Gilpin Lake

The Zirkel Wilderness and the Zirkel Circle

September 15 and 16, we headed to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and then an hour more into the Zirkel Wilderness. We backpacked what is locally known as "The Zirkel Circle." The loop consists of two trails: the Gold Creek Trail (#1150), which connects to the Gilpin Trail (#1161) at a junction about 5 miles into the hike. It was difficult after not backpacking at an elevation above 6,000 ft for almost a year, but the views and wildlife finds were worth the huffing and puffing.

Maps

  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Topographic Map #116 Hahns Peak Steamboat Lake
  • USGS Mt. Zirkel Quad
  • Gilpin Lake (Forest Service)
  • Friends of Wilderness Mount Zirkel Wilderness Map, available for free at the Forest Service Steamboat Springs Field Office, 925 Weiss Dr, Steamboat Springs, CO 80487

Contact Information

Forest Service (Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District): 970-870-2299

Trail Specifics

  • Parking is available at Slavonia Trailhead (limited spaces, recommend going very early on a weekend or on a less busy weekday)
  • Beginning elevation at trailhead is around 8,400 ft
  • Peak elevation is around 10,500 ft (south of Gilpin Lake)
  • Total elevation gain during hike is roughly 2,100 ft (a little more according to some guides)
  • Total length of “Zirkel Circle” is 11 miles
  • Recommend going counterclockwise for the shortest ascent and lingering views of Gilpin Lake during the initial descent
  • The circle is a loop that consists of two trails. If traversing CCW: Gold Creek Trail #1150 and then connect to Gilpin Trail #1161 at junction about 5 miles into hike (9,840 elevation at this point)
  • Foot and horse traffic only
  • No parking or camping permits required for overnight stays
  • Vault toilet at Slavonia Trailhead parking lot, no other facilities on trail
  • Hiker/backpacker registration station about ¼ mi into hike
  • The Zirkel Wilderness begins around the 1 mi point into the hike when going CCW
  • No camping within ¼ mile radius of Gold and Gilpin Lakes
  • Numerous stream crossings, only one with a bridge

Notes

  • We arrived at 1pm on a Friday (9/14/18) and there were only 3 or 4 parking spots left
  • The volunteer organization Friends of Wilderness provides a Mount Zirkel Wilderness brochure with trail information and recommended camping areas. You can pick it up at the ranger station in Steamboat Springs. We tried to locate one of the camping areas (40.7869, -106.6682) based on the map and were unable to: it’s in a marshy meadow and alongside a small stream. However, we were able to find a decent camping spot southwest of the marsh
  • Be sure to check for fire bans and restrictions, which are often in place
  • The rangers told us hunters are discouraged from hunting in the area, but we saw a group of 4 along the Gilpin Creek Trail making elk bugle calls. During hunting season, attach a bright orange bandana to your backpack, wear a bright orange hat, or similar form of safety identification
  • We were unable to go to Mica Basin (Mica Basin Trail #1162), but the rangers told us it is an excellent side hike or camping destination (camping is allowed next to Mica Lake)
  • The deer and other small wildlife we encountered were very friendly. Rangers said they have seen bears along the trail, but they disappear before a photo can be taken

Environment

  • Lots of beetle kill snags both along the trail and as far as you can see
  • Complete and/or spotty tree cover along the entire route except around the saddle and the descent to Gilpin Lake
  • Numerous aspen groves from the start of the Gilpin Lake Trail until about halfway to the junction with the Mica Basin Trail
  • Meadows near the start of the ascent where the trail turns northward and where the descent meets Gilpin Creek
  • There are numerous creek crossings. All were manageable in September with trekking poles. Early spring might be more treacherous

Wildlife Sightings

  • 1 adult moose toward the start of the Gold Creek Lake trail just before the bridge. (If you have a dog, keep it on a leash.)
  • 2 dusky grouse along the half mile stretch northeast of the Gilpin/Mica trail junction
  • 3 pikas in the boulder field south of Gilpin Lake
  • Dippers along Gilpin Creek
  • Mule deer in the meadows north of the trail about halfway between Gold Creek Lake and the start of the ascent
  • Numerous chipmunks, chickarees, butterflies, and small birds

Getting to the Zirkel Circle

From Steamboat Springs: West out of Steamboat on US Hwy 40 to County Road 129 (also named: Elk River Road). Travel 20 miles north to Seedhouse Road, just beyond the town of Clark. Turn northeast onto Seedhouse Road (also named: Forest Road 400 and County Road 64). It is about 15 miles to the trailhead and the second half of the trek is on rough gravel. Approximately an hour drive from Steamboat Springs to the Slavonia Trailhead.

Nearby Restaurants

We recommend the Creekside Cafe & Grill (131 11th St, Steamboat Springs, CO 80487; open for breakfast and lunch) and Sambi Canton Restaurant (941 Lincoln Ave, Steamboat Springs, CO 80487; open for lunch and dinner) in Steamboat.

Information Sheet

The Zirkel Circle Information Sheet we created for ORIC can be found at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1d1fA30P1TMkMGljbCsIgsmHuC9vnrCKl64ojg9sSoyM/edit?usp=sharing