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Big Creek Lake, Routt National Forest, CO June 9, 2007

July 18, 2007

Posted July 17, 2007


On Saturday, June 9, 2007, I headed towards the Zirkels. This is a section west of North Park (Walden) Colorado that I will probably spend a major part of this summer exploring. Actually, probably many summers : ) Since it was still early yet, with the snow too deep for hiking in the high country, I planned on doing a little checking up on the trail heads around Big Creek Lake. Just for reference, the photo above is a pano of Big Creek Lake from photos I took after I was done with my hike and after the “breeze” had lessened.

Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in the gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos found here.
In addition, you can use this link to view a topo map of Big Creek Lake. A Google Earth map can be found here (you may need to adjust the scale bar on the left side of the Google map).
All links open a new browser window.

Here is a photo of Big Creek Lake when I first arrived and it was a little windy.


But, let’s start at the beginning. As it turned out, just driving there and back (on the Routt National Forest service roads), was an extremely pleasant and pretty part of the day. I reached Big Creek Lake by heading north from Fort Collins, CO to Laramie, WY (awesome place : ), and then west on Hwy 230 to Cowdrey, CO. At Cowdrey, instead of continuing south to Walden (even more awesome than Laramie and about another 10 miles from Cowdrey), I pointed my truck (here after referred to as “big blue”), west on, I believe, county road 6W. This actually stayed paved for around 5 miles or so before turning into a very (mostly) well maintained gravel road.


This route treated me to some good views of the Zirkels that were still covered in snow.


Taking a look back east I was able to see the rolling mountains north of the Rawah Wilderness area; including the infamous “sand dunes”. Fairly cool place if you like hopping across the dunes in a buggy or ATV.


Zoom in a little on the “dunes”.


Eventually, you get out of the “desert” (as some people call the arid, treeless sections of North Park : ) and into the upper meadows and forests. This shows the area that you enter right before getting to the turn off on 6A that takes you south to Big Creek Lake. If you did not take the turn off, the road (6W) continues on to Hog Park (which was the trip I made following this one).


This view is from the junction where you turn off to go to Big Creek Lake. The valley you travel through is just as pretty as this picture would seem to indicate. But, be a little cautious on traveling the road as it is pretty much a single lane road (a sign points out this little detail right as you enter the mountain valley where the trees start). So, while it is well maintained, the road is narrow and windy. Take it slow and be prepared to use one of the many pull offs to let someone else pass if necessary. That said, I saw very little traffic. Two or three vehicles, maybe, on the way to the lake.


Here is a photo sans the road. Geeeorgeous place. You may notice a little “reddish/brownish” tinge of color to the forests in the photo. That’s because there is (for whatever reason) a lot of beetle killed trees.
“……..The number of Colorado lodgepole pines killed by bark beetles jumped nearly fivefold in 2006 as the explosive, decade-long bug epidemic continued to gain steam. About 4.8 million lodgepoles were killed this year, up from about 1 million trees last year, U.S. Forest Service entomologists say.
The lodgepole acreage under attack by mountain pine beetles jumped about 50 percent this year to 644,840 acres, up from 430,526 acres last year.
Ground zero is north-central Colorado’s mountain forests.
Bark beetles are expected to kill nearly all the large lodgepoles there, and it will take a century for a mature forest to return, said research silviculturist Wayne Shepperd of the U.S. Forest Service.

Anyway, it still looks pretty. Just be careful with fire.


When I got to Big Creek Lake, it was a tad “breezy”. As the whitecaps on the lake indicate.


Also, I found that I was a week early and some of the roads were still closed. No big deal. I parked the truck and headed out for a hike.

There are trails everywhere around Big Creek Lake. I could have just hiked around the lake itself which would have been 3-4 miles long (I think). But, I decided to hike along a forest service road to get to a trailhead I was interested in hiking sometime. Turned out to be a good choice. Got some great views along the road (zoomed).


And, ended up getting to a trailhead that I “think” was the one I wanted. The sign did not give the name of the trail, and there was no parking lot, but I did not see any other “trail”, so assumed this was the one.


However, I was undecided about just what to do. On the one hand, the trail looked really nice and I wanted to hike a ways up it just to get a “feel” for it. But………….. how could I resist not walking down the road ………..just……. a…… little……. further. It just pulled me : )


And, turned out to be the thing to do. Because right down the road it ran through a meadow that provided some stupendous views. I spent an hour on this road just enjoying the perfect day. Neither saw nor heard another person.


