Oak Creek Overlook

Date hiked: 06/21/16

Mileage: 6.9 miles; 3 hours

Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 0 groups

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Early spring can be such an ugly time for Colorado, but even that can’t ruin the beauty of Ouray. And feeling a little homesick for Boulder, I knew the only antidote was a quick trip to the Switzerland of America.

Starting out from Pinecrest Drive, the trail claims over one thousand feet in a steep series of switchbacks, with sweeping views of Ouray and Lower Cascade Falls, the Amphitheater, and Box Canyon Falls. Topping out at about 9,500 feet, the trail then crosses Oak Creek at the crest of a waterfall. In early spring, the water levels make the usual point of entry unsafe and impassable, but climbing about seventy feet upriver, a half-submerged line of boulders provides a dryer crossing.

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Looking down on Box Canyon. The falls are just out of view to the left of the picture.

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Lower Cascade Falls and the Amphitheater in view beyond the outer reaches of Ouray.

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Yankee Boy Basin bathed in a hazy light.

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This is the usual crossing, but with the snowmelt, I had to find that alternate passage upriver.

The trail parallels Oak Creek’s opposite banks for about three-fourths of a mile until it draws away into an overgrown meadow. As the elevation climbs, route-finding grows increasingly difficult. Second-guessing my every step, I followed the faintest depression in the grass, hoping it wasn’t a bear-led path leading me into their den. But in its final ascent towards the Oak Creek Overlook, the trail comes back full force.

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A quarter mile in, watch for the two adits which open up on the cliff side of the path.

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At the summit, climb on up the rock fin at the end for a view more than worth it.

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Looking east towards Ouray, the view stretches impressively from the Amphitheater on the left to the lesser known Darley Mountain on the right.

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And to the west, Whitehouse Mountain and a high waterfall in Oak Creek stand prominent against the horizon. Oak Creek dumps its load in the Uncompahgre River, but the waterway originates way up here on the eastern flanks of Whitehouse. A lost mining lode exists somewhere near the head of Oak Creek, where two Californian miners struck gold in the 1800s. But with only a few sackfuls of rich ore each, the Ute Indians chased them off the mountain, and the small quartz vein laced with pure gold was never found again. Follow the headwaters to Oak Creek to try your own hand at panning.

Instead of an out and back, form a nine mile loop by following the Silvershield trail from its intersection with Oak Creek 1.1 miles to River Road/Oak Street/County Road 17, then head south in town for two miles until you end up back at the Oak Creek Trailhead. It’s a loop I really wished I’d known about going into this, and something I look forward to doing in the, hopefully, near future.

Trail Map

0. Map

Directions

(From Ouray): On Highway 550, head west on 3rd Avenue (the road just north of the switchbacks) for .2 miles. Turn right onto Oak Street, then left onto Queen Street .1 miles further. With 2WD, park in the limited spaces at this point, or further down on Oak Street. With 4WD, turn left onto S. Pinecrest Drive and drive to the trailhead .6 miles up the road.

.9 miles; 6 min

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