Mileage: Approximately 14.6 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: About 2,000 feet
Altitude: 11,367 feet at the top
How to Get There: Coming from Winter Park, turn left off of Highway 40 onto the Fraser Valley Parkway. Stay right at the fork in the road. At the stop sign, turn left onto St. Louis Creek Road/ County Road 73, and follow this toward the Fraser Experimental Forest. Leeland Creek trailhead is a large pullout on the left side of the road.
Starting at 8:30am, we are the first car at the Leeland Creek trailhead. We begin climbing steadily almost immediately on Leeland Creek Road. About a half mile into the ski, we turn right onto Fool Creek Road and follow this 0.9 miles to the gate marking the start of the Mt. Nystrom trail. In the summertime, you can park here and bike the first 5.8 miles toward Mt. Nystrom. Today, we are planning to ski this portion of the trail, hoping to get above tree line and be rewarded with views of our Fraser Valley.
This trail gains elevation steady over the course of the 5.8 miles. As we climb, we cross 11 switchbacks that get shorter and steeper as we near our destination. The trail is wide and lined with a healthy pine forest; because of the devastating beetle kill in Grand County some forests here are no longer healthy, with dead and downed trees dominating certain areas. It’s a hot sunny day, and we appreciate the shade of these tall trees. As we gain elevation, we can see glimpses of the Fraser Valley to the east of us. The corner of one switchback gives us a view of Byer’s Peak, looking fairly close and large from where we are.
The portion of the Mt. Nystrom trail that we are on is a service road, and we come to a point where the service road appears to end. It’s a little bit hard to tell in winter, but the wide, clear trail we were on seems to peter out. From here, we are on our own to find the best spot for lunch with a view. We headed right, up a wide path between trees. As we climbed, we could see that the knoll we were on was gradually sloping down in our direction, so we continued to head up and to the left.
We marveled for a moment in the trees when we came across the wing prints of a bird that had clearly swooped to pick up some prey from the snow. We looked around at the trees dotting the knoll, and wished we had our hammock to hang out. Finally, as we climbed up the side of the knoll, we began to notice the 360 degree view: the Fraser Valley and Continental Divide to the south and east, the reaching mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park to the northeast, the continuation of ridge trail to Mt. Nystrom to the southwest, and, most dramatically of all, jagged Byer’s and Bill’s, and St. Louis Peaks, and the St. Louis Lake basin staring right at us from the northwest.
Although we look at Byer’s, Bill’s, and St. Louis Peaks from our deck each day, we had never seen them from that exact angle. Alex spied the fence marking the end of the bike trail, and we chose to perch there- with views of these awesome peaks- for lunch.
Lingering in the sun for a while, we had to mention at least once what a pretty place we live in before enjoying the steady cruise back to the car.