Every direction I looked it was nice.


Very nice.


Eventually I had to make a decision. Get back to the truck before dark or after dark? Hmmmmm. Tough decision. I had to think about it for a few minutes.


So, I decided to head back to the trail to do a little bit of real hiking and get back to the truck before dark. As I started down the trail, I wondered just where I was headed. I’d been here before. Sometime. Ah yes. The Old Forest in Middle Earth.


And, as can be seen here, not much traffic lately.


But, I did find that the trail passed very close by to beaver ponds and meadows (full of moose sign). Neat place. For some reason, there were not any mosquitoes here (but, I did run into a few later in the evening).


Anyway, I had to force myself to stop hiking up the trail and head back to big blue. But it wasn’t easy.

Had a very pleasant hike back up the road. While walking along I try and keep an eye out for what’s going on around me. So, I was able to spot this animal who was also keeping an eye out for things going on around her.


We played tag for a little while.


But, she finally got tired of the game and took off.


I spotted a lake through the trees and decided to got check it out (look for feeding moose, wolves, lions, etc.). There was no trail to it, but close enough to the road that I felt I could find my way back out again : )


Did not see any moose, but it was nice enough that I just sat down and rested for a few minutes enjoying the “karma” of the area.


Little bit of a zoom to pull in the mountains.


The rest of the way down the road was very enjoyable as the late afternoon sun started playing with the clouds (or, maybe it was the other way around).


A quick photo of big blue in the extremely busy parking area. There were a lot of downed trees along the road that were being cut up into firewood for the campgrounds ($10 a night and well worth it). You can see a little of that at the bottom of the photo.


And, a parting photo of the lake and a couple of fisherman.


I believe there is another campground at the other end of the lake. Also, there is a trailhead at the other end of the lake (or, you could start hiking from this end of the lake) that you can hike to an “upper” Big Creek Lake (about a 2 mile hike, I think). Lots of other potential camping (this is all national forest, after all) and trails in the area. There were many places along the road to Big Creek Lake that you could pull off and camp (if you did not want to pay the $10 per night fee). There is a $5 “day use” fee which I gladly paid. But, if you so desired (and no one would care), you could just park your vehicle right before entering the lake area and walk a hundred yards to the lake. In addition, the forest service road that I walked along was due to be opened the following weekend, so you could just drive up that road and skip the day use fee. All that said, I feel inclined to pay the fees if at all possible and support the efforts of the forest service to keep these areas cleaned up, etc. (Yeah, I could make an argument about our taxes already should be enough for that, but, that’s not the Forest Service’s fault : )

Many times, my description of a trip (hike) will stop once I get to the end of the trail. But, sometimes, such as this trip, the scenery on the drive back is so good that I expend another hour or more stopping and taking pictures of the country. Which is one reason (among others : ) that I probably do better alone by myself on trips than with others (“….what? ANOTHER picture?……….”)

Anyway, here is what I saw on the way back down the forest access road.

Looking back up the Big Creek river (stream?) towards Big Creek Lake area.


A little further down the road, yet another view up Big Creek. I have to say, this photo actually comes close to capturing the beauty of the moment.


Further down the road, you enter BLM and private ranching lands. Looking south.


Shadows stretching.


Independence pass area.


Small wrinkles and big wrinkles on the earth.


Plenty of room to run.


So, was it worth the 3 hour drive to get here? Uh, I guess I could say “no” and hope that keeps people away from “my” special place. But, I won’t do that. Definitely worth the time and effort.

– Geoff Weatherford

27 Comments leave one →
  1. STEVE YARISH permalink
    July 28, 2007 2:30 pm


  2. September 9, 2007 5:20 pm


    I have not gone through the museum (not sure why, since I lived there for a few months and my mom and sister live there). But, Walden is definitely a very cool place (extremely cool in the winter : )
    I’ll eventually get to the museum.

    Geoff Weatherford

  3. Derek permalink
    September 22, 2007 2:29 am

    Hey Geoff, Pictures are great. I will be hiking the Big Creek Lake Trail for a hike-in hunting expedition. We plan to hike to Seven Lakes and set up camp near there as we will be in there for a week. Just wondering if there is any info you could give, or advice.


