Sunday, July 7, 2013

Williams Creek Trail near Lake City Colorado

        Williams Creek Trail, 9 miles from Lake City, Colorado, is a special delight—one of those rare trails which immediately rewards the senses and then gets even better.  

Rita and Annie start the hike on a June Day in the
Colorado Mountains.
My husband Tim, our dog Annie and I started along the trail under the shade of young aspens and soon entered a meadow with expansive views of the Continental Divide.  After crossing the meadow the trail enters an aspen, pine and spruce forest.  A small stream crossing and a hillside traverse led us past the trunk of a giant Douglas Fir Tree.  This tree, most of which toppled during a 2001 storm, still boasts massive exposed roots stretching uphill and downhill across the trail.  We stopped for photographs and continued on, crossing the creek again and then angling across a sidehill beneath cliffs and spires of volcanic rock. 

The roots of this Douglas Fir stretch across
the trail (next to Annie on the lower left).
The sidehill levels off and we entered a valley filled with the remnants of beaver ponds.  The beavers are long gone, bleached logs of their imposing dams and lodges are the only signs of their long-ago dominance here.  Mountain meadows are in the process of reclaiming the ponds, but a few mud bogs remain.  Annie delighted in these bogs, belly-flopping in the mud and lapping up the fetid water.

Annie asks:  "Should I play in the mud bogs, (to the left, not pictured)
or should I cross the old pond to dry land?"
She chose the mud bogs.

     We passed by the meadows and traversed a talus slope, evidence of a giant rock slide.  A long uphill climb alongside the slide led to the shores of a dried-up lake.  In days past this must have been a great destination for a backpacking trip but now a grassy depression is all that remains.  Did this former alpine lake dry up due to diversion of the water for some other use?  Or because the snowmelt no longer flows into this area?  We didn’t know.  We did know though—lake or no lake—this was an excellent place to stop for a lunch snack and a photograph.  

The trail climbs steadily alongside this old rock slide.

Rita and Annie enter the large open meadow that shows
evidence of being a former alpine lake.  

The area, about 2.5 miles from the trailhead, also makes a good turn-around spot for a morning hike.  And so we did.  Whether you choose to hike for 1 hour, 4 hours or 12 hours, the Williams Creek Trail will reward you every step of the way.

This map shows the Williams Creek Trail near Lake City.
The black arrow points to the general area where we turned around.
The trail crosses Bureau of Land Management land which means
you may set up camp anywhere along the trail.

Williams Creek Trail joins the Alpine Gulch Trail for a total one-way trek of 13 miles (strenuous) and could also be done as an overnight backpack shuttle hike, leaving a car at both the Williams Creek and Alpine Gulch Trailheads.  The trail is dog friendly.  Our dog Annie enjoyed running over the rocky slopes, romping through the meadows, and slogging through what remained of the beaver ponds (mud holes). 

Read about other adventures in the Lake City area:


  1. I've never hiked in the Western U.S.A., but many of the photos in this report (particularly Photo #5 and #6), conform to my mental image of typical backcountry scenes in your part of the country. Words like, gorgeous, striking, and stunning immediately come to mind!

    Also, I'd like to say that I admire the decision you and Tim made to hike the trail for about 2.5 miles. It seems to me that there are many folks who feel compelled to hike a trail all the way to the end. Personally, I think a 'destination' can be whatever you want it to be, and it doesn't necessarily need to be where the trail ends, like at a summit, or a pond, etc. There have been many times when I've ended my hike in the middle of the forest at a spot that I found personally appealing, or along the bank of an unnamed brook, etc.

    And so, I completely agree with the point you make that there are trails (like the Williams Creek Trail) where you can be rewarded every step of the way, regardless of whether you choose to hike for 1 hour, 4 hours or 12 hours.


  2. Hi John,

    Thanks for your input. I agree that it's not always prudent to hike a trail to the very end. Actually I've gotten into trouble a few times trying to do too much in one day—especially when weather conditions turned for the worse.
    In the Colorado mountains, just about any length hike is a good one!

    As always, thanks for your comments!

  3. Hi Rita,

    Oh, what fun! You and Tim got to enjoy a leisurely hike and beautiful views on a sunny day, while Annie got to flop about in mud bogs. Wish I'd seen a photo of that!

    So nice to trek a dog-friendly trail, and I can understand the desire to take in what was right in front of you - mud and all - rather than knock yourselves out trying to hike 13 miles!

    Hope the fires that have plagued Colorado didn't mar your visit.

    1. You're right, Vickie. We should have taken a picture of Annie in the mud bog, or at least have taken one of our very muddy dog after she was finished playing!

      And you're also right about not "knocking ourselves out". The trail was not overly strenuous but the elevation (about 11,000 feet) made for slower going than normal. As it was, we discovered that even short distances on this trail were quite rewarding.

      The big wildfire in Colorado was 50 miles away from Lake City when we were there. We could see the smoke over the mountains. One day the wind changed, the sky turned orange and we could smell the smoke too. I think everything is under control now.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!