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7 Lakes Trail, Zirkel Wilderness, CO June 26, 2011

April 8, 2012


For my hiking in 2011, I stayed close to home at lower elevations for as long as I could.  We had a LOT of snow in the spring, so the mountains were slow to open.  But, eventually, I had to head for some real trails.

Hmmmm.  Where to go.  I had to be careful in my choice.  So, no place that I would have to cross any streams without bridges.  The water would be too high. And cold. Okay, I’d head to the 7 Lakes trail out of the Big Creek lakes area NW of Walden, CO.  I knew that a good chunk of the trail would be hike-able.  And no rivers to cross.  Yes, I’d been there before, but every time I went it seemed to be new.

(A photo just to break up my wall of text extended intro to the hike : )


Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard, rather longish, comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in that gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative (plus there are more of them). In addition, I have two other links that will help locate the area if you are interested in making the hike yourself. A MapQuest (similar to Google map) map can be found here. You will need to use the plus and minus icons at the top left side of the map (or the wheel on your mouse) to help zoom out to help locate the area based on where you live. (If you want to see all my trips, this linkwill direct you to a MapQuest map that shows ALL my trips. Please note that some of the links for the hikes are located somewhere in the hike itself, while other links on the map are the trailhead for the hike located on a road. The issue being, even if the link looks like it’s pointing to a road, that’s actually just the trailhead.) In order to help you with the actual trail itself, you can use this link to view a portion of a topo map that shows the trail I took . Please note that all links open a new browser window.

(Another photo just to break up my wall of text extended intro to the hike : )


In addition to the MapQuest map link above, please see a live Google map below. Point “G” from Fort Collins is at the trailhead.  Sorry about all the little destination bubbles between Fort Collins and Big Creek lake.   Also, the blue line may, or may not, have been the route I took from my home in Fort Collins, CO.   Sometimes Google takes a slightly different route : )  However, in this case it looks pretty close.  You can “grab” the map to scroll it around and use the “+” and “-“ icons in the upper left hand corner to zoom in or out to get more detail. You can also click on the “View Larger Map” link and it will bring up the map in a larger window (if you right click on the “View Larger Map” link and select “Open Link in new tab/window” then you can have both my blog and the map open at the same time).

The day started out extremely clear and calm.  And it also appeared, once I got close enough to tell, that the snow line in the Zirkels was still quite low.  Yes, quite low.


Let’s review.  It was June 26.  In one week it would be pushing July 4 which historically is known in Colorado for being the first part of the summer that you can hike into the high country.  As in above treeline.  Heh, right.  Not this year.  Maybe by July 15.  Maybe.


I drove past Pearl and turned off to head up to Big Creek Lake.  I immediately had to pull over because of the flowers and the view.  After a long winter, very pretty.


Nice flowers.


After arriving at the parking lot for the 7 Lakes trail, I saw more vehicles than what I thought was normal.  It appeared that most of the campground sites were taken by families.  Ended up seeing a handful of people on the trail.  But most of the time it was just me.  DSC_4962

I always like the first couple of miles that you cover between lower Big Creek Lake and upper Big Creek Lake.  Lots of variety.  There is an extensive bit of marshy meadows between the two lakes.  The trail skirts the marshy area only at the very beginning.  At this time of the year, way more marsh than meadow.


Several sections of the trail have long wooden walkways over the wet spots.  Quite well done.  If you look past this first one, you can see a few more further up the trail.


Some of the trail had extensive water damage due to the high runoffs that spring.


In addition, the forest service (or someone hired by the forest service) has been doing a lot of “thinning”.  I’m not sure if they are doing it to reduce the danger of falling trees or, minimize the possibility of fires, or, well, whatever.  There were some signs posted that had warnings about watching out for the trees, so I suppose trees were attacking hikers.  Or something.
Anyway, it was still pretty.


After a mile or two you reach this intersection.  To the left will take you to upper Big Creek lake.  To the right the trail heads to 7 Lakes.  I went to the right (well, straight ahead in the photo), but on the way back down I did walk down the other trail to the point of being on the shore of the upper lake.  Which is NOT the small pond in the photo above.


After this point, the main area of the attacking trees must have ended.  Because you quickly get past the war zone and enter the a nice trail section.  That said, I did have a very close call.  One tree attacked me, but made a fatal error in not waiting until it could see the whites of my eyes.  Thus, it missed me.  By that much.


Here is a close up of the deadly results.  Yes, when you are hiking these trails, or any trails, be very aware of attacking trees.  I carefully walked around it.  Keeping a close eye on the other trees around me.  As you can imagine, it was a tense moment.  There is a reason I carry a Glock with me on these hikes.  Pepper spray, while adequate for bears, has no effect on attacking trees. The trees will actually laugh at pepper spray.  Although now that I think about it, a chain saw may be better than my Glock against trees.  But, the Glock is lighter.  Hmmmm.  Yes, these are the types of life and death decisions that one has to be prepared to make in the deep wilderness of Colorado.   I wonder……..?  Possibly a flame thrower?  No, most likely not allowed by the rangers.  Perhaps some Agent Orange?  Yes, that might work.


