Grand County Rambler
The Fourth of July weekend is here and Grand County is already beginning to fill with tourists, second homeowners and day-trippers from the Front Range. The Three Lakes Region will once again fill with sky watchers preparing for Grand Lake’s annual fireworks display, one of Grand County’s Independence Day highlights.
If you’re looking to enjoy the high country over the holiday weekend, but aren’t looking to battle dense crowds or long lines of traffic, consider heading out to some of Grand County’s more secluded wilderness spots.
WILLOW CREEK PASS AREA
Just a short ways north of Granby, up US Highway 125, lays the Willow Creek Pass area. Unlike the large mountain parks and broad mountain valleys that mostly define Grand County the Willow Creek Pass area is a narrow riparian region bordered on both sides by fairly sheer rocky mountain slopes covered in dense stands of lodgepole pine and aspen trees.
Highway 125 runs through a twisting, turning valley along the banks of Willow Creek. The road rises gently as it climbs towards the 9,683 feet. Willow Creek Pass on top of the continental divide. Willow Creek roils down from the divide churning through sharp bends and some spectacular fly-fishing territory easily accessed from the highway.
Along the highway in various places you will find both Forest Service roads and hiking trails along with several formal campground areas including Denver Creek Campground and Sawmill Gulch. Over the eons wind, snow and rain have eroded the rocky cliffs in the area, leaving massive and relatively narrow walls of rock that jut out from the higher peaks and descend the slopes downwards towards the highway.
The local forest service roads in the area provide access to several trails, both east and west of Highway 125. Buffalo Creek Road, between the Denver Creek and Sawmill Gulch Campgrounds, leads west from Highway 125 a short distance before dead ending. Two lovely trails, Buffalo Creek Trail and the Bill Miller Trail, head further west, going deeper into the forest. Both see light summer use compared to other trails in Grand County. The region is quite popular with big game hunters in the fall.
Further north up Highway 125, at the very top of Willow Creek Pass, the expansive Continental Divide Trail (CDT) crosses highway 125. Going east the CDT traverses the rugged Never Summer Range and drops down into Rocky Mountain National Park and the picturesque Kawuneeche Valley.
From Willow Creek Pass the CDT also heads west. The trail ascends quickly up the mountain slopes and runs adjacent an enormous rock wall made of massive boulders naturally stacked atop each other in a way that looks as if a giant had placed them. The trail quickly breaks above the tree line and continues rising on its way towards Parkview Mountain.
After cresting one of the lower ridges on Lookout Mountain hikers will be rewarded with an absolutely stunning view of North Park. The entire region is beautiful but the dense clusters of aspen trees make it a real treat during the fall.
To reach the Willow Creek Pass area head west out of Granby on US Highway 40. Turn right onto Highway 125. The two highways converge at the Windy Gap Reservoir. Travelers will need to head north for several miles until they enter the Arapaho National Forest, private property lines both sides of Highway 125 for several miles before the road enters public land. Please use caution when looking for trails in the area, moose are known to frequent the area’s creeks and low marshy wetlands. The region sees relatively little use outside big game hunting seasons with most summer use concentrated along the highway, often in the form of fly-fishermen.
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Due to current public health guidance, there will not be an in-person wilderness campsite lottery for Rocky Mountain National Park this year.