There’s still peace in the wildnerness
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Howard and Mary Ann Cobb are usually surprised to see other hikers on the Antones Lake Trail south of Gypsum.
It’s not listed in the “Vail Hiker,” nor are any of the short day hikes found off of Gypsum Creek Road. It’s a local’s trail, they say, good for walking your dog and a picnic. It’s not a breathtaking destination, but it’s a pleasant one.
If anything, it has the advantage of obscurity, a trait long absent from many of the most beloved hikes in the area.
As hotels and condos fill up in Eagle County, so does the backcountry, and it’s becoming more difficult to find solitude in the wilderness, says Rich Doak, the acting forest recreation staff officer for the White River National Forest.
“People have moved into this part of the country for quality life and the recreation opportunities in their backyards,” Doak said. “So as a general rule, it’s getting busier in the backcountry.”
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How big a problem this is seems to be relative to what your expectations are. Many hikers and backpackers are growing used to seeing more people in the wilderness and don’t mind the communal experience.
Seeing a dozen people on a trail doesn’t bother Skyler Hardin, who visits every summer from Dallas. Being in the wilderness, and away from the city, is enough.
“Two days ago I was stuck in a 30-minute commute to work in a 100-degree car,” Hardin said. “I don’t care at all if I see other people out here.”
Others demand solitude and will go out of their way to find it. Those rugged Jack London experiences are still possible ” you just have to know where to look.
There are several under the radar hikes in the area, many tucked away in the western part of Eagle County, closer to Wolcott, Gypsum and Dotsero.
“If you like wilderness, try the Flattops instead of Holy Cross,” Doak said.
Many are offshoots of more popular trails, like the Dead Dog trail, which starts on the same path as the East Lake Creek trail near Edwards. Others are under the radar simply because they’re so far away from the tourist hub in Vail.
If you take the Dotsero exit and head north toward Sweetwater, you’ll find several hikes that, compared to several Vail area hikes, are pretty empty.
The main rule: the further away you are from towns and cities, the easier it will be to find quiet hikes, Doak said.
For experienced hikers with pathfinding skills, there’s one more thing you can do: bushwhack cross country. This is the act of pointing to a spot on the map, saying “I’m going there,” and trekking through the forest without a trail.
This is best done with a GPS system, and with someone who’s tried it before.
“The people who do that are out for a multi-day adventure,” Doak said. “It’s more of a risk-taking thing, more about self reliance.”
You’ll also find that quiet on hiking trails comes with a tradeoff. Many of the busiest hikes are busy for a reason: they’re some of the more beautiful and scenic hikes in the area.
If you’ve ever been to the top of Holy Cross Mountain, the county’s only 14er, you’ll understand why you’re up there with at least a dozen other people, and why, earlier that morning, you woke up in a tent not too far away from a dozen other tents at East Cross Creek.
Shrine Ridge, a popular hike on Vail Pass, has a large parking lot at the bottom with a bathroom to accommodate hoards of hikers. But it’s also a hike you can finish with your visiting parents before noon, see fields of wildflowers, and see some of the best, sweeping mountain range views in the county.
Other hikes, like Booth Falls in Vail, Lake Constantine off of Tigiwon Road or the Missouri Lakes and Lake Whitney in Homestake, are popular because of their destinations ” beautiful falls and large alpine lakes that are easy to find on moderate, well-marked trails.
“The more attractive the destination and shorter the hike, the more popular it will be,” Doak said.
Check out http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/recreation/trails/index.shtml for a list of all the trails in the White River National Forest. You’re bound to find some you’ve never heard of.
Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or firstname.lastname@example.org.