Round Trip Distance: 6.6 miles
Elevation: 8,109 - 10,667 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 4 hrs.
Trailhead: Oak Creek/Twin Peaks
Attractions: Forest hike, waterfalls
The Oak Creek trail is located in the Uncompahgre National Forest on the west side of the town of Ouray, Colorado. Beginning at the Oak Creek/Twin Peaks trailhead it quickly begins gaining elevation as it switchbacks up the mountainside towards the Oak Creek drainage. At the 1 mile point the Oak Creek trail splits with the Twin Peaks trail. At the 1.7 mile point it crosses Oak Creek where the creek cascades over several waterfalls. Near the 2 mile point the trail passes a pair of tunnels from an abandoned gold mine. From there it continues climbing through tall stands of spruce and aspen trees and through several open areas to the Oak Creek Overlook where phenomenal views of the surrounding mountains and valleys make all the effort worthwhile. The Oak Creek trail continues down the north side of Twin Peaks for a couple more miles until it comes to an end at the Silvershield trail.
The trailhead is close enough to downtown Ouray that it can be reached by walking. You can save about 500 feet of elevation gain by driving up to the trailhead. One good route is to turn west onto 7th Street from Main Street and follow it to Oak Street and turn left. Follow Oak Street to Queen Street and turn right. Now follow Queen Street to S. Pinecrest Drive where you turn left and continue up the mountain to the trailhead. The last part of the road is very steep and may require a high clearance vehicle. There are several pullouts big enough for a vehicle or two where you can park if you are unable to drive all the way.
From the trailhead follow the route as it angles up the hillside passing a trail register as it goes. After a short distance the Ouray Perimeter trail branches off on the right. The Oak Creek trail continues switchbacking its way up the mountain. Distant views of Imogene Pass come within site as the trail climbs. On the day we were taking pictures for this post we saw a black fox which ran away before we could get a picture.
At the 1 mile point the Twin Peaks trail branches off on the right. From here it is another 2.1 miles to the Oak Creek Overlook.
From the junction the trail continues climbing at a moderate pace through widely spaced aspen and conifer trees with a few patches of oakbrush. At times the lush growth of grass and brush encroaches upon the trail but the route remains plain and easy to follow.
Views of the iconic Twin Peaks with its jagged cliffs in the foreground and the scenic knob of Sister Peak off to the right add their touch to the trails enjoyments.
Near the 1.7 mile point the trail wraps itself around the Oak Creek drainage and crosses the stream at a level spot in the rugged canyon that is between two waterfalls. The trail continues directly across the creek from where it first contacts it but a quick peak upstream at another short waterfall might be desired.
After crossing the creek the trail switchbacks its way on up the mountain passing the ruins of some old mine buildings along the way. After a little more climbing the trail travels along a cliff face where two parallel mine tunnels reach into the side of the mountain. The first tunnel only goes back a short distance but the second appeared to be much much deeper. We stepped inside far enough to take a picture and look for bear tracks but didn't investigate much further. Exploring abandoned mines can be very hazardous for your health especially if there is methane gas or a lack of ventilation to pump a fresh supply of oxygen into the mine. A lot of lives were lost to curious explorers before most of the mines in Colorado were sealed shut.
From the mines the trial continues its trek up the mountain traveling at times through dark stands of spruce trees. At one point it passes a huge moss covered boulder that has a fairyland appearance. Eventually the trail comes out into an open meadow and all but disappears in the lush growth. The trail forms a shallow trench through the meadow that is easier to feel with your feet than see with your eyes. To avoid going astray stay on the path that heads up towards a tree that forks into two main trunks near the ground. Once you reach the forked tree the trail turns to the right and continues climbing as it heads in a straight line toward a solitary tree. Once the trail reaches that tree it turns toward the left again where the trail once more becomes much easier to follow.
The trail continues switchbacking its way up the mountain until it reaches the Oak Creek Overlook just before crossing the ridge.
Directly across the valley to the south looms the massive Hayden Mountain (13,206 feet) with its long ridgeline and multiple summits. The tree covered ridge in between the overlook and Hayden Mountain towered high above the Oak Creek trail for much of its distance but from this vantage point just under 10,700 feet you can see right over most of it.
Looking on up the Oak Creek drainage is Whitehouse Mountain (13,492 feet) with all of its basins and battlements. We put a zoom lens on the camera while at the overlook and took some closeup photos of the surrounding peaks. Some of them revealed possible summit routes that might be doable without resorting to climbing gear. There had been an early snowstorm a couple of days before this hike. Some of the snow will probably stick around until the next summer.
Even if you don't make it all the way up to the overlook there is still plenty to enjoy from the lower elevations like the views of Ouray with the Amphitheater in the background.