Coffee Pot Springs Road is a drive waiting to be taken
Vail Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Down Dotsero way there is a road trip just waiting to be taken. Coffee Pot Springs Road (FR 600) runs from the Colorado River Road up onto the Flat Tops and on down the other side to the South Fork of the White River, dead ending at a place called Budges Resort. Boys and Girls, trust me on this one: You want to make this drive.
My wife Jenny and I have been making this trip, off and on, for more than 25 years.
On July 1 we left Eagle at about 8:30 a.m. and drove to the Dotsero I-70 exit (133); thence up the Colorado River Road about a mile and a half to Coffee Pot Springs Road.
Mile 1: Deep Creek Campground is strung out along a rushing, clear creek tumbling down from Deep Lake through its namesake canyon.
Mile 4: You started at the river (about 6,000 feet). As you follow the road up, you will be gaining ground and elevation by the fistful. This road is one of the easiest ways to get to 10,500′ feet I know of. The view begins to open to the East. The valley and the Sawatch Mountains up toward Leadville are spread out for you.
Mile 6: Now the Gore Range, more of the valley, the Sawatch and The Flat Tops (to the North), are on the screen. At this point, the views are just too good to miss. But, drivers, do not take this road lightly. It is narrow in places, there are no guard rails, there will be oncoming traffic and it is a long, long way down if you go over the side in the wrong place.
Mile 7: Off to the South are the Elk Mountains and the Maroon Bells of the Aspen environs. Roadside flowers are in evidence; Indian Paintbrush and Penstemon lead off at lower elevations. Varieties will vary with elevation change and the season.
Mile 8: Now you have nearly 270-degree views. It doesn’t get any better than this.
As you will have observed by now, old Coffee Pot has more switchbacks than a politician’s promises. You have literally “boxed the compass” as you made your way skyward.
Miles 10-11: The flowers begin in some earnestness. They will be in full array some five miles on. For the next several miles, flowers are what it’s about. Unless you are a flower child born and bred, there will be many a flower you can’t name … each one prettier than the next.
Mile 12: Up top and entering the White River National Forest. The road began in Scrub Oak and Juniper; you are now into Aspen and Spruce.
Mile 14: You are now in sheep country. Up here on top in the big wide open, later in the summer there will be sheep ” thousands and thousands of sheep. If you have never seen a flock of 1,000 sheep spread over a hillside, you have missed something. Cautionary note: Observe the sheep from the car. The sheep guard dogs are all business and a yard wide.
Mile 15: Deep Creek Canyon Overlook turnout on the right.
Mile 15.5: The Fields of Fancy Flowers begin. For the next few miles you will see acre upon acre of Columbine in one field. Then, just up the road you might see a whole field of Wild Geranium or Lupine, or Primrose. In sum, your cup runneth over with flowers. Stop and picnic in their midst; the flowers will make room.
Mile 16: Coffee Pot Springs campground.
Mile 18.5: Broken Rib Spring is on the right. Dump out your bottles of “designer” water and fill them here. The spring’s pipe has been gushing clear, cold water for the 25 years we have visited. The spring water has a refreshing, unique taste; I drink it every visit.
Mile 20-1: Crane Park contains lakes, ponds and wetlands. The drift can linger into late July. The park is generally awash in waterfowl, keep a sharp eye out.
By this juncture on our trip we’d seen not only flora but fauna: Buzzard, kestrel, bluebird, meadowlark, chipmunk, swallow, teal, hummingbird, sparrow, deer, mallard and coyote tracks and scat. The vigilant voyageur may spot even more varieties.
Mile 23: The road starts down from the plateau as it makes its way toward Deep Lake. Here you can see the last of the dead Engelman Spruce that were beetle killed and burned in the ’40s.
Mile 27: Signs for Heart Lake and Budges. Follow the route to Budges.
Mile 28: Deep Lake at last (10,500 feet); with fishing, day use areas and camping. A very popular spot from what I have seen over the years. Drive on around the lake, bearing to the left, for about one mile.
Mile 29: The road continues straight ahead; you want turn left and head down the much less-improved road leading to the South Fork of The White River and Budges. Here is where the wheat and chaff separate; the next 9 miles are passable, but you may find yourself wondering: “Why didn’t we bring someone else’s car?”
Mile 30: Bear to the right following signs for Indian Camp. The road, such as it is, gets more interesting along about here. A certain amount of rough terrain driving skill comes in handy. If you drive slowly and use common sense, all will be well.
Mile 31: Here are beaver dams and ponds ” good healthy, thriving wetlands.
Mile 32.5: The road starts to descend as it follows Buck Creek. On hot days this creek looks inviting. I have always thought a dip in one of the pools would be excellent. Somebody try it and report back.
Mile 33: What we laughingly refer to as “the road” gets narrow. No “tooting the horn for the passing lane” here. This is your first view into the South Fork Valley and the Flat Tops Wilderness area.
Mile 33.7: Indian Camp trailhead and campsites. On that day we didn’t see any Indians (or anyone else, for that matter).
Mile 35.5: The view to the North opens up as you look up the White River’s South Fork.
Mile 37.5 (11:30 a.m.) You have reached the valley floor (about 9,000 feet) and a Wilderness Area trailhead. You probably found the final descent remarkable: Not quite as steep as a cow’s face but close. Now you are safely down and only a scant mile from Budges. This is a good place to “car camp.”
Wade across the river and you are in a Wilderness area. The South Fork is full of with trout.
On to Budges, just a mile or so downriver.
Ed Budge built “Budges” around 1930; it has been in operation as a wilderness resort since then. The seven cabins look pretty much as they did 75 years ago.
The main lodge building looks as it did the first time we saw it more than 25 years ago; it has probably not changed since the ’30s. The view off the porch on a summer’s evening, looking across the river and up to the ridge and high timber as the sun sets, is one you won’t forget.
To learn more about Budges (now Budge’s Flattops Wilderness Lodge), go to “budgeslodge” on the Internet.
If you decide to make the trip, look for me. If I’m about, I’ll be the guy at Broken Rib Springs with a water bottle in his hand a big grin on his face.
Charles Lorch is an Eagle resident. E-mail comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.