[Backpacking] Mt. Zirkel Wilderness

Labor Day weekend is one of our favorite long weekends to get out to the mountains for an extended amount of time. While there are usually more people out than normal, you really can’t beat the weather up in the mountains in early September. For this year’s trip we decided we would spend it backpacking the Zirkel Circle up near Steamboat Springs for 3 days and 2 nights.

Relatively close to home, a moderate distance (~10 miles), and dog friendly… we couldn’t wait to get out of town and hit the trail!

We left town around 4PM and drove to the trailhead, stopping for dinner in Steamboat on the way. We arrived after dark, found a nice spot on Forest Service land near the trailhead to car camp for the night, heading to bed and anxiously awaiting the beginning of our adventure in the morning.

We woke up, cooked some breakfast at the car, set Scout up in his new Ruffwear backpack and hit the trail at 8:15AM. We decided to hike this loop in a counterclockwise direction, and I’d definitely recommend this to anyone who will be doing this trip!


We arrived to Gold Creek Lake at 10:30AM, and there were only two other people there. We took off our packs and Ryan did some fly fishing while I took Scout for some swimming and fetch. The weather was perfect and we hung out quite a while before finally eating a snack and getting back on the trail.


We arrived at the meadow at 11:30AM. The views here were aaaamazing, and we sat down on some rocks for about a half hour simply taking in the views.

We knew that we couldn’t sit here forever, so we finally worked up the motivation to put our packs back on and continue on with our hike; at this point we would be going up, up, and up some more over Gilpin Ridge.

We finally made it to Gilpin Lake at 1PM. We made our way down to the water’s edge so that Scout could take a quick swim while we enjoyed some much deserved lunch.


Wilderness rules state that you must camp at least 1/4 mile from the water, so we began wandering around the woods looking for the perfect campsite. It did not take us long to find one nearby that also offered beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing. We napped, read our books, and while Ryan fly fished I wandered around the lake with Scout taking photos of the gorgeous reflection as the sun began to set.

We slept in late on Saturday, and had a lazy morning of breakfast and reading. As the temperatures began to rise, we headed out to explore around the lake. We climbed up the inlet and were met with spectacular views of the lake and the surrounding areas.


The sun had warmed us so much that on our way back to camp for lunch, I decided to jump into the lake for a quick swim! Scout joined me as we paddled around for a short while, coming in only once the pins-and-needles feeling on my skin from the cold of the water began to be too much to bear. It’s always a shock to the system, but you feel completely rejuvenated afterwards.

We had a very lazy day, moving from camp to the lake and back just taking in the views and enjoying the peace and quiet of the area. We ended the day with another evening of fishing and watching the reflection on the water as the sun set.

On Sunday morning we woke up, had breakfast, and broke down camp before hitting the trail. We had about 4 miles of gradual downhill ahead of us, and it ended up taking us exactly 2hrs to get back to the car. The trail was absolutely beautiful and we did not see any other people until we reached the last mile or so before the trailhead.

At this point, it was close to 10AM and there were cars parked along the road going back for miles. Apparently this is a very busy area, but from our experience up at Gilpin Lake is that the area disperses people well so you can always enjoy a bit of solitude.

Perfect weather and perfect scenery made for the most perfect weekend, and we cannot wait until next summer when we can come back!

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