One of the five original wilderness areas in Colorado, Mount Zirkel Wilderness is an untamed, roadless expanse dotted with icy glacial lakes and granite faces, and is rife with opportunities for isolated backcountry hiking and camping. It’s intersected by the Continental Divide and two major rivers, the Elk and the Encampment. Locals swear by the Zircle Circle hike, which connects Gilpin and Gold Creek Lakes in a glorious alpine trek over roughly 10 miles.
Top hikes accessed easily from Steamboat include the Mad Creek and Red Dirt Trails, both easily accessed by following Elk River Rd north from Steamboat. Boldly rising from the center of the area is the 12,180ft Mount Zirkel, named by famed mountaineer Clarence King to honor the German petrologist with whom he reconnoitered the country in 1874. The area is huge and can provide a place to get off the grid, even during Colorado’s busiest seasons.
The most popular entry points are in the vicinity of Steamboat Springs, though it’s also approachable from Walden or Clark. Detailed maps and information on hiking, mountain biking, fishing and other activities in this beautiful area are available at the USFS Hahns Peak Ranger Office.
Trails Illustrated publishes Hahns Peak/Steamboat Lake and Clark/Buffalo Pass maps, while Jay and Therese Thompson describe the walks in The Hiker’s Guide to the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.