Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bear Creek Trail-Dolores River

The popular Bear Creek Trail begins about 22 miles northeast of Dolores along Highway 145 in southwest Colorado. The trail follows the Bear Creek southeast for 12.5 miles toward the LaPlata Mountains and connects to other trails in the area. The elevation at the trail head is 7900 feet.

The trailhead area is well marked. There are interpretive signs in the parking area discussing life in the Dolores Valley before the arrival of train transportation in 1891 and the unique features of Aspen trees.

The first few steps of the trail cross the Dolores River on a footbridge. In the first ten minutes of hiking the route climbs steeply with switchbacks and the Morrison Trail branches off to the right, leading 8 miles to the Transfer Campground area. After 0.5 miles, there is the parallel Little Bear Pack Trail that re-connects with the main trail after 1.75 miles.

The trail alternates between being high on the valley side above the creek or right down along the bank. After the first segment of climbing, most of the trail is easy walking. The forest here is mostly tall spruce-fir and aspen trees, with a few towering Ponderosa pines in the sunnier areas. There are many Colorado Blue Spruce close to the Bear Creek and many Narrowleaf Cottonwoods.

After about 1:00 hour and 1.75 miles there is the largest of several meadow areas. Other meadows are visible on the other side of Bear Creek. Usually, marmots are visible in this meadow. Thistles were the main flower here in early August. I saw some of the hummingbird-like Hawk Moths hovering near the flower heads of the thistles. For the most part, the Bear Creek Trail isn't lush with wildflowers.

There are no glimpses of mountains along this trail, though the peaks are not far away. There are some good views across the deep canyon at the thick forest.

There are signs posted along the trail that say Fly Fishing only. Further up the trail, at the 6 mile mark, there is a junction with the Gold Run Trail where there has been work to restore Bear Creek and enhance the trout habitat.

I walked 4 miles to a trail junction at the Little Bear Creek, arriving after 2:20 hours. The crossing of Little Bear Creek is easy in August but during the spring runoff it would be dangerous. At this point to the left, there is the faint Little Bear Trail before the creek crossing that climbs steeply 2 miles to Hillside Drive. The elevation at Little Bear Creek is about 8600 feet.

My return hike took 2:10 hours for a total hike of 4:50 hours for 8 miles. It was 60 F degrees at 9:20 AM and 70 F at 2:10 PM on a sunny early August day. I carried and drank 3 liters of water. I saw 3 other hikers during my hike and there were several fishermen near the trailhead.

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