Round Trip Distance: 3.2k/2.0 miles
XC Skill level:
Elevation: 9707 - 9837 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 1 hr.
Trailhead: Ironton Park
Attractions: Scenic Valley, groomed trail
The Townsite Loop is part of the Ironton Park Nordic Trails in the Uncompahgre National Forest near Ouray, Colorado. The groomed trail makes a loop around a tailings pond belonging to the Idarado Mining Company and the ghost town of Ironton. The Townsite trail provides access to all of the other trails in the Iron Park Nordic system.
The trailhead is located along Highway 550, 8 miles south of the town of Ouray, in an area known as Ironton Park. The park is in a large subalpine meadow where the Million Dollar Highway levels off before finishing its climb over Red Mountain Pass.
For this post we are traveling around the loop in the clockwise direction by following the trail to the left and crossing the bridge over Red Mountain Creek.
The trail travels around the high bank of the tailing pond as it heads east toward Corkscrew Gulch.
Before getting past the tailing pond the trail comes to a fork where the Saratoga, Brooklyn Bash and Iron Fen trails branch off on the left.
As the trail continues it passes a Forest Service kiosk and begins turning southward passing the mouth of Gray Copper Gulch.
At this point the trail does a little climbing. The slope is pretty gentle and only lasts about a hundred feet or so before it levels off again.
After following along the east bank of the tailing pond the next intersection comes up where the N. Pipeline trail branches off on the left.
The trail continues heading up the valley along the east side of the loop with a few minor elevation changes as it moves along.
The surrounding peaks, many of which tower above 13,000 feet, add their rugged natural beauty to the spectacular scenery in Ironton Park. High winds blowing across the ridges create overhanging snow cornices that seem to defy gravity.
Near the 1 mile, or halfway, point of the loop the trail is connected to once again by the N. Pipeline route that has completed its excursion along the mountainside above the Townsite trail.
The trail travels out in the open for awhile as it cuts west across the valley floor but soon once again enters the shelter of the pine and aspen forest.
As the trail begins looping back toward the trailhead it crosses another bridge over Red Mountain Creek. After crossing the creek it passes the junction where the Silver Belle trail branches off on the left.
The old ghost town of Ironton is the next big attraction as the trail continues.
While it sure is pretty up here it would take some real tough people to live up here in the winter with no modern conveniences.
If you did a good job waxing your skis you may find that you can really fly along the homestretch of the trail. It has a very slight downhill pitch to it and the wind tends to add a little glaze to the crust.