  4. September 29, 2007 8:55 pm


    My sincere apologies for not getting back to your question sooner.
    I hiked up to Seven Lakes this summer with my son (that hiking trip story and photos is still under development : ). We hiked up from Big Creek Lake. Have to say that the middle part of the trail was a rather rapid rise in elevation (quite a few switch backs). But the last 1-2 miles to Seven Lakes was some of the pretties country I’ve seen in a long time. And, even though I really don’t want others going there : ), I come out and say that Seven Lakes was extremely pretty and I will definitely be going back next summer. We had a thunderstorm hit us just after we arrived and so could not stay long.
    You should have no problems with the trail. If you have horses, they should do fine; just need to give them extra time on the steep parts. Probably took us 3-4 hours to hike it (going up), but I was moving pretty slow taking photos, etc., (ok, I was breathing a little hard for some reason : )
    If you have already done the trip, I hope it was successful. Even if you don’t get any game, you should still have seen a lot of great country.
    Geoff Weatherford

  5. Stanley Dubauskas permalink
    May 26, 2008 5:28 pm

    Great article !!!!!!!!
    I am planing of going elk hunting in Colorado. MANY years ago hunted just east of Hamilton in Moffat county. Right now I am retired so money is thight. Was thinking in hunting Routt national forest. Been trying to find a rancher that would let me trespass their property for a reasonable fee to access BLM land. So far no luck. Are there elk in the area that you have described in this article ?
    Thank you for your response

  6. May 26, 2008 6:34 pm

    There are elk in the Zirkel Wilderness area and the surrounding countryside. They can be seen in the lower elevations (so, the sage brush covered country in some of the photos above) during the wintery part of the year, and up in the mountains during the rest of the year. I’ve seen them in both places.
    So, I’ve never hunted them in the area, but I know that elk hunters get them every year and would say it’s probably a pretty good area for that kind of activity.
    Hope that helps. If you can get to Walden, CO during the summer, stop in at the National Forest Service headquarters and talk to the rangers there. They can give you a lot more info.

    Thanks for viewing.

    Geoff Weatherford

  7. MaryLou permalink
    June 15, 2008 4:07 pm

    Geoff: We love Walden, too. Trying to decide whether to spend our week off at Big Creek Lakes or Delaney Buttes (hubby fishes), your article provided great insight. Thanks! MLou

  8. Sarah permalink
    July 4, 2008 6:47 am

    I love your photos of the Mt Zirkel Wilderness. I live here in Denver, and Mt Zirkel Wilderness is my favorite place in Colorado. Did you take the hike past Upper Big Creek Lake to the waterfall? Or was it too snowy?

  9. July 6, 2008 4:33 pm

    I would recommend Big Creek Lakes (if you have not already gone : )

    Thanks for visiting.

    Geoff Weatherford

  10. July 6, 2008 4:40 pm

    On this particular trip (June 7) I did not go up the trail past upper Big Creek Lake to the falls. That said, I do not think there would have been any snow that year and you could have easily gotten to the falls.
    This year, 2008, I think you may have seen some snow, but still been able to get to the falls. But not sure how much past the falls as there was a lot more snow this year.
    I just got back from Walden (July 5), and could see that there is a lot of snow left in the Zirkels. I’m going to try a trip next weekend, but I’m going to still stay at a lower elevation (Encampment River, maybe) due to the amount of snow this year. I’ll try for timberline and above just prior to the end of July.

    Geoff Weatherford

  11. July 9, 2008 3:32 am

    Thank You for this site. It brings tears to my eyes to see this wonderful place (Big Creek Lake)again. My childhood summers were spent exploring this wonderful area. Now I know my life won’t be complete without going back. Have you hike to Blue Lake or above? I recognize the Beaver Ponds in your pictures. Thank you again…Gene

  12. July 14, 2008 2:27 am


    I have not made it to Blue Lake (yet). I’ve been to Forester Creek (north of Blue Lake) and over Ute Pass (south of Blue Lake). So, it’s definitely on my list of places to go.
    Quite a pretty region. I hope you make it back to the area for a visit some time.

    Geoff Weatherford

  13. Evan permalink
    July 16, 2008 3:45 pm

    My brother in law has a cabin very near here. i have went 2 times in the past 5 years and this year was thinking of bringing my mountain bike. Do you think it would be a waste? Awesome pictures.

  14. July 20, 2008 10:56 pm


    There is a trail around Big Creek Lake that I believe they allow bikes on. Plus, there are a lot of other forest service roads and trails in the area that for sure allow mountain bikes on.
    In fact, there is one that would be just perfect. Called Trail 1126, the northern end of it begins not far from Big Creek Lake (at the end of forest road 660). Looked very well maintained, rolling, with great views of the surrounding country.
    Just stay off the main roads which will have traffic (and dust). Otherwise, sounds like a good plan to me.