The trail meanders along the side of the valley above South Fork Big Creek.  Very nice trail.  It starts to gain a little in altitude, but nothing extreme.  As can be seen, the aspens were just leafing out.  That emerald green time of year.


Some nice pasque flowers along the trail.  A little too early for any other flowers at this altitude.  Some interesting facts about this Genus is that the plant can be toxic, so do NOT eat the flowers (or, probably, any other part of the plant).  I would think just handling them is not dangerous.  According to Wikipedia, it was used in various medicines by the Native Americans (and, one would imagine, most “natives” of the rest of the world).  See for more details.   Did I not mention how dangerous it is on these trails?  I thought so.


Oh look, there’s something white down there in the shade.  Hmmmmmmm.  Well, it’s only a small patch in the shade.  Means nothing.


Lots of nice little bubbling streams this time of year.  Many of them will be dry (or very close to it) later in the summer.  I had to cross the stream up a little ways off the trail.  If you notice that tree leaning towards me on the left?  Yes, another attacking tree.  You can’t let your guard down.


The sign announcing that you are entering Zirkel Wilderness.  Big Creek Falls can be seen behind it.  Also, I didn’t like the looks of that tree on the right.  I kept my eyes on it as I walked past hurriedly.  Just in case.  If it hadn’t been for those wonderful signs informing me of the dangerous trees, well, I don’t know what might have occurred.  Anyway, I’m glad that my tax dollars are being put to good use.  Hmmmm.  Maybe an axe instead of agent orange?  I really need to stop by the forest service some day and discuss this with them.  I’m sure that they would have all kinds of good things to tell me : )


I walked down to the Falls to get a closer look.  At this time of the year the sound was deafening.  A lot of water pounding down over the rocks.  Just how loud was it?  If someone was standing next to you and wanted to get your attention, they would have to yell directly into your ear.  It was that loud.


Rooms.  As can be seen, the edges were quite untouched.  These versions of ‘rooms are obviously not favored by the hobbits.


The trail brings you to a great view of the valley looking out over some beaver ponds.


Zoom.  Would seem to me to be very good place to do some fishing (the fish may be a tad small, hard to say).  But, I’ve never seen anyone fishing here.


Yes, yes.  I did notice the white stuff in the photo above.  And I don’t mean the clouds.  So, I wasn’t too surprised when I soon came upon some big drifts of snow.  I decided to go no further today.  It had been fun and while I may have been able to slog through another half mile or more, a truly intense altitude gaining section of trail that lay shortly ahead would more than likely be all snow covered.  And that type of trail was about a mile from this point.  However, during the summer this section of trail is pretty mild and gains altitude very slowly.  It will take you through some rather lovely sections of deep woods.  And then, yes, the trail becomes a long (a mile?) crunch of switchbacks that do nothing but rapidly gain altitude at a lung and heart gasping pace.  Even so, that portion of the trail also goes through nice scenic sections.  Just go slow and it’s quite enjoyable.  After that steep part the trail becomes one of the prettiest trails you will ever see.  Pretty much all the way to 7 Lakes.  WAIT!  What am I saying?  No, sorry, forget what I just said.  Terrible trail.  Don’t ever go.  Raging wolves, monstrous mosquitoes.  Oh, and the trees.  Many many man (and woman) eating attacking trees.  Really, really horrible place.  Trust me.  Would I lie?  Damn, how can I keep these secret places all to myself if I tell people ………………….


So I said bye to the snow and went back to “beaver ponds” lookout.  CHOICE spot for a lunch.  Really good easy hike for a family with kids (you’d have to carry the toddlers).  You get to see the falls, then head up the trail just a few minutes further in order to get to this great spot for a picnic.  Big trees to sit on. Quiet pools of water for kids to throw rocks in.  Pretty open and easy to keep an eye on the children so they don’t wander too far off.  No cliffs.  Etc.  Course, just like anywhere in the woods you have to keep an eye on children.  I remember when I was a kid.  I’d just take off running the first chance I got : )  Obviously there is always the odd chance that you will run into riff raff and malcontents at the same location.  I suspect the person below as being one of the less fortunate ones of our society.  Strange though, seems like I’ve seen him before on some of my other hikes.   Could be a stalker.


On the way back down the trail I took a photo of some very green trees up on the slopes.  This small photo does not do it justice.


View of upper Big Creek lake on the way back down.   As can be seen, the weather stayed quite pleasant.  Even got a trifle warm if I remember correctly.  I think I do remember correctly because I seem to remember saying to myself, “man, that snow back behind me in the mountains is going to be melting fast this week”.  Or something else of similar intelligence.


