By Rod Martinez
Silver Basin Trail
On the west side of the Maroon Bells and near the town of Crested Butte are a myriad of fabulous trails that will get you into the mountains as you hike through aspen groves that never seem to end. The most spectacular way to get to Silver Basin Trail is to take highway 133 from Carbondale over McClure Pass to Kebler Pass Road.On the way to Kebler you will once again witness spectacular fall foliage as you ascend then descend McClure Pass. Shortly after Paonia Reservoir you will arrive at Kebler Pass Road.
The next 31 miles to Crested Butte include some of the largest and most colorful aspen groves in Colorado. Stop often to absorb the beauty as these groves unfold before your eyes all the way to the West Elk Mountains, which are located in the West Elk Wilderness area.
Our destination is Silver Basin Trail, located about 20 miles from highway 133 or 11 miles from Crested Butte. Turn left off Kebler Pass Road (Colorado Road 12) at Horse Ranch Park and park your vehicle at the Dark Canyon Trail #830.
Silver Basin Trailhead is located about 2 miles from Horse Ranch Park. The Silver Basin Trail, #834, is one of the most picturesque trails in the Raggeds Wilderness Area, whether in the summer for wildflowers, or during the fall, when the aspens are in all their glory, creating a mosaic of yellow, green, or a sprinkling of red leaves amongst those trees whose leaves may have already fallen.
As you ascend the trail, you will traverse high around the Ruby Range. Beautiful vistas unfold around you as you get a panoramic view of the Raggeds Wilderness and in the distance the West Elk Wilderness. Eventually you will top out at Silver Basin. Continuing on will give you a descent of 1,800 feet down a ridge, where you will rejoin the Dark Canyon Trail just above the Devil’s Stairway. This loop will take you back to Horse Ranch Park. Be sure to have plenty of memory cards for your camera. You will need them and use them.
Wilson Mesa Trail
Another awe-inspiring hike is the Wilson Mesa Trail outside Telluride. There are a number of ways to hike this trail. One way is to start at Woods Lake (13 miles one way to Sunshine Mesa); another is to start at Silver Pick Road (7.5 miles one way to Sunshine Mesa).
I like to hike the trail from Sunshine Mesa to Silver Pick Road. This is a trail that can make for a great car shuttle or a long 15-mile hike. Take highway 145 out of Telluride to Ilium Forest Access road #625 to the Ilium church camp, turn right on road #623 and follow it to Sunshine Mesa and the signed junction to Wilson Mesa Trail.
During the course of this hike, you will have a chance to view Sunshine Mountain (12,930 feet), the rock spire known as Lizard Head (13,113 feet), Gladstone Peak (13,913 feet), and the dominant 14ers of Mount Wilson (14,246 feet), El Diente Peak (14,159 feet), and the ever-present Wilson Peak (14,017 feet). Once again you will hike through endless groves of aspen interspersed with some conifers, but one of the above mentioned mountains will always be in your sight.
If you leave early enough in the morning, you will increase your opportunities to view deer, elk, and maybe even a coyote. Panoramas of mountains, streams, and an occasional waterfall can always add to the beauty of the gold in the hills. When you are high on the trail be sure to turn around and catch the view of the Sneffels Range dominated by the queen herself, Mount Sneffels (14,150 feet). Fall is a spectacular time to hike when the leaves are changing from dark green, to light green, to yellow/gold, orange/gold, and occasionally red. The mountains of Colorado are truly a palette of many colors when you combine a bright blue sky, white puffy clouds, and snowcapped peaks.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2012 Issue (1016) of Trail & Timberline.