West Fork

Round Trip Distance: 6.3 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 8909 - 9366 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 3 hrs.
Trailhead: West Fork
Fee: none
Attractions: Forest hike

The West Fork trail is near Silver Jack Reservoir in the Mountain Division of the Uncompahgre National Forest. The trail begins at Forest Road 858.3H and climbs at a moderate pace along the West Fork of the Cimarron River for about 3 miles to a spot along Forest Road 860, the Owl Creek Road. The trail can be completed as an out and back or as a loop by returning to the trailhead along the road. There are 2 spur trails that also connect to the road that can be used to form smaller loops. The first is at the 1.5 mile point that can be used to create a loop of about 3 miles. It is an unmarked rarely used trail that would only be suitable for hiking and horseback riding. The second spur is at about 1.7 miles and can be used to create a loop that is about 3.5 miles. By hiking all the way to the end of the West Fork trail and returning along the road you will create a loop that is just over 6 miles or about the same distance as the out and back route.

To get to the trailhead drive east out of Montrose on Highway 50 for about 20.5 miles and turn right on the Cimarron Road. Follow it, passing the forest boundary at 15 miles and the Silver Jack Campground at 17 miles, and continue around the tail of Silver Jack Reservoir crossing the East Fork and Middle Fork of the Cimarron River. Turn right onto FR 858.3H shortly after crossing the bridge over the Middle Fork.

The trailhead is at the end of the road a few hundred yards through the trees. The road is generally passable by most vehicles but at times conditions may require low clearance vehicles to park closer to the main road. Primitive campsites can be found on both sides of the road. Occasionally someone may setup camp in the parking area near the trailhead making it a little awkward.

The full length of the West Fork trail is a double track. Only the first half mile or so of the trail gets much sunshine. Most of the route travels through a thick forest of aspen and spruce trees with only a few open areas.

These tracks were all the picture we were able to take of a bear that was running away from the trailhead area. Some careless campers had left their coolers out where the bear raided them eating everything but some sausage. The campers may have lost their cache of food but the bear which now associates campers with a meal could end up paying the ultimate price.

The trail parallels Silver Jack for a while before turning westerly where it begins a gradual climb.

At about the 1.4 mile point the trail is met by the Cowboy Lake trail that also provides access to the Nate Creek and Lou Creek trails.

A short and steep spur trail that leads up to the road is at 1.7 miles.

There were fresh elk tracks, made since the previous nights rain, in an open cabbage patch meadow. We used to use this stuff for toilet paper when we were kids.

The trail comes to an end after about 3 miles at the Owl Creek Road. A good mountain bike ride would be to start at the same trailhead and pedal up the Owl Creek Road to this point and follow the West Fork trail in the downhill direction back to the trailhead.

Mushrooms come in so many varieties that they can be fun to photograph. We aren't sure if these are 'turkey-tail', 'false turkey-tail' or something else. The turkey-tail variety are becoming popular for boosting the immune system. Whether they actually work or not is another question.

We finished up this hike before the afternoon thunderstorms came in. It is always a good idea to carry your rain gear while hiking in the mountains. After living in Alaska for a few years we learned not to let the weather dictate our outdoor activities but rather to be prepared for anything and embrace it. Unfortunately the pictures don't come out very well in low light. West Fork is a good multi-use trail that everyone can enjoy together. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.