With the weather warming up, backpacking season is on its way. While the mountains will not be open for another month or two, now is the time to begin planning a few summer backpacking trips, since backpacking takes more planning then a short, spontaneous day hike. Below are four great weekend trips to consider taking this summer. Remember, be safe and practice Leave No Trace principles in the backcountry.

  • 1

    Mount Zirkel

    The Zirkel Mountains, in northern Colorado, provide some of the closest backpacking options to Laramie. The Zirkel Mountains are found in Routt National Forest (and the Zirkel Wilderness Area), just west of Walden. While the Zirkels may not look as impressive as the Never Summer Mountains to the east of Walden, but their beauty shows once the hike begins. Summiting Mount Zirkel is a great hike within the range. There are several ways to connect to Red Dirt Pass, which takes hikers to the summit of Zirkel. While there is an eastern entrance by Walden, this trail is strenuous since you need to hike over an extra pass. Most people spend the extra hour and a half in the car to drive to Steamboat and the Slavonia trailhead (directions below). From the trailhead, take the Gold Creek Trail for 2.5 miles to Gold Creek Lake (you will cross a steam at 1.5 miles). From there, follow the trail for another mile to an extensive meadow. The meadow makes for a great place to make camp and prepare for the following day’s summit. From the meadow, follow the trail to Red Dirt Pass and then the final mile to the summit at 12,180 feet. Total mileage is 16, with 3700 feet of elevation gain. However, if you want to make this a longer trip, there are nearby peaks to summit from Red Dirt Pass, as well as trails heading into the southern Zirkel Mountains. Slavonia trailhead: From Steamboat Springs head two miles NW on US 40 to CR 129 (Elk River Road) and turn right at the stoplight. Head about eighteen miles north, past Clark, to Glen Eden, and turn right again at Seedhouse Road ( AKA CR 64 and FR 400) and follow the road and signs ten miles to the trailhead. Seedhouse Road is passable for passenger cars to the trailhead.

  • 2

    Teton National Park: Paintbrush Canyon to Cascade Canyon Loop

    Grand Teton National Park is a destination for national, as well as international, backpackers. One of the most popular hikes in the park is the Paintbrush Canyon to Cascade Canyon Loop, a 21.4 mile loop that can be done with a single overnight. However, Teton National Park requires backcountry permits, so make sure you get your permit in advance. While short, this is a strenuous hike with a 3,765 foot elevation gain. Backpackers can begin this loop on either trail, but the recommended way is to start at the Paintbrush Canyon trail (at Leigh Lake Trailhead) because it is the steeper of the two canyons, making it easier to ascend instead of descend. As the trail gains elevation, there are great views of Jenny and Leigh Lake. At 5.8 miles into the hike, hikers will have the option to take a mile detour to see Holly Lake, which is worth the extra effort. Continuing up the trail, hikers will reach Paintbrush Divide at 10,700 feet, where the descent into Cascade Canyon begins. 2.4 miles down into Cascade Canyon, Lake Solitude appears, making a great rest break. From there, hike down to Lake Jenny and veer back towards the Leigh Lake parking lot.

  • 3

    The Flat Top Mountains: Devil's Causeway

    The Flat Tops sound like their name. They are, literally, flat due to an ancient lava flow. The Flat Tops are more of a large, 500 square mile, plateau above tree line than typical mountains. While most backpacking trips are not filled with nerve-wracking moments (unless there is some wildlife…), this route in the Flat Tops includes the famous Devil’s Causeway, which is a narrow bit ridge with 400 foot cliffs on either side. At one point, the ridge is only four feet wide. Unfortunately, on this loop route, the causeway is unavoidable. This hike begins on the north shore of the Stillwater Reservoir (see directions below). At the west side of the reservoir, there will be a junction and sign marking the East Fork Trail. Take a right and begin uphill. Continue past Little Causeway Lake and climb until you reach the top of an 11,580 foot pass. The trail splits at this point, and either way is acceptable to take as this is the beginning and end of the loop. Most hikers recommend taking a right down to the Flat Tops and Lost Lakes. An hour and a half after leaving the pass, Causeway Lake comes into view, which is a good place to camp for the first night. The total mileage at this point is 5.5 miles. On the following morning, continue down the trail. Take a left at the first junction. Two more junctions will appear. Continue left through both. The fourth junction is as .3 mile spur that leads to another lake. To skip the lake, continue to the right. Fifteen minutes later, West Lost Lake appears, the recommended campsite for the second night. Total mileage for the day is 5.6 miles. The third day will bring a long hike (11.2 miles) back to the trailhead. However, this is the only way to backpack the trip without sleeping above tree line. The first 2.5 miles will be a hike up to the top of the Flat Tops at an elevation of 11,600 feet. Once you reach the mesa, the trail can become more difficult to follow, so be sure to stay on the north (or highest side) of the plateau. After about three miles, Devil’s Causeway appears. After Devil’s Causeway, the beginning of the loop trail reappears. Total elevation change is 3,330 feet and 22.3 miles. Directions to Trailhead from Yampa, Colorado: Begin heading southwest on Bear River Road (CO Rt 7). Continue along this road for 18 miles until it dead ends at the Stillwater Resevoir parking lot.

  • 4

    The Wind River Mountains, located by Lander, offer many spectacular hikes. However, one of the best hikes is to the Cirque of Towers area in the southern part of the mountain range. The Cirque is name for the large semi-circle of fifteen, 12,000 foot peaks that surround the area. The easiest way to access this area is through the Big Sandy Trailhead. This is a highly used area, so trails are well marked. The trail begins with a six mile hike to Big Sandy Lake. This section of the trail has a gradual incline. The trail splits at Big Sandy Lake. The right goes to the camping area (with bear boxes) and the left continues to the Cirque and Temple Peak. For a weekend hike, the campground at Big Sandy Lake provides a great place to leave a heavy pack and set up camp. From this campsite, hikers can do two great day hikes: one to the Cirque and one to Temple Peak. Continuing down the trail (taking a left at the junction), hikers will find the cut off for the Cirque and Jackass Pass (which tops out at 10,800 feet) to the left. To reach Temple Peak, continue strait on the trail. The Cirque and Jackass Pass should be done the first day, due to its intense elevation gain. The campground and the cut off for the pass are quite close, so hikers will not spend much time re-hiking the same trail on the next day on the hike to Temple Peak. On the Temple Peak hike, be sure to stay to the right, as there is one other trail to some additional lakes.

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