Coal Creek Route

Page Type: Route
Lat/Lon: 38.81220°N / 107.383°W
Route Type: Hiking
Season: Summer
Time Required: A long day
Difficulty: Moderately Difficult
Rock Difficulty: Class 3
Grade: III


This route is a little harder to find than the Southern Route. But, according to a couple of my friends who have done both routes, this is the more scenic and more challenging route. Some of the advantages of this route include being less well known than the southern route (less chance of seeing anyone else), access to a stream most of the way, access to Gunnison Lake (challenging fishing for some very nice cut-throats), and more time spent in the trees (shade is nice in July!).

Getting There

From Paonia head east on hwy 133 to the Kebler Pass turnoff. Take the turnoff (if you get to Paonia Reservoir you have gone too far!). Go approx. 2 miles and take a right on the Coal Creek Rd. This road is not marked except for a sign that says "Private land next 1/2 mile, stay on road." Follow this road for a few miles (not sure how many) until you get to a fork in the road. The left fork goes onto a private ranch. Take the right fork and start watching your odometer. Go approx. 1.4 miles. The trail head is on the right hand side of the road and is unmarked. The first time I used the trail there was a small cairn on the left hand side of the road marking the spot, but last time I was there the cairn had been removed. The trail head is in between two pretty large and prominent spruce trees. It will go down the hill toward Coal Creek, cross the creek, and start up the opposing hill side.

Route Description

Starting from the trailhead you will go down to Coal Creek. Cross Coal Creek, then start up the oppossing hill-side. You will Slowly go up hill in a general Southwest direction. The trail sometimes grows faint, but just continue in an upward direction, staying on top of the ridge. You will eventually emerge from the aspens onto a large slide-rock area. Here you will run into a creek. My map says it is Cascade Creek, but some locals disagree with the map. It doesn't make sense that Cascade creek would come out of Gunnison Lake, especially when Cascade Lake can be found in the draw to the north, with it's own creek flowing from it. Anyways, the trail basically follows this creek to Gunnison Lake from here. The trail is easy to lose in several areas, but keep the creek within earshot and you will be fine. The trail does cross the creek back and forth a few times. If you do lose the trail, some bushwacking will probably be needed. At one point in the trail you will come across a cairn. There is a very large deadfall of trees ahead which has obscured the main trail. So, to circumvent this deadfall, leave the main trail at the cairn by turning left and crossing the creek. You will find what looks like a deer trail, but I think it is actually some locals' attempt at getting around the deadfall. I used this "new" trail on the descent and it worked well. The creek/draw eventually takes a turn to the Northwest. Keep following this draw and the creek until you reach Gunnison Lake. Congrats, you have just climbed 4000'+ in 3.5 miles! Now you only have 1.5 miles and 1500'+ to the peak! From here you will climb the steep hill to the south of the lake and then follow the very narrow ridge to the Northwest. You will do this for approx. 1/2 mile. Here you will need to do some pretty decent scrambling (maybe 3+) to get to another ridge that goes slightly north of due west. Basically you follow this to the top. Keep your eye out on this grassy mountain top for Deer and Ptarmigan.

Essential Gear

Basics would include Back Pack, food, and rain-gear for a long day. I would recommend either taking 3 liters of water, or bringing only one (to lessen weight), but bring a water purifier for use in Cascade Creek and Gunnison Lake. A GPS is very helpful, though a topo map is certainly sufficient to keep you on the right track.

External Links

Add External Links text here.