Run: Sunday, July 19 - Mt. Evans Wilderness - 17.32 miles
Effort: Easy, long
Weather: Perfect - cool, clear and sunny morning
Woke up this Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m. and headed out to spend a few hours in the closest wilderness area to the Denver metro area - the Mount Evans Wilderness Area. I parked at the beginning to the Camp Rock Road in the 3,400-acre Mt. Evans State Wildlife Management Area, which is run by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and borders the federal widerness area and the Arapahoe National Forest, as well as several large private ranches.
The SWMA is managed, as the name suggests, for wildlife. In other words, this area is "actively" managed. There is routine and fairly significant forest management activities going to every summer...thinning to improve aspen regeneration and elk habitat, prescribed fire to open up ponderosa pine forests to benefit the Abert's squirrel. As a result, the SWMA has a great mix of forest types, including a lot of Engelmann spruce trees, which make this forest among the most diverse and beautiful along the Front Range.
From the parking area in the SWMA, I began running down the Camp Rock Road, which runs about 4.5 miles to a U.S. Forest Service Campground (Camp Rock) in the Arapahoe National Forest, which is about a half-mile or so from the wilderness boundary. The road begins with a gentle downhill and quickly begins climbing for a couple of miles.
The initial climb ends at 9,060 feet at a dual trailhead for the Captain Mountain trail, which heads north to Echo Lake, and the Lost Creek trail, which heads south and connects to the Cub Creek trail and other trails leading into the wilderness area. From the vantage point at this trail head, one is rewarded with their first full-on view of the Mt. Evans massif, complete with its neighbor to runner's left, the 13,500-foot Rosalie Peak. Both mountains were bathed in early morning alpenglow as rays of the eastern sun were just reaching the mountains.
The sight of the massive, dimpled eastern face of Mt. Evans buoyed my spirits and lightened my footsteps as I continued down the now undulating Camp Rock Road. Before I knew it, I was descending to the Forest Service campground. Only a few campers were stirring as I dashed past a couple of tents and entered the forest on the Beaver Meadows trail at about mile five.
The Beaver Meadows trail climbs its way through the forest before emerging about 1.5 miles later in the first of two meadows. This one has a couple old, wooden shelters that must have at one time been used for picnics or overnight camping. From here, the trail again enters the woods and climbs another three miles or so to Resthouse Meadows, which includes an absolutely, drop-dead gorgeous meadow (as the name would suggest) and a small lake. Bear Creek winds its way noisily through the meadow, offering numerous places for one to soak sore feet or relax along its banks.
Resthouse Meadows sits on the eastern edge of the area burned by the 1962 Resthouse fire, which burned just over 1,000 acres. (I've also seen the fire called the Shelter House fire, and seen it listed as ocurring in 1964.). I paused here to suck down a gel, drink some water and to explore the western fringes of the meadow, following a few stone cairns. The trail and its cairns quickly petered out in the woods. Note: there is a junction in the meadow with the Cub Creek Trail which will take you to the Beartrack Lakes trail, making a swell 10-mile loop from Camp Rock.
Instead of doing the loop, I turned around at Resthouse Meadows and retraced by steps back to Camp Rock, back along the road and back to my car. 17.38 miles on the day in 3:28, which included rest stops and the exploration around Resthouse Meadows.
All-in-all an absolutely glorious run and a perfect morning. All within just 10-15 miles of my house. A reminder of how fortunate we here in Colorado are to live so close and have such great access to gorgeous public lands.