Buck Mountain North via Gem Lake

Buck Mountain North via Gem Lake

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 40.88970°N / 106.7409°W
Additional Information Route Type: Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Summer, Fall
Additional Information Time Required: One to two days
Additional Information Difficulty: Class 2
Sign the Climber's Log


The easiest route to the summit of Buck Mountain North is probably from Gem Lake to the Southeast of the peak. The west wide is more gentle, but no trails approach the mountain.

Gem Lake can be reached from the Diamond Park Trailhead southeast of the mountain, which is probably the shortest route. Even so, the climb is about 20 miles round trip. This will be the approach discussed on the route page.

Gem Lake can also be reached from the north and via the Encampment River Trailhead. Either the West Fork Encampment River or the Encampment River Trails can be used. The approach is a bit longer than the one from Diamond Park, but gentle for most of the distance.

Approaches to Gem Lake from the east from around Big Creek Lakes are possible, but these are longer routes and have more elevation gain.

From Gem Lake, the easiest route up Buck Mountain north climbs to the saddle southwest of Buck Mountain North. There is an old sheep trail climbing to the saddle. From there it's an easy ridge walk to the summit.

Buck Mountain-NorthBuck Mountain North as seen from the ridge between the two Buck Mountains.

Getting There

If you are approaching Buck Mountain North from the southern routes, the Slavonia Trailhead and Diamond Park Trailhead are the two main trailheads. The Slavonia Trailhead can be reached by passenger cars, but road to the North Fork Elk River Trailhead is considered to be a 4wd road. A 4wd is preferable, but the road, at least of August 2013 is barely passable for AWD vehicles such as a Subaru Outback.

Slavonia Trailhead

From Steamboat Springs head two miles NW on US 40 to CR 129 (Elk River Road) and turn right at the stoplight. Head 17.5 miles, past Clark, to Glen Eden, and turn right again at Seedhouse Road (a.k.a. CR 64 and FR 400) and follow the road and signs about 90.2 miles to the trailhead. Seedhouse Road is passable for passenger cars to the trailhead.

Diamond Park Trailhead

Follow the directions above to the Seedhouse Trailhead. Just past the Seedhouse Campground there is an intersection with FR 433 (a.k.a. Lost Dog Road).

Turn north on FR 433 and follow it 3.9 miles to the junction with FR 44.1. To this point, the road is good for most vehicles, but the rest of the route to the trailhead is considered to be a 4wd road. Turn left (west) here and and descend 2.1 miles to the bridge. Continue North on FR 431 and follow it 1.5 miles to the trailhead.

Giant mushroomWe found this giant mushroom, the biggest I have ever seen just a few miles from the trailhead. We didn't pick the mushroom; it was already lying on the ground.

Route Map

Buck Mountain RoutesRed = Buck Mountain North via Gem Lake.

Route Description

From the Diamond Park Trailhead, instead of following the road beyond the gate, follow the trail just to the north of the road which is used by ATV's. Soon after beginning, the trail crosses Trail Creek on a bridge.

After 0.3 miles, there is a junction with the Wyoming Trail. Go straight and follow the Main Fork Trail (the road visible below crosses private land).

The trail traverses the hills on the north side of North Fork Elk River, but is sometimes lost in the numerous sheep trails (sheep grazing can be heavy along this part of the trail). Usually, minor variations in the route don't matter so much as long as you stay in the hills north of the creek.

After 2.7 miles you will reach the boundary of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area and there shouldn't be any more problems with confusing sheep trails. The trail curves east and climbs some hills before leveling out.

After 4.8 miles, the trail leaves the North Fork Elk River and begins climbing to the Continental Divide. Between the trailhead and the Continental Divide, campsites are surprisingly hard to find, but small marginal ones can be found with some searching, especially late season when the ground begins to dry.

The trail switchbacks north at a steady, but not overly steep grade to the Continental Divide. The trail to Lake Diana can be hard to find since the junction is marked with nothing but a few sticks (maybe). There are no signs or cairns, but the junction is right near the Continental Divide (about 6.9 miles from the trailhead).

From the Continental Divide, the trail continues north through the beautiful Encampment Meadows, which also has some nice campsites. Part of the trail passes through several wet and marshy areas, so make sure to have a good pair of waterproof boots!

Encampment MeadowsEncampment Meadows.

The trail descends fairly gradually to a junction which is 8.0 miles from the trailhead. The trail to the left (west) may or may not be signed for Gem Lake. Either way, the trail should be obvious.

The trail to Gem Lake crosses the Encampment River (small at this point) and follows the outlet stream to the lake. After 0.6 miles there is a nice meadow. Gem Lake is another 0.5 miles beyond.

Gem LakeGem Lake, which is in a cirque basin on the east side of Buck Mountain North.

From Gem Lake, you want to aim for the saddle just north of due west of the lake and south of Buck Mountain North. Make your way towards the base of the saddle. We expected a tough climb up to the saddle, but an old sheep trail zigzags up the slope, probably built as access to the Sanchez Lakes. You may not find it at first, but once you do it makes the climb up to the pass much easier.

ApproachOn the approach to the saddle just south of Buck Mountain North.

From the pass, it’s a fairly easy ridge walk (no trail) to northeast to the summit of Buck Mountain North. Enjoy the fine views from the summit.

SummitOn the summit of Buck Mountain North.

Essential Gear

A good pair of boots and a good map, and the knowledge of how to use it are all needed.



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