Pagoda Peak is a solitary and very interesting peak in the northern Flat Tops in Northwest Colorado. The peak actually does look like a pagoda when viewed from the south or west! The peak is little known when compared to the Colorado 14'ers, for example, but never-the-less the summit register indicates that the peak sees about six ascents per year. There is no trail on the peak, and there is one class 3 pitch of 50 feet or so to surmount when climbing to the summit.
The Flat Tops are made of volcanic rock from an ancient eruption several million years ago. The Flat Tops are more of a huge elevated plateau rather than a typical mountain range, but the plateau has been eroded into many individual peaks and summits, and most of them are flat-topped. Pagoda Peak isn’t flat as are most peaks in the Flat Tops, and instead has a different appearance.
Since Pagoda Peak more or less stands alone, it is highly visible from long distances (i.e. from the Elkhead or Cedar Mountains), but it is not visible from any populated area since it is surrounded by a sea of lower hills. If the weather is good, the peak will provide fantastic views.
Interestingly "East Pagoda" (Peak 10,954) is now added to this page, and totally by mistake! On my first trip, we had actually climbed East Pagoda in a blizzard and mistook it for the main Pagoda Peak. See the TRIP REPORT
The east peak "East Pagoda" is easy to climb, but there is one 30’ steep pitch. I would rate the pitch 4th class when covered with ice (as was the case on our visit), but when snow/ice free it is probably class 2+ or class 3. The pitch might have a bypass as well. East Pagoda must also have great views, but we climbed during a blizzard (common theme this year-2005) and didn’t see much at all! East Pagoda is a more of a hill than a mountain, even by Colorado standards, because it doesn't rise much above the pass. Because of this fact, I have decided to include it as a route on this Pagoda Peak Page, because it probably doesn’t qualify (in my opinion) as a summit having its own mountain page. It is still worth a quick trip if you are in the area.
Flat Tops: 11,000+ Foot Peaks with 300+ feet of Prominence
Pagoda Peak as seen from the south.
The trailhead is at a large meadow just south of Ripple Creek Pass. The road over Ripple Creek Pass is usually plowed around Memorial Day and stays open until around Thanksgiving, but each year is different.
There are several ways to reach Ripple Creek Pass. There is a road from the south and Trappers Lake, one from the east and Yampa or Phippsburg, one from the northeast and Oak Creek, one from the north and Hayden, and one from the northeast and Pagoda (village) and Hamilton. I know only the road from Hamilton and Pagoda, but very few Coloradoans will be coming from that direction (Craig), so it seems rather pointless to describe the drive. Most people will be driving in from the Trappers Lake or Yampa areas.
Bring the White River Forest Service Map, and park at the meadow just south of Ripple Creek Pass. All roads are in good condition, and can be driven in a car, but 4wd may be needed in bad weather, or early or late season.
Pagoda Peak summit.
Routes OverviewPagoda Peak
Possibly the easiest route to Pagoda Peak is from the Ripple Creek Pass trailhead, and the trail to Snell Park. See the ROUTE PAGE
for more details. This route follows the trail northwest from the trailhead and through many beautiful meadows to Snell Park. From the north end of Snell Park, the route climbs northeast to the southeast ridge of Pagoda Peak. The route then climbs that ridge to the summit. The route is mostly easy, but with one steep pitch. The pitch is class 3, but if you head around to the west side of the summit block, you can find a class 2+ route.
The topo maps do not show the trail to Snell Park accurately. The trail actually has more twist and turns and follows the east side of Snell Park, rather than the west side and indicated on the maps. Although the map indicates a round trip distance of about 6.8 miles to the peak by following the route on the page, I believe that eight miles is a more accurate figure.
The Forest Service Maps indicate that there are many other trails that could be approached for a climb of Pagoda Peak, but I am not familiar with them. From the north, you could approach the peak from trails from Beaver Creek or South Fork Williams Fork River. From the east, there aren’t any marked trails, but you could travel cross country. Southeast of Ripple Creek Pass and from the road that comes up from the area around Trappers Lake, you could use the trails up Snell Creek or over Sand Peak to reach the area around Pagoda Peak.
The most obvious way to climb East Pagoda is from the Ripple Creek Pass trailhead. See the ROUTE PAGE
for more details. The route is mostly easy, but with one steep pitch. Our route took us up a crack with a few small chockstones for footholds. When iced up, this pitch could be considered 4th class, but when it is snow free, I'm guessing it would only be class 2+ or 3 tops. It may be possible to bypass the cliff band if you look around, but climbing the band adds a little excitement to an otherwise very easy route. We climbed the peak in deep snow, and more or less headed straight for the summit, but maps indicate a trail or old road that follows the west base of the mountain lower down through the meadows. This trail could be used to get closer to the mountain without as much cross-country travel, but we didn't use it because it was buried in snow anyway. Our route was about three miles round trip. There are probably several routes available up the mountain for those who are interested in route finding, but be aware that the east side of the mountain has many steep cliffs.
The cliff band lies directly above as viewed from the south ridge of Pagoda Peak.
When To Climb
The peaks could be climbed year-round, but Ripple Creek Pass is open only from around Memorial Day to sometime in November, so outside this time period, this would probably be a three-day trip.
The Flat Tops (especially the northern section) receive much snow, so despite its low altitude, the peak remains buried in snow until July. Snowshoes are recommended in June. The Flat Tops have many mosquitoes in July, and sometimes into early August. From September and into December is hunting season, so wear blaze orange and use extreme caution. On the plus side, hunter traffic usually keeps the Ripple Creek Pass road open until around Thanksgiving weekend. Late November might be the best time to make a “winter” ascent because after the road closed, this would be about a three day trip.
Pagoda Peak from west of Ripple Creek Pass at the end of May.
There are many informal campsites around Ripple Creek Pass. There is also a campground to the northeast of the pass at Vaughn Lake, and many along the road to Trappers Lake to the south.
If driving in from the west, CLICK HERE
for current campground information for official White River National Forest campgrounds. The ones in the Blanco Ranger District are the campgrounds in the same general area as Pagoda Peak.
If driving in from the east or north, CLICK HERE
for current campground information for official Routt National Forest campgrounds. The ones in the Yampa River district are in the same general area as Pagoda Peak.
There are also many really beautiful campsites along the route to and in Snell Park. The only drawback is that they are often grazed by cattle, so you have to definately purify the water.
Mountain ConditionsCLICK HERE FOR WEATHER FORECAST OF THE AREA
Weather and climate data for Marvine Ranch at 7800 feet elevation is below. *National Weather Service Data 1972-1998. Expect much wetter conditions at higher elevations. The area around Pagoda Peak will average around 10-15 degrees colder in the daytime than Marvine Ranch; nighttime temperatures won't have as big of a difference.
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