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Back roads to Steamboat, Rifle and Leadville

Day 1
I have been jonesing to get out since we got have from CA in July. Timing was just bad every weekend with family stuff, work, anniversaries and any other excuse that popped up. Finally bit the bullet and said this weekend are we heading out. My 3 YO has been the catalyst in this since he keeps telling us "lets go camping for 3 days!"

Plotted out of a route that would take us up to Steamboat Lake, down to Rifle Falls, over to Leadville and then home. Only goal was to see how much dirt we could take in. Packed up the family truckster, Blauw, and left Friday morning.

I had found the original route for the Land Rover Expedition that they did 25 years ago from Wyoming to New Mexico through Colorado. Plotted out this looked like a sound trip, lots of dirt, some highway miles and scenery. Day 1 was going to be long though.

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Jed Clampett would be proud....
Starting in Granby, you roll up to Dilley Docks on Highway 34 and hang a left on CR4. This will take you over Stillwater Pass. Just a basic road to start and then turns into more of a FS road towards the top and down the other side. Once down to Vagabound Ranch on the west side, it is more of a road again to Highway 125. Short stretch north over Willow Creek Pass on tarmac and then hang a left onto FS106.

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Lunch stop out at the base of Troublesome Pass

This is the start of getting over Troublesome Pass. We took some FS roads through the area. Nice winding roads through the aspens, some puddles, some rocks and then ran into the first issue. There were a couple of downed aspen trees covering the trail. Pushing them up was not an option though. Out comes the handy machete and down comes the tree. I left my Sven saw at home, once again, so this was a bit of work. I need to start writing down my recovery gear checklist. I have a list for everything else.

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We intersect with the original FS road and take a look at the map. It does not show the road we are looking for. We stopped at the FS office in Granby to verify for this very reason. The map they had showed it, all others did not. We took a quick trip down the road to the cut off. Headed that direction and no road. But did find a great place to bury some bodies in the middle of nowhere. Hit me up if you want the coordinates. Turn around and back track out to 125 and have to scurry up the road since we are a bit later than we wanted.

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The smell of the wild flowers this year is amazing. High alpine cheese production should be outstanding this fall

Turn left onto CR28 and now we are headed up Buffalo Pass. This is the pass that will take you into Steamboat Springs. A nice easy climbing road that runs north and parallel to Rabbit Ears Pass. Get to the summit and the world was there to greet us! We had not seen anyone all day and everybody with a SUV was up there. The road also turned from smooth dirt to we will just leave the rocks right there. Have fun driving around us! The trip down was easy but traffic heading up was a bit like ski traffic. Motored up to Steamboat lake, setup camp and enjoyed the sunset and cool night.
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Day 2
Steamboat Lake SP is great place to camp. We had a spot above the lake but it’s a very popular place. Every spot was taken. SL is about 25 miles north of Steamboat so you really want to go up there. There is some great wheeling in this area also so it could be a good base camp.

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Smoke on the water...fire in the sky. Dawn Patrol

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Always have to have some quality music when you are frying up bacon in the morning

After breakfast we went down to the swim beach and broke out the kayaks. We purchased 2 inflatable kayaks back in June. More stuff to put on the roof rack. While paddling around we were told of a bald eagle around the bend. He just hung out in the tree for a bit and then flew off about 10 minutes later. We ran into some others that told us there are a mating couple that have been there a while. Such an honor to see our nations symbol in the wild.

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The kids on the lake with Mt. Hahn in the background

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Just your everyday bald eagle surveying it's land
Packed up and headed down the Flat Tops byway towards Rifle. A very wide gravel road that takes you from Steamboat/Phillipsburg/Yampa area over Dunckley Pass, Ripple Creek Pass and down to a small town call Buford. The Ute Indians used this area as a full time home moving up and down the valley. You pass by Vaughn Lake, Trappers Lake which would be great places to get away. It is a drive so you really want to be there. We saw little traffic again until we got closer to Buford.

