Bike ‘N Hike: St. Louis Lake

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Biking/ Hiking Information:

One-Way Distance: Biking  3.01 miles, hiking 2.82 miles

Elevation: 9,520 feet at the biking trailhead, 11,532 feet at the lake

To get there: From hwy 40 out of Fraser, turn south on County Road 72- toward the tubing hills. Stay right at the fork. Follow the curve for. 3 miles and turn left on County Road 73, aka St. Louis Creek Road. Follow this road for 8.7 miles.

Bumping over rounded rocks, I think about my lifelong vague discomfort on the seat of a bike. I am tense and dodging, trying to keep up my speed on the steady uphill, but being slowed each time my tire rolls over another rock. I am on my lowest gears, and still struggling. I stop to clear mucus from my nose and throat, to open my lungs and catch my breath- I’ve never enjoyed a deep breath in the hunched posture that comes with biking.

This is not my favorite thing.

Certainly not on the way up, and not even really on the way down, when I find myself overcome with images of cracking bones on rock.

But still, I try.

And I suppose I am okay at mountain biking; I’ve never crashed (knock on wood!).

This close-to-home excursion to St. Louis Lake is my second mountain biking adventure of this summer. The way up always just sucks. But if I let go of the fear of falling, I find that I kind of like the way down ๐Ÿ™‚

We bike for about 2.25 miles before crossing a small but quick stream that flooded over the trail this year. After .75 more miles, we are at the hiking trailhead, and stash our bikes in the woods before continuing on.

I am not sure how common the combined bike/hike trails are in other areas of Colorado, but there are quite a few near Fraser. The biking portions are usually on old dirt roads that were once open all the way up to the hiking trailheads. In an attempt to conserve this area for future use, the National Forest Service  began closing the roads further down so that the trails were harder to access and wouldn’t be overused. Part of me thinks that making things less accessible is just plain rude, the other part of me sees the reason for needing to limit how much these areas get tread on.

P1220706Anyhow, after the 3 miles of biking, walking just feels good and natural! The hiking portion of the trail starts out following the creek, and then continues to climb steadily, with short spurts that are steeper and short spurts that flatten out. We are happy that the trail is cool and shaded. In the last mile or so, we periodically cross patches of snow, left in this high country even in the last days of June. In contrast to this late-season snow, the wildflowers are beginning to bloom, dotting the forest with yellow and white and the occasional deep red. For this last mile, we are awarded views of the rocky peaks that back St. Louis Lake. After what feels like a long 3 miles, we reach the small lake, and notice immediately the thin patches of ice that are still floating around its surface.

From here we are up close and personal with the peaks that hug the lake, and are also able to enjoy more distant views of some of the mountains that create the eastern border of Grand County. Alone at the lake, we rest to take in the views and recharge with lunch and beer ( a little liquid courage for that bike ride down ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). As we head down, we chat with two other women who are just arriving at the lake; the length of the trail certainly does keep this lake feeling somewhat remote.

Jaunting quickly downhill, we stop to peg the occasional snowball at each other and peek through the trees at the building afternoon storm clouds. We reach our bikes as sprinkles start coming down. I get on, keeping in mind the aggressive stance that Alex has taught me when bumping over obstacles. It’s a quick and blurry ride back to the car.

With lush forests and awesome views behind us, it was another grand day in the Grand County outdoors.

Hiking Info from Hiking Grand County, Colorado by Deborah Carr and Lou Ladrigan.

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