An amazing and challenging trail awaits you in Routt National Forest near Steamboat Springs. Swamp Park Trail is not just your regular hiking trek, this is a preferred trail for nature tripping and birding. Designated in 1980, it has since been one of the country’s National Recreation Trails.
The trail features beautiful landscapes along a creek and into Mount Zirkel Wilderness which covers almost half the trail’s length.
Hiking, Biking, and Horseback Riding
Swamp Park National Recreation Trail is a 20.6 miles long (one way), backcountry-type trail that is frequented by hikers, equestrians, and bikers especially from April to September. It’s moderately difficult as the average grade is 12% but interestingly long and serene with light to moderate traffic.
The trail traverses from South Fork of the Elk River Road to Elk Park, crossing Elk River, Big Creek, and Mad Creek drainages along the way.
The trail begins at Mad Creek Trailhead. Begin your hike along Mad Creek and through a canyon landscape for a mile and a half. A while after the narrow part of the canyon, a large meadow will greet you. Here, you will come to pass Saddle Trail and Mad Creek Ranger Station. Onwards, the canyon narrows down again as the trail ascends to Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
While on the designated wilderness area, note that mountain bikes are prohibited. Biking is only allowed from either end of the trail to the boundary of the wilderness and vise versa. Stay on the trail as it crosses Mad Creek, Elk Park Trail, and cross Mad Creek again.
Continue on a consistent climb through a number of switchbacks until you pass Red Dirt Trail and out the wilderness. Shortly before a mile, cross Mad Creek and reenter the wilderness again. The trail goes on passing at Luna Lake Trail and recrossing Mad Creek before it enters Swamp Park.
Now going around the west side of Swamp Park, you will come across the Roaring Fork Trail and an affected area of the Mad Creek fire in 2001. The trail makes a drop to cross Roaring Fork Creek and makes another sharp drop to cross Big Creek. Continue the hike with a steep climb until the top of Burn Ridge, the highest part of the trail and the boundary of the wilderness.
Outside the wilderness, follow the trail along Burn Creek up to the South Fork of the Elk River Valley. Go on until outside the valley and to Burn Ridge Trailhead. As mentioned in the trail’s waypoints, Swamp Park National Recreation Trail serves as a trunk trail to various trails in the area that are waiting for you to be explored.
There’s no fee to access the trail and water is available except for an area on the latter portion of the hike. Dogs are also allowed but must be kept on a leash. Finally, be informed that rattlesnakes have been observed along the first few miles of trail so be extra careful.
Drive on US Highway 40 West of Steamboat Springs for 2 miles. Turn north and stay on Elk River Road for 5 miles.
Address: Elk River Road, Mount Zirkel Wilderness, Steamboat Springs, CO
Season: April – October
Length: 20.6 miles (one-way)
Map: fs.usda.gov… (PDF)