Trail Report: Montgomery Pass

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Know Before You Go:

  • Trailhead: Zimmerman Lake (parking), Montgomery Pass (trailhead)
  • Website: Montgomery Pass
  • Trail Map: State Forest State Park
  • Additional Info: Poudre Wilderness Volunteers
  • Length: 3.6 (round-trip)
  • Closest Town: Rustic
  • Green Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Senior Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Barefoot Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Beer Friendly: Yes
  • Firearm Friendly: Yes
  • Dog Friendly: Yes
  • Obstacles: Wildlife, bikers, hikers and small water crossings
  • Parking: Large semi-circle lot at Zimmerman Lake trailhead, lightly used and plenty of horse trailer parking
  • Water: Parking lot is next to Joe Wright Reservoir and Joe Wright Creek, several small stream crossings along trail

The Nitty Gritty:

To get to the Montgomery Pass Trailhead, you’ll head west on highway 14 for about 57 miles past Ted’s Place to the Zimmerman Lake parking area which will be on your left.  The paved parking area just past Joe Wright Reservoir (also on your left) has vault bathrooms available and ample room for cars though use is fairly light throughout the year.   The actual Montgomery Pass trailhead is across the road from the parking area and is pretty darn hard to see if you don’t know what you’re looking for.  For reference, from the bathrooms, look across highway 14 and slightly east and you’ll see a small wooden sign denoting the trailhead.

This trail is absolutely spectacular for wildflowers.  This time of year, the asters were in full swing along with the columbine, balsamroot and, my favorite, Indian paintbrush.  Immediately past the trailhead sign, you find yourself in a dense pine forest surrounded by a blanket of wildflowers that extends almost the entire trip to treeline.  The sound of Joe Wright Creek flowing down the mountain is faint in the background until you see it come into view about ¼ mile up the trail.  It’s a world fit for Disney.

The trail itself is a great one for beginners and, I imagine, a fantastic horse and snowshoe or cross country ski trail in the winter.  The wide, two-track trail is actually an old Jeep trail left over from the numerous mining camps in the area way back when.  In fact, there are actually several old mine cavings and cabin reminisces when you reach treeline.  In general, the trail is easy to navigate to treeline with minimal toe-stubbing or ankle-rolling probability.

The trail travels through the thick, stately pines for about 1 ¾ mile until you reach a fork.  A wooden sign will point you in the direction of the “Bowls” or the “Pass” and from there it’s up to you to make your decision.  We chose the bowls but I’m definitely heading back to hit the pass.

The ¼ mile to the bowls is not for the faint of heart.  From the sign at the fork, the trail hits an almost 90 degree angle and scrambling a bit is to be expected.  The trail fades out a bit toward the top of the initial hill but there are fairly well-marked cairns that mark the path of least resistance.

Then, the best thing happens.  The ground levels and you find yourself in a spectacular alpine meadow right on the edge of treeline and you half expect Julie Andrews to be running over the hill belting out a tune.  There’s no trail after this so you’re on your own to explore how you wish and explore we did!  We checked out a few old mine cavings, what was left of an old cabin, a creek down the hill a ways and the plethora of moose tracks.  There was a gnarly set of pines grouped together on the south side of the meadow that had obviously been shaped by the seasonal snowpack.

We found a lovely spot to eat lunch while looking out at the Nokhu Crags in the distance and the dogs ran around happily.  Though we did this trail on foot, I fully intend to come back with the horses as it appears to have great access to the rest of the State Forest State Park trail system for some longer, backcountry rides.  It has it all; forests, flowers, creeks, snow, above treeline, expansive views, wildlife traces and historical significance.

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