Sunday, December 6, 2020

Autumn hiking in Breckenridge, Colorado

Golden aspens glitter in the sunlight as we hike around Cataract Lake in Colorado. It’s late September, and aspen trees are reaching their peak of gorgeousness. Massive displays capture nature’s beauty while we repeatedly “ooh” and “ah” at the brilliant foliage displays.

Beautiful fall foliage set against majestic
mountains and blue skies in Breckenridge

One stop on this Colorado visit is to Breckenridge. With perfect blue skies and towering mountain peaks in the background, we think autumn is the most beautiful time of year here. It’s also a great time to take advantage of warm-weather activities like hiking, biking, golfing, and fishing.

Of course, when you plan a trip in advance, you can’t predict weather and fall foliage peaks, so we feel very lucky that our timing has worked out so well. Every place we visit around Breckenridge has proved spectacular, and the days have been mild and sunny.

Reflections along Sawmill Creek Trail

Breckenridge lies at the base of the Rocky Mountains in Summit County, Colorado. While its ski trails have made it a popular resort town for skiers in winter, outdoor enthusiasts can find plenty to do in any season of year. The only drawback for some people might be the elevation. The town sits just below 10,000 feet, which means oxygen levels are lower than at sea level. We find it necessary to slow our pace when hiking but otherwise seem to adjust okay.

Cataract Lake in the sunshine
Hikes most people can do

If you want to be outdoors enjoying the beauty of the area but don’t feel up to challenging mountain hike, here are a few that are doable for most activity levels.

Sawmill Creek Trail: This is an easily accessible mile and a half round trip trail that starts near the downtown Main Street shopping area. Parts of the trail can also be accessed directly from several condos in the vicinity. Aspens reflect in a lovely lake that we walk around.

As we return to the parking lot where our car is, we see the sign for Burro Trail, which is in White River National Forest, and decide to see where it goes. It’s another easy trek surrounded by autumn color. Go as far as you like then return on the same path, just as many local dog-walkers do.

Golden aspens all around the trail 

Cataract Lake:
Our original destination was Lily Pad Lake, but we find it closed when we arrive at the trailhead. Instead we hike Cataract Lake, about an hour’s drive north of Breckenridge. Located in the Eagles Wilderness area in the White River National Forest, this hike is now one of our favorites. Sunshine glowing through the aspens is simply spectacular as we walk a 2.3 mile loop around the lake. Spotting a bald eagle in a tree is a bonus.

On the way back to Breckenridge, we stop at Sapphire Point and take the 0.8 mile loop for scenic views of Lake Dillon, a favorite boating spot. It’s a nice place for a picnic and only about 8 miles north of Breckenridge.

View of Dillon Lake from Sapphire Point
McCullough Gulch: After a few days to acclimate to the high elevation, we decide to tackle a moderate hike (as opposed to easy hike). McCullough Gulch is 5.4 miles round trip. Since it is out-and-back, you can go as far as you want and then return along the same path. Be sure to drive two miles on the dirt McCullough Gulch Road/ No. 851to get closer to the gate and the entrance to the trail. 

Hiking on McCullough Gulch trail
This one is a little more challenging, and we find our walking sticks helpful for navigating over the uneven surface of large rocks and tree roots. Flowing streams, cascades, majestic mountain scenery, and more golden aspens make the hike worthwhile.

More outdoor options: Be sure to spend a little time walking along BlueLake within the town center. For more views drive eight miles south of Breckenridge to Blue Lakes Road/ No. 850 and park at the dam at Upper Blue Lake. From here you can view a waterfall, and you might even see some mountain goats. If you prefer exploring on two wheels, there are plenty of bike paths in and around Breckenridge--and rental businesses to outfit you with the proper style of bicycle for your adventures.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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