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Top of Dunckley Pass looking east

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Looking down the valley past Ripple Creek Pass

We turned left onto The New Castle/Buford road. This roads take you through the flattops north of I-70, Rifle, New Castle and Silt. Again just a dirt road (FS road though) through the aspens, open ranges, wild flowers and views of everything. Once you get to Triangle Park we turned right and then a quick left onto FS825 through Little Box Canyon. This is a short but very steep road. It’s only 4 miles long but drops almost 3k feet. A bit chunky but very cool descent. This drops you into the Rifle Mountain Park. Great place for dinner, hiking, rock climbing and there are a few camping sites.

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We did not see Wile E Coyote or Sam Sheepdog in the fields

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Half way down Little Box Canyon perched for the next plunge down the hill

We pushed through to the nights camping spot at Rifle Gap SP. We were disappointed though. No trees, stinking bathrooms, low water levels (more than 30ft) and nothing much to do. We headed back up to Rifle Falls SP, its only 4 miles. Hiked to the falls, had dinner, enjoyed the cooler temps a bit more and then headed out for a quick night off road trip above the campground we were in. It cooled off nicely and ended the night with a nice bottle of Sierra Nevada’s Ovila Quad and Outdoor X4 magazine on the ipad.
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Morris Yarnell

Well-Known Member
Looks to be a great trip. Would like to see the map you used for this adventure, not really looking to pick a site for body drop though.
Going to want a trip for the fall.
Morris, the wife commented how this would be a killer fall trip, even day 3 that will get posted over the weekend. I have our pace notes and can email them over if you want them
Day 3
We left the stinking campground after a quick breakfast of bacon, bacon, pancakes and bacon. Down to Rifle for gas, liquids and Starbucks for the better half. Hit the interstate, whatever that thing is, motored down to Glenwood and then up to Basalt. Basalt is a cool little town. Had a farmers market going on, some nice looking diners, some B&B's. Might be a place to hang for a weekend and feel the vibe. I am not a person for Snowmass or Aspen so this is about a closest I will get to those places.

Hang a left onto 2 Rivers Rd then a left onto Midland Ave/Frying Pan Rd and head east. There are plenty of great places to fish along the road. Parking spaces, picnic areas and at around 20 miles the roads turns up. This is also when you start passing Ruedi Reservoir, home of the Aspen Yacht Club. One of the biggest reservoirs in the state. Camping, boats, fishing...it has it all

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The view from above Ruedi Reservoir
31 miles from Basalt and the road finally turns to dirt and we start up Hagermans Pass. The first 10 miles are fairly easy. A nice smooth dirt road. Think Boreas Pass...aspen lined, great views west, narrow in places, cyclist riding up/down the pass. Get out of the trees and it gets a bit chunky. Once above treeline though it gets fun. The road splits, stay left and uphill. Go through the gate and then you have a water crossing. A nice sized water crossing. Saw 2 guys on motos and one of them was not happy..wet feet.

As you head up, the rocks get a bit bigger. Nothing a stock vehicle couldn't handle. Ran into some more cyclists getting ready for the Leadville Trail 100 bike race the following weekend. The views get good from here.
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At the top of the pass...the obligatory "we were here" sign

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The snow on the ridge is not going anywhere this year

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Mountains for as far as the eyes could see
Descended down to Leadville. Ran into a whole bunch of people heading up. Back to civilization again. Had a quick lunch in town. Kids were done with camp food at this point. Found the intrawebs, emails that were stacking up and people wanting to know where we were. This was also the weekend of Boom Days in Leadville. So we got ourselves a funnel cake and watched the burro races. Nothing quite says Leadville like burro races. They race from Main Street to the top of Mosquito Pass and back. 22 miles of pulling your ass up the pass. Yes its that cliche...even from the announcer. Once the winning ass (both runner and burro) made it back alive it was time to head home.

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Your winning burro from Leadville - Jade!
Since the race was on the route we were going to take, we were relegated to interstate travel once again. Such is live when coming home from holiday. If there was only a dirt road back to my front door....

So the end total of the weekend trip:
648 total miles
About 200 miles of dirt roads
Road Passes - 2 Berthod and Fremont
Dirt Passes - 6 Stillwater, Troublesome, Buffalo, Dunckley, Ripple Creek and Hagermans
Animals spotted - antelope, deer, eagle, chipmunks, squirels, marmots and hawks
Beers consumed - 2 Lindemans Framboise and Sierra Nevada Ovila

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

Next trip is this coming weekend but done with a whole different vehicle....cant wait!