Round Trip Distance: 9k or 5.6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate - Strenuous
Elevation: 10,265 - 9,866 feet
Cellphone: 0-4 bars
Usage: Snowshoeing - Cross Country Skiing - Dogs
Time 5 hrs.
Trailhead: Griffith Lake
Attractions: Back country snowshoeing and skiing
View Bull Creek Nordic in a larger map
Griffith Lake is located near the top of the north side of the Grand Mesa just past the Mesa Lakes area. There is a narrow pullout on the left side of Highway 95 right before the hairpin turn that takes you up the last stretch of highway to the top of the mesa. The Bull Creek reservoirs are spread out several miles to the northeast from the trailhead. Generally, people on snowshoes never venture as far as I did on this outing to Bull Creek Reservoir #4. The apparent elevation change of 400 feet shown above is actually more than 500 feet after you factor in several hills that must be crossed. Most snowshoer's venture in about a mile before turning around and that usually makes for a very pleasant outing.
The Nordic trails in the Mesa Lakes area are all ungroomed and require a great deal more energy than a groomed trail of the same distance. Also, the trails aren't as flat as those on the top of the mesa. The routes that many of the trails follow are generally along Forest Service roads and trails. In some places the Nordic trails will take a more direct route than can be followed when the normal 4-5 foot of snow isn't covering the ground.
Within a short distance from the trailhead the trail turns to the right paralleling Highway 65. The trail is well marked by the traditional blue diamonds that indicate a Nordic trail. I make it a point to follow the markers even when someone else may have broken the trail along a different route.
The trail meets up with the road that leads into the Lake of the Woods trailhead and follows it to that point. The road provides an alternate point of access when parking can be found where it departs from Highway 65 at the hairpin corner.
The trail crosses several wide open spots. In the early summer months these are large grass filled sloughs that have to be waded through. This is one area where trekking through the snow was much easier than wading through the marsh. You can check out the Lake of the Woods post to see the contrast between summer and winter.
The majority of the time the trail is shrouded from the warmth of the sun by the thick forest of trees that it passes through.
At about 1.8 miles from the Griffith Lake trailhead the trail comes to the junction of the 506, Lake of the Woods trail, and the 506-1A, Bull Creek trail. From here the Nordic route follows 506-1A to Bull Creek Reservoir #4 and all point beyond. From this point on I was breaking new trail as nobody else had yet ventured beyond this point. Up to this point the trail had already dropped over 250 feet in elevation so it was going to be a lot harder getting back to the trailhead than it was getting to this point.
I was still considering completing the 7 mile loop that would take me back by Griffith Lake to where I began. The 506-1A trail climbed up a hill as it left the junction gaining about 25-30 feet of elevation. It gave back some of that elevation gain at the top of the hill and then it gained it all back once more.
The trail ends up descending about another 250 feet until it reaches Bull Creek Reservoir #4.
This picture was taken of a snow cornice that was hanging off the dam below the reservoir. At this point I had to drag out my Grand Mesa map and study it along with my GPS. There had been no shortage of blue diamonds marking the trail up till now but at this point I could find no indication of where to head. I could tell that I was almost to a main Forest Service road but I wondered if I would have further problems finding the markers from there.
I decided it was best to turn around and maybe next time try to follow the trail in the other direction and see how far the markers would take me. If I preload the map from this outing into my GPS I will have a better idea of where the trail is taking me.
When I left the trailhead I was the only one there but by the time I made it back the parking area was full. I had met one group of skiers that were doing the big loop from Jumbo Reservoir and several other groups of snowshoer's. The trail was starting to get packed pretty good with all the traffic.
The Griffith Lake area is a good place to get out and make the best of the winter weather on the mesa. There was a time, 10-15 years ago, when I would have considered backpacking this route and spending the night along the way somewhere. Now that I think about it though, maybe I will plan on doing just that. Just throw some gear on the sled and give it a go. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.