Spending One Week in the White River National Forest, Colorado

Colorado is ColoRADo! I went to Colorado for a weeklong adventure and was able to hit many trails around the beautiful National Forests from Vail to Loveland and Breckenridge. It was such a fantastic time! The colors were firing all week long, and I even got some snow at the end of my stay. Winter is looming on the horizon and I couldn’t be more stoked for the snow covered mountain tops and of course, winter sports.

With that being said, my road trip and stay in Colorado was a smashing success. It was the first time I’ve been to that state since a family trip in 2007, so it’s been a minute! I’m a little taller, much older, and much more accustomed to the outdoors. I knew I was going to be destroying myself on hikes as much as I could there, and maybe get caught in an afternoon thunderstorm once or twice.

These were some of the thickest forests I’ve seen on the west coast!
Beautiful aspens burst into brilliant colors. White River National Forest, Colorado.

I was mostly staying in the area of the White River National Forest, with a few stops into the Holy Cross Wilderness area, as well as the Pike National Forest. The hikes here were absolutely immaculate! These mountains are so similar to Utah, yet so different at the same time. The mountain ranges don’t seem to end! There’s also ski resort after ski resort. You can’t drive too far down Interstate 70 or mountain pass roads without bumping into a ski town or two. It’s just fantastic!

The views along the road I was camping on were next level!

My journey began in the Holy Cross Wilderness, camping solo along a dirt road and nabbing a couple hikes in the area before staying in Beaver Creek during the midweek. I still got out many times during the week to snap photos of the fall colors, and of course, hike. Then, the week ended with a few more nights under the stars (and clouds), and some more hikes and fall colors. I’ll keep most of these memories to myself, but I’ll share a few of them with you since I think they’re fun stories.

My campsite for night one! It was a pretty solid spot!

My first night in Colorado was spent just south of Minturn, Colorado, a quaint little mountain town just off of I-70. I drove up a bumpy and steep dirt road, trying to find a place to camp. I eventually found a perfect spot for myself, and began the process of setting up camp. I’m glad I had a headlamp and two lanterns at my disposal, since I was greeted with two glowing eyes staring back at me in the middle of a grassy field. I immediately thought: bear, mountain lion, animal trying to eat me.

I immediately whipped out my knife I carry on me at all times. Luckily for me, a small fox came forward, and walked within 10 feet of me. He was a small little fox, probably just trying to snake some food off me, but his closeness was a little frightening to me. I shouted at him, and he seemed curious at first, just watching me. I was able to find some small rocks to throw in his general direction to scare him off deeper into the woods, and luckily he went away. But hey, what a welcome to Colorado!

The Eagle River runs through a canyon near Minturn, Colorado.
Gotta have my Atticus mug with me at all times!

My next memory takes me to the midweek of my trip. I did a hike from Beaver Creek, up to Beaver Lake, hoping to beat it before impending thunderstorms. I hadn’t experienced any rain in Colorado at this point, and certainly not thunderstorms, and the chances were low (yes, I did check before I left). However, that was not so much the case.

I had hiked nearly all the way there, and with about 10 minutes to go, I felt some raindrops. Oh no, I thought, what do I do now? I decided I was close enough to the lake to try and make a quick push up the rest of the trail. So, I hauled my butt up the trail, and was greeted with quite a large lake! Much larger than I was expecting. I took some pictures, and the rain had subsided, giving a little dusting of Seattle sunshine instead. This is much better, I have more time than I thought I did, I remember thinking. Just as I opened my bag to eat the snack I brought, boom! boom! boom! went the thunder. Oh boy, time to go!

The rain started coming down softly….then it really ramped up!

I quickly waterproofed my pack and threw on my raincoat, and it was a good thing I did because not ten seconds after I had done those, it started pouring, and I mean just absolutely downpouring. It was kind of horrible! I ran back down the trail, stopping every one or two hundred feet to take cover under some trees before proceeding to the next areas. Luckily, I wasn’t terribly exposed at all, and there was tree cover for the most part. I needed to descend in elevation fast, so, with my poles in hand and boots stomping away, I made pretty good time!

Long story short, I made it back down the trail, and with a few miles to go, the rain had subsided. I was still thoroughly soaked, however, and walked back into the lodge as a soggy dude. Man, that after-hike shower felt so good!

The lake was actually really pretty. I wish I had more time to enjoy it!
A quick camera selfie before it started downpouring from those ominous clouds!

Hiking in Colorado is no easy feat, as the starting elevation alone is quite monstrous in some areas. I hiked up Notch Mountain, and up Mt. Bierstadt, both higher than mountains I’ve climbed in Utah. However, the biggest crux with these mountains was the starting elevation. Notch Mountain begins at about 10,350 feet, while Mt. Bierstadt starts at roughly 11,300 feet. The highest point I had hiked to previously sat at 11,947 feet, the beautiful Bald Mountain in the High Uintas. Not so high now, huh?

So, with this in mind, these hikes destroyed me a little bit! More than I figured they would at least. I was definitely prepared: I’m in the best shape of my life (especially for hiking), and I had most of the knowledge I would need for these hikes. But, never underestimate the weather that Colorado can bring.

No campfires above 11,000 feet.

Hiking up Notch Mountain was difficult, and it started early in the morning. I started a little bit after 7am, which was late on my own accord. The trail was pretty silent, but it was a cold start on a cold morning. Eventually, the sun started to warm the hike up a little bit, but a southeastern wind kept my layers on for the most part. Once I reached the summit, I was looking towards the beautiful Mount of the Holy Cross, and what a vantage point it was! The cross was so perfectly etched into the mountain. I sat at the summit for nearly 40 minutes, admiring it, watching mountain goats, and taking lots of photos.

The beautiful Mount of the Holy Cross! It stands at 14,003 feet (and don’t forget the three feet!)
This is just a cool shot. I love it!

Mt. Bierstadt was a whole different story. It started with a wakeup call at 4:30am, and the trail covered in 4-5 inches of snow. It was my first winter ascent up a mountain (and a tall one, too). There wasn’t too much wind during the bottom portion of the hike, since brush shielded against such forces. Eventually, the hike became exposed, and the wind started to pick up, but not terribly. The one main issue was the sun never showed it’s face until after summiting. So, with cold, snow, and some wind, this hike was pretty intense. Eventually, the clouds gave way to come spectacular views of the mountains across the pass, and honestly, some of the best photos I’ve ever taken.

From the summit of Mt. Bierstadt. 14,065 ft.
How perfect does this mountain look!? This was the view on the way down!

With that, I’ll end this novella blog with a few photos I took along the way that don’t quite fit in with these stories. I’ll be writing a lot more about Colorado and all the hikes I did while I was there, along with some other tidbits and adventures I took that weren’t related to hiking. So, make sure to stay tuned for those blogs, and the photos that come out from it. I’m excited to share it all with you!

See you soon!

~ Justin

Parting shot:

Bierstadt looms in the background. Such a great climb!

Next blog: Notch Mountain, Colorado. 13,237 ft.

6 thoughts on “Spending One Week in the White River National Forest, Colorado

  1. This looks like such a beautiful trip! Those colors in the beginning are so wonderful. It’s funny how you can see the transition from your trip. Fall to winter in a week!

    Liked by 1 person

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