Crystal Creek

Round Trip Distance: 3.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 8527 - 8882 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 2 hrs.
Trailhead: Crystal Creek
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic views of Crystal Reservoir and surrounding mountains

The Crystal Creek trail is located in the Curecanti National Recreation Area between Crawford and Gunnison, Colorado on Highway 92. The trail leads to an overlook of Crystal Lake on the rim of the Black Canyon. Along the way there are also good viewpoints of the West Elk mountain range, the Cimarron Valley and the more distance San Juan mountains.

The trailhead is located about 16 miles south of Crawford and 24 miles north of the junction of Highway 92 and Highway 50.

The trail begins with a gradual descent of about 125 feet through a dense growth of oakbrush, chokecherries and various other bushes.

After a short distance the trail briefly emerges and a view of a section of trail leading up a small hill presents itself.

The climb up the hill is made easier by several switchbacks and long gradual grades.

A bench at the first viewpoint provides a place to rest and take in the spectacular scenery, that is laid out before you to the south, of the Cimarron Valley and San Juan Mountains.

The San Juans are a rugged range of mountains with the highest average elevation of anywhere in the state of Colorado. And as you may have already known, Colorado has the highest mean elevation in the union at 6800 feet. We climbed Uncompahgre Peak by the moonlight one night and made it to the summit of Wetterhorn before noon the next day. That was back in our mountain climbing and backpacking days.

After you leave the last viewpoint you get a glimpse of what else the trail has in store. Basically the route just continues along the ridge which has a few up and down sections along the way.

At about 1.2 miles into the hike a fork in the trail climbs a short 500 foot long spur to the highest point of the hike where there is a viewpoint for the West Elk Mountains.

After returning from the viewpoint the main trail passes through the area that was burned in 1974 and continues traversing around the mountain to the Crystal Lake overlook at the end of the trail.

The overlook is perched on the rim of the canyon about 1500 feet above Crystal Lake. Don't even think about trying to climb down to the water. About the only way you can get down there is to float in from Mesa Creek at the base of the Morrow Point Dam.

If you have good enough eyesight or a pair of binoculars you can look off in the distance and see the road that leads down from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to the base of Crystal Dam. It is a steep road but it is paved all of the way.

The hike back to the trailhead is very pleasant. Even though the trip back has a couple hundred feet of elevation gain the steeper sections are all downhill. The Park Services brochure said to check for ticks frequently during the hot summer months but we didn't see even one. The trail is easy enough to hike without brushing up against the foliage which other than sitting on the ground is how ticks would probably get on you. The Crystal Creek trail is a great hike with only a few visitors every week. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.