The Zirkel Circle Trail Conditions (July 9-10)
Summer is now in full swing, and one of the top questions we get asked here at Steamboat Ski Haus is, “Are the Zirkels open yet??”. Well my friends, that time has come! Ask and you shall receive! My boy, Blue, and I went on a 2 day backpack to find out the conditions for you. I’m here to give you The Zirkel Circle trail report.
What Is The Zirkel Circle?
The Zirkel Circle is a 10.3 mile loop trail that is located just outside of Clark, CO at the end of Seedhouse Rd. It is rated as difficult, which I would agree with at the moment. Although, once all the snow melts, I feel that it would be a ‘hard moderate’ trail. This trail will take you through some of the most beautiful wilderness that Northern Colorado has to offer.
You will find yourself walking along raging rivers, sauntering through lush, blooming meadows, and (at least for the next couple weeks or so) trudging through deep summer snow over Circle Pass. I do want to make it clear that this trail is currently suggested only for the adventurous. Those who are willing to work a bit harder than a 10 mile summer hike would usually require. Give the snow another couple of weeks to melt and I’d say she’ll be back in the moderate range.
I’ve been a backpacking guide in California through most of my 20’s. So being a seasonal worker, I’ve only lived in Steamboat during the winters to teach snowboarding. So this is actually my first summer living here in The Boat. This was also my first time backpacking in the Zirkels. And I have to say, this was some of the best hiking I’ve done since I completed the Pacific Crest Trail back in September.
My Experience On The Zirkel Circle
Blue and I started working our way counter-clockwise, with our first destination being Gold Lake. This particular area is good to go! Great little 6 mile out-n-back trail, or family camping destination. Just please be aware that there is no camping within ¼ mile of both Gold and Gilpin Lake. Once you pass this lake, you’ll come upon your first gnarly river crossing. This is where it started to get a little hairy.
Although the creek was only about a foot deep, the current was no joke! There wasn’t anywhere to cross so I just committed to getting wet. I’m 6’2 and 190 lbs and I definitely had to take it slow and brace myself. There was no way Blue was making that crossing without getting swept away. So I didn’t cross the creek once, but three times. First to drop off my pack, second to come back for Blue, and third while carrying Blue, my 60 lb. Alaskan Husky.
After this crossing, you’ll start the gradual incline, working over small snow patches. Once you reach the area near the top, it begins to plateau into that bowl before the summit of the pass, you’re in full on snow. Going into this not really knowing what to expect, I carried a full pack, including snow shoes. I only used them for about 3 miles, but 100% worth the carry. I’m not going to be that guy and say it’s impossible to do it without snowshoes. Just expect to have a rough time getting up and over the Pass and around Gilpin. Or at least plan it out where you camp near the snow line and crush it early before the slush fest begins.
All Down Hill From Here
Once at the top, this is where the real fun began. After enjoying the 360° scenic view, I made an exciting 200 meter glasade all the way down to the base of Gilpin Lake! This area was by far my favorite section of the trail, and to be honest, it was because of the snow and the beauty it created back there. If I didn’t have the snowshoes, I may not have enjoyed it as much. But man, the views! Gilpin Lake is still frozen over, but just beginning to thaw, creating that amazing glacial blue water.
Once you begin the descent from Gilpin, you’ll push for about a mile or so before the snow begins to dissipate. After another mile or so you’ll come upon a few suggested dispersed camping areas. This is where Blue and I decided to make camp for the night, just after the Gilpin Creek crossing. This was the second and last crossing that I had to actually walk/carry Blue across. Surprisingly the bugs weren’t bad at all, plenty of water all around me and the weather couldn’t have been any nicer! The next morning we had a dry, cruisy 3 mile hike out to the Slovenia Trailhead where I parked and I was out before work that morning.
Trail Report Video
CLICK HERE and you can check out the video I made for The Zirkel Circle: Trail Report. This will give you a proper visual of the conditions through the entire trail. I had a lot of fun making this video, and if it is something you guys find helpful, please give us feedback and more trail reports you’d like to see and we’ll make it happen! So if you’re in need of any new gear to prepare yourself for the next adventure or even just some trail beta, come on down to Ski Haus here in Steamboat and we’d be happy to help! As always, be smart, stay safe and get out there and crush it!