    Geoff Weatherford

  15. Matt Van Auken permalink
    July 25, 2008 4:17 pm


    My ancestors were miners in / around Pearl, CO and we have had a family cabin real close to Big Creek Lake for decades. I first went to Big Creek when I was just 6 months old and have gone back every year since (Summer and Winter) for obvious reasons. I am trying to visit every lake in Zirkel and don’t have many left on the list. ūüôā I’m glad to see someone else is enjoying the area as much as I do, but then again one of the best parts is how few people get up there. Thanks for sharing.

    • Michael Davis permalink
      June 20, 2010 11:18 am

      Hey Matt, you might want to go to this facebook site to see the Original manuscript I have uploaded about Pearl and the Wolverine Mine. It was written by Mr. Lobdell who bought the mine about his trip to see it in 1901.

      • June 22, 2010 1:23 am


        Thanks for the info.† I’ll check it out.

        Geoff Weatherford

      • Hale Moore permalink
        December 15, 2017 5:59 pm

        I loved the photos of Big Creek, the stream below the lakes, and the amazing scenery on the way in from Cowdrey. I had the pleasure of meeting my Lobdell, He was a gentleman you would have admired.

  16. July 27, 2008 11:16 pm


    It is a GREAT area. I’ll have to check up on the mining that used to be done in the area (you can see an old smelter from the road).

    Too bad others don’t know about it. But, I’m glad not too many go there : )

    Thanks for visiting.

    Geoff Weatherford

  17. jeff boyd permalink
    February 9, 2010 9:54 pm

    awesome pic s love colo

    • February 21, 2010 7:39 pm


      Yep, Colorado is pretty nice. It’s got a lot of fresh white stuff on the ground now (at least in Fort Collins). But, summer is on it’s way along with some more hiking.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  18. Rod Diaz permalink
    August 12, 2010 2:31 am

    Hey walked in Zirkel in the past and had mixed fishing. Some day good..some days…What’s the report fir Bog Creek Lakes? Can you pack in and Camp there. Need to get away for a few days…Help, I need Info, Info I say………many thanks

    • August 21, 2010 11:34 pm


      You can just drive to lower Big Creek lake.† Camp there and fish.† You can hike to upper Big Creek lake. It’s only around a mile or so.† The stream between the two lakes is good fishing also.

      Good luck : )

      Geoff Weatherford

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  20. Marco g permalink
    February 23, 2014 9:36 pm

    Orrn, Thanks for the great pictures and info. I see that the campsites around Big Creek Lakes are mostly first come, first serve. If I just want to rough it in a tent for a weekend, do I need to pay the fees ahead of time, or is there a dropbox on site? Or, who would I reserve a camp site with? Bears known to be in the lakes area?

    • February 25, 2014 11:49 am


      I didn’t, until today, think you could pay for a site ahead of time. ¬†I have always thought that a person would have to get there, find a site that isn’t occupied, and then purchase however many number of nights you wish (I think there may be a limit, but not sure what it is; maybe a couple of weeks?). ¬†You drop the payment in a drop box.

      But, I may be wrong.  Found this web page that indicates that it may, indeed, be possible to make a reservation in advance.  You may want to check that out. 

      Says you can call 1-877-444-6777 for reservations or go to this site to make an on-line reservation

      You may also be able to get ahold of the local forest service branch in Walden, CO.  They will have up to date info on road closures, etc.  I found this phone number, but not sure if it works or not 970-723-8204

      Also, the area is surrounded by national forest.  You drive through miles of national forest before you get to the lake.  Camping is available (rough camping, no payment necessary) alongside the road up to the lake.  Then you have to pay once you enter the lake recreation area.  

      You can also follow the dirt road (to the left) until it exits the lake area (about 1/2 mile).  The road (well maintained last time I was there) then continues for another 3 miles.  You can camp anywhere along that road.  There are some very nice spots at the end of the road.

      This site had some good info on the area also.

      Hope that helps.



  21. Willy Stillman permalink
    December 15, 2017 1:35 am

    Great pictures and story . I spent many summers on those same trails . Both of my grandfathers built cabins in the 1920 s before a Road was built to the lake . Thanks , Willy Stillman

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