Average Grade: 12%
An amazing and challenging trail awaits you in Routt National Forest. It is not just your regular hiking trail, this is also a preferred trail for nature tripping and birding. Designated in 1980, it has since been one of the countries National Recreation Trails. The trail features beautiful landscapes along a creek and into Mount Zirkel Wilderness which covers almost half the trail’s length.
Swamp Park National Recreation Trail is 20.6 miles long (one way), backcountry type trail that is frequented by hikers, equestrians, and bikers especially from April to September. It is moderately difficult 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 are 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 Roaring Fork Trail and an affected area of the Mad Creek fire on 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 through a section of the Burn Ridge fire on 2002 and 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 later portion of the hike. Dogs are also allowed but must be kept on 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.