If you have a 4wd, this may be the best access route to climb W Mountain. From the Big Springs Trailhead, the sometimes indistinct W Mountain Trail climbs up the East Fork Red Dirt Creek drainage before topping out at a small saddle. The trail is pretty easy to find to this point, but it fades in several places between here and timberline, especially in the sections with willows and grass.
Map of route. Click for full size.
The access road is fairly rough. This road is for high clearance 4wds with a low range, and not for Subarus, Rav4s, or Explorers, et al. We made it to the trailhead in our old Pathfinder, and it wasn’t too bad. If you can make it the first two miles on the 4wd section, you should be able to make it to Big Springs. The road isn’t nearly as rough as the one going to Crescent Lake though.
To get to the access road, you first want to make your way to the community of Burns, which is one of the few communities in Colorado with no paved roads leading to it. Burns is along the Colorado River Road between McCoy on Highway 131 and Dotsero on I-70. If coming from the east or north, driving in by way of Highway 131 and McCoy is more expedient, but if driving in from the south or west, then coming in from Dotsero and I-70 is faster.
It is recommended that you have a map, such as the White River National Forest Map or a Colorado Atlas to find the trailhead. From Burns, you want to take the Derby Mesa Loop Road. You can catch the north end of this right at Burns, but it is faster to catch the south end of the loop road just southwest of Burns and at Burns Junction.
From Burns Junction, take the Derby Mesa Loop road to the west and follow this good road for 6.3 miles to FR 613. Passenger cars can make it here with no problem.
Turn left (west) on FR 613 and follow the rough road to another junction at mile 10.05 (from Burns Junction). Turn left onto FR 606 at the signed junction for Big Springs and the W Mountain Trail. Follow the 4wd road about 2.0 miles to the Big Springs area.
The trailhead can be tricky to find. As soon as the road descends to the meadows containing Big Springs, look for a side road just past a grove of pine trees on the right. This indistinct track (obscured by grass) just after the grove leads to the trailhead. If you reach the sign pointing out Big Springs, you overshot the trailhead. Maps are somewhat misleading.
At the trailhead should be a bulletin board and trail register.
This sign is at the correct trailhead.
From the correct
trailhead, the trailheads in a southerly direction before climbing west. The trail goes around a mountain slope before reaching the creek and canyon.
Follow the trail to the head of the canyon and to a minor saddle above some switchbacks. The saddle is marked elevation 11,214 on the topo map. To this point, the trail is reasonably well defined and easy to follow, but not long after the saddle, the trail splits. We followed the right fork up and the left trail down, but we lost the trail in both directions. Whatever you do, skirt around the willow patches and don't try to go through them unless you are sure that you are on the trail. Chances are that you will end up in marshlands and get quite wet and muddy.
(Note: On your descent from W Mountain, make sure to go to the saddle at 11,214 and not to drop down the basin to the north. Pay attention to the map).
Whether or not you lose the trail, you want to head towards the southwest and gain the ridge. Once you are above the willows, the way is easy to follow, with or without any trail.
Once on the ridge, follow the trail north. It isn't a beaten path, but is marked by poles and cairns. Follow the trail north and over a hill to a minor saddle. From here, leave the trail and head directly up to W Mountain. The going is easy even though there is no trail.
The summit of W mountain is a huge flat area with rocks embedded in the tundra. We visited all the little rock piles to make sure that we , but determining which is the true summit wasn't an obvious task since the whole summit area is pretty flat and about the same elevation. It would be interesting to come up here with a GPS.
After enjoying the summit, return the way you came, but make sure to see the note above.
This route is about 10.5 miles round trip with 2400 feet elevation gain.
W Mountain from the Southeast.
A good pair of boots, map, and a compass (or GPS) are needed.