Mears Trail

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 4 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 9639 - 9682 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 2 hrs.
Trailhead: Hayden
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic lake and mountains




The Mears trail is located in Ironton Park along the Million Dollar Highway in the Uncompahgre National Forest south of Ouray, Colorado. The trail begins off of the Hayden trail near Crystal Reservoir where it follows the old Mears Road along the base of Hayden Mountain to where it presently comes to an end at the historic Larson Brothers Mine and Schoolhouse. Enroute the Mears trail provides access to the Full Moon trail. Rumors abound that the trail will one day be extended considerably, eventually forming a loop that will return along the east side of the valley.


To get to the Hayden trailhead begin measuring at the Ouray Hot Springs and drive 6 miles south on Highway 550. After passing through the scenic Uncompahgre Gorge the highway levels off and enters Ironton Park. The trailhead is on the right near the Crystal Reservoir. The official parking area is near the old stone building of the St. Germain Foundation on the east side of the road but you pretty much have to be a local to know that. Technically the pullout on the west side of the road is a chain up area.


From the trailhead the route heads west and crosses the dam.


Starting early before the sun hits the lake provides the opportunity to take some incredible reflective photographs from the dam of the Red Mountains.


After crossing the dam the Hayden trail breaks off on the right. The presently unmarked Mears trail continues following the old road around the west side of the lake.


The views are good in all directions but the unique contrast of the Red Mountains with the various shades of green and the blue sky are especially nice.


As soon as the sunlight hits the water's surface the evaporation cycle begins. This is the stuff that helps to bring forth the daily afternoon mountain thunderstorms that hikers in Colorado's high places have to be constantly vigilant of. The melting snow in the higher elevations that soaks the tundra is another source of moisture for the afternoon clouds. They say that since Lake Powell was created that it has also added to the daily cycle. As soon as the evaporation begins the air in the valley starts turning over and the breeze picks up causing the lake to lose its glassy surface. If you watch the slideshow at the end of the post you will notice that the sky is full of clouds even though the area is under a massive high pressure system.


Much of the area south of the lake is a marshy wetland where there are several ponds and sloughs. A sharp eye can usually spot deer and other wildlife moving about in the brush.


As the trail continues south up Ironton Park it becomes secluded within groves of aspen trees and various conifers. The trees, wildflowers and the lushness of the wetlands all combine to create a potpourri of aromas. Combined with the scenic beauty of the valley and the moderate mountain temperatures one's senses become so enlivened as to bring them to a state of natural bliss.


Near the 1.3 mile point from the parking area along the highway the Full Moon trail branches off on the right. The Full Moon trail climbs up to Full Moon Basin and then connects to the Richmond trail just below Richmond Pass.


After passing the start of the Full Moon trail the Mears trail enters a thicket and crosses a stream. The amount of water will vary with the runoff. In June there is a high likelihood of getting wet feet.


After crossing the stream the trail reenters the trees where it stays for most of the rest of its time. There are several free primitive campsites near the end of the trail with vehicle access and enough room to park a trailer.


The trail currently ends at the Larson Brothers Mine and old schoolhouse. The Beaver-Belfast trail begins off to the right across the tailings pile. The mining ghost town of Ironton is just across the highway where several buildings still stand. It is easily accessible and fun to check out.


While the water in Crystal Lake is crystal clear as it is in most of the ponds I personally wouldn't drink it even if I had filtered it twice. Besides all the bacteria which most filters can eliminate just fine there may be high concentrations of heavy metals from all of the mining that has occurred in the area. The colorful algae makes for a pretty picture.


The pullouts around the trailhead are popular stops for those traveling through on the Million Dollar Highway. Those with cameras can't help but to stop and take some pictures and everyone else justs likes to stop and take it all in. We should mention that the trail gets its name from the Russian immigrant Otto Mears who engineered the Million Dollar Highway, carving it out of the solid rock of the Uncompahgre Gorge and operating it as a toll road. While hiking the trail you will notice that it stays up on the side of the mountain just enough to avoid the marshy valley. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.