McCullough Gulch Trail
McCullough Gulch is located in White River National Forest near Blue Lakes, Colorado. James and I took a trip to Breckenridge, and this was just a short(ish) 7-8 mile drive from our hotel. After doing my research for this blog post, it appears it can be a little confusing getting to the trailhead for this magnificent hike.
We drove along Highway 9 South down to Blue Lakes Rd. We turned right there and then another quick right onto Highway 851 (McCullough Gulch Rd.) If memory serves, there is a small parking area right there where 851 begins. However, we were able to keep driving. The road to get to the trailhead is a bit sketchy, and it appears that it’s often closed which makes this hike go from about 3 miles up to maybe 7 or more (as you’ll have to park down in the farther lot). We went in late June, and we still encountered some scattered and packed snow at the top. So I would definitely encourage anyone interested in doing this trail to check the conditions prior to setting out. With that said, it is insanely beautiful. It could still be worth the extra trek if you have to park farther away. But to get the most out of the experience, I would personally save this hike for the summer months.
We arrived around 7:30am, and I believe there was only one other car. We wondered for a few if we were at the wrong spot because we’re never the early birds! But as it turned out, this road becomes packed in the afternoon.
We were able to drive all the way up to this gate, and then we had to walk a bit up to the actual trailhead. Looking at the metadata on my photos, it appears it was only about a 10 minute stroll from here. We are not fast people, so it was probably less than half a mile. I do believe this little bit of a walk is included in the 2.9 mile total I found. But like I said above, if you had to park farther away, that adds to the distance.
Walking along….I was thankful for the flatness because my lungs were working hard to adapt to the 11,000′ elevation. That’s more than double our situation in Denver, so it took a minute to get used to it.
We found the trailhead! (Not that it was lost.) People have not been kind to this poor little sign. Within minutes, we knew this was going to be a beautiful trail unlike anything we’d seen in our hikes near Denver.
I’m pretty sure I stood here and thought, “Is this real life?”
Yes, apparently it is.
I’ll admit, this random little area along the trail felt a bit out of place.
But then we were back to this.
There were some uphill parts, but we took it slow and steady.
We didn’t see much wildlife (although it appears there is definitely the potential for moose or bears in these parts), but we did get to see our first marmot! I had to go home and Google it because I had no idea what this little guy was.
We still hadn’t seen hardly anyone else along the trail although that didn’t bother us a bit.
We encountered water here and there, but we never had to cross any to stay on the trail.
Don’t mind me – just standing here candidly looking out over the gulch while James snaps my photo.
As we got higher, we definitely found more snow. And it became harder to figure out where we should go.
Thankfully there was a family ahead of us who helped lead the way. I’m pretty sure we got way off trail, but we didn’t get lost. So it all worked out.
We finally reached the lake. This is the view to the east.
And here’s the lake. It was windy and chilly, but man was it beautiful.
Because I couldn’t decide which shot to include, you get both!
Another look back east.
Wanna know how many shots with the tripod/remote it took to get one I liked? No, you don’t.
This guy is my very favorite adventure partner.
I probably could have just stood up here and taken shots all day long. But it was cold, and the weather was starting to turn. Colorado afternoon thunderstorms are no joke, so we knew we needed to head back down. (Looking at the satellite image of the area, it seems there is another lake past this one. We didn’t realize that at the time though, so apparently we didn’t hike the whole trail.)
So back across the snow we went. (Microspikes would have helped at this part, but it wasn’t really necessary.)
We made it back down past the snow, and it actually took us a minute to find the trail again.
We had obviously passed this waterfall on the way up (since this is an out-and-back trail), but I decided to grab a photo as we were returning. Of course the blue skies had given way to gray clouds, and I was reminded that I should always stop and take the shot when I can. Always, always. But it’s okay, it’s still pretty. (And really, the lake was my happy place on this hike.)
As we walked back down the trail, we encountered sooooo many more people. Like groups and groups of them. This photo tells a lie because it still looks like we were out here alone.
We met up with a nice couple while walking, and the guy happily offered to take this photo for us. And it turned out fantastically.
We made our way back down the road to our car. That was one great day.
For more information about this trail, check out AllTrails and the GoBreck website. My distance totals might be off, because we don’t use GPS often while hiking and the online reports are conflicting. But this hike took us a little under 4 hours because we went very slow (as always) and spent some time at the lake. As I mentioned above, we must not have hiked the whole trail, but we certainly enjoyed ourselves!
Here is a little map for ya: