang up in 1890. Pass through the old town, which once boasted the Lamming Hotel, several boardinghouses, saloons, a livery barn, a postoffice, store and an assay office. The lower town, still alive today, had equal stature, with a schoolhouse and more miners’ cabins. Nearby camps included Adelaide and New York Cabins, located on New York Mountain.
Go left at a fork past town where the road at right goes to Adelaide Park. Keep on the old mining road, which later becomes a trail. At the next fork, a huge cut log marks a spot where you go right downhill for Nolan Lake.
Look for the elusive wood nymph, a small, ground-hugging plant with waxy white bloom. Enter a dark, cool forest and enjoy the boisterous flow of Nolan Creek. Meet another fork at a scree field and go uphill left here. Another confusing area occurs at a big, sloping, gray rock. It helps to know that the trail makes a big three-shaped turn here, going around the rock and up. A waterfall on the south valley wall, which cascades from the Nolan Lake outlet above, invites a refreshing rest stop during a steep climb. Just above lies a series of wet meadows with lush Indian paintbrush in scarlet and pink.
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New York Mountain, 12,162 feet, creates a wall at left. Pass a mileage sign for New York Lake, a strenuous side trip, and continue southwest toward Nolan Lake. After two stream crossings, snake through open woods and pass a pond at left. Then travel through a small canyon and continue over rock slabs downhill to Nolan Lake.
The lake, just inside the Holy Cross Wilderness, glistens amid boulder-dotted flower meadows. Craig Peak, 11,902 feet, forms a ridge above the lake’s southwest shore.
The column is copyrighted 2012 by Mary Ellen Gilliland. Hiker, historian and author Mary Ellen Gilliland lived first in Vail and then Summit County since January 1970. She has skied and hiked backcountry trails for more than 40 years. She has written 16 books. For more information, visit summitandvailhikes.com.