It was really a strange bit of weather now that I think on it. It was very warm (warm enough for tshirt and shorts), yet the mountains behind me were deep in snow.  In fact, there was snow all around the lake in front of me.  Here is a photo looking across the lake as I got closer to it.  Those white things are banks of snow along the shore.


And, in this photo you can see more glinting of snow back in the trees just a short distance away from the shoreline.  On my larger versions of the photo I can zoom in and see, yes, lots of snow back in the trees.  Course it’s melted off back on the hillside that is more exposed to the sun.


On my way back down the trail between the lakes I had a “confrontation” with a bar.  Okay, what happened was I was cruising down the trail and happened to glance up in time to see this very small bear cub walking towards me up ahead.  Just as I was able to comprehend what I was looking at, he raised his little head up and, I swear to Crom, did a classic jump straight up in the air and turn 180 degrees to come down running in the opposite direction.  His legs were moving before he hit the ground.  Unfortunately for me, he was just about 10 feet from a curve in the trail and disappeared before I could snap a photo.  I “cautiously” (uh, you know, small cub bear means large momma bear might be close by : ) hurried up to the place where he had disappeared around the bend in the trail , but I never caught sight of the cub again.

Looking back across the lake at the mountains.


A favorite part of these trips is driving back down from the mountains through the back roads.  You get an awesome view of the Zirkels on this particular road.  It isn’t some massive million acre wilderness like up in Wy/Idaho/Montana (not to mention all the deep wilderness up in Canada and Alaska).  But it is a nice long section of the continental divide that does not get a ton of visitors.  Mostly down towards the southern end that is nearest to Steamboat Springs.  And even that isn’t too bad as I found out when I visited the Buffalo Pass area.  The Zirkels is, for me, also just a tad bit closer than those other huge areas up north : )


Zoom.  Course, that’s some private ranch land down there.  But that’s alright.  It means that access to a large chunk of the wilderness is “obstructed”.  So, you have to find the right access roads and then hike/ride your way along the range of mountains to get back to certain areas.  Which just help to keep them somewhat secluded for strange people like myself.


Now, the view in the other direction can also be not too shabby.  Here is looking east towards Walden and the Rawah Wilderness.  I see pronghorn and coyotes regularly along this road.  Occasionally if I squint juuuuuuusssst right, I can make out lines of horses in the distance being ridden by people with feathers in their hair.  Yeah, that kind of place.




Zoom more.  Actually, that might be the Never Summer range behind Walden.  The Rawahs are those mountains to the north (to the left in the photos).  Yep, north park is pretty much surrounded by mountains.  Cool place in the summer.  Maybe just a bit TOO cool in the winter : )


Anyway, don’t remember the drive back or if I went to Coops after I got back to town.  But I had a great day.  Nice to finally get back into the country.

– Geoff Weatherford

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2012 10:09 am

    What a beautiful trail! I hope to take it someday ! 🙂

  2. April 10, 2012 10:53 am

    I’ve been up to the falls. Beautiful area!

    • April 10, 2012 7:58 pm


      Thanks for the comments and for stopping by. It’s a nice enough place that I don’t mind going there repeatedly. Somehow it always seems new : )

      Geoff Weatherford

  3. April 15, 2012 7:56 pm

    Another entertaining post! Your bit about the attacking trees had me chuckling. I always enjoy reading about your trail choices and seeing your great pictures. You’ve given me lots of ideas for fun hikes. Can’t wait to do some backpacking in the Zirkels this summer…

    • April 16, 2012 5:09 pm

      axldebaxar Yep, those were some tough trees last summer : ) Thanks for stopping by. Hope you do some hiking in the Zirks this summer (or, anywhere in Colorado, its all pretty nice). Thanks, GeoffW

  4. Scott permalink
    February 26, 2013 1:23 pm

    I’ve been to the Big Creek Area several times but have never made the 7 lakes hike. Are any of the lakes stocked with fish? Thinking about doing an overnighter at 7 lakes and would love to catch some fish for dinner. Also interested in approximate hike time from Big Creek Lake to 7 Lakes.

    • March 14, 2013 9:18 pm

      I “think” some of the lakes may be stocked. But it would be pretty quick and easy to contact the Colorado State Fish and Game department on current conditions for fishing. Or, possibly google for the info. I just hiked up all the way to the lakes once, enjoyed the view (in a rainstorm : ), and then hiked back down. So, didn’t have time to view any possible fisherpeople.

      As far as how long to hike to the Lakes? Took my son and I 3 hours one way. We went moderately slow (I took lots of photos). So, anywhere from 2 hours (3 plus mph and in good shape) to 4 hours (heavy packs and taking it easy).

      Hope that helps.



      • Scott Crader permalink
        March 15, 2013 7:35 am

        Thanks for the info. I’ll contact Fish and Wildlife to make sure. I’ve heard they’re stocked, but want to confirm. Sounds like a good hike/camp.

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