Baldy Peak

Round Trip Distance: 8.1 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 8485 - 10,594 feet
Elevation gain: 2936 feet
Cellphone: 0-4 bars
Time: 5 hrs.
Trailhead: Cutler Creek/Baldy
Fee: none
Attractions: Forest hike, scenic overlook

Baldy Peak is located in the Uncompahgre National Forest near Ouray, Colorado. The Baldy Trail begins at the Baldy trailhead off of Forest Road 872.1b where it climbs to Baldy Ridge which it follows to its ending point at a junction with the Cutler Creek and Dexter Creek trails. The entire one-way length of the trail is 6.7 miles. For this post we begin at the Cutler Creek trailhead and hike up to Baldy Ridge where we take the 0.6 mile spur trail to Baldy Peak. From there we hike back to Baldy Ridge and follow it to the top of the Storm Gulch trail which we use for a return route to get back to our vehicle.

To get to the trailhead drive north on Highway 550 from the Ouray Hot Springs Pool for 1.6 miles and turn right on County Road 14, the Dexter Creek Road. Bear to the left near the 1 mile point onto County Road 14A. As you follow CR 14A it will cross into the Uncompahgre National Forest near the 0.8 mile point where the road forks. Stay to the right at this point and continue as the road climbs for awhile before descending into the Cutler Creek drainage. Bear left again around the 2.5 mile point from Highway 550 where another pretty good looking route angles up the hill on the right. Continue for another half mile or so to Thistle Park where you will find the sign for the Cutler Creek trailhead. Since our vehicle is only a 2-wheel drive we elected to park at this point and hike the rest of the way to the Baldy trailhead. That said, a 4-wheel drive is recommended to make it this far but the road was in pretty good shape and we didn't have any problems.

From the Cutler Creek trailhead the road makes a steep drop down a rocky hill and crosses the creek. As we were getting ready for the hike we heard a vehicle that was a 4-wheel drive smack its undercarriage on the rocks going down that hill. It is 0.38 miles from the Cutler Creek trailhead to the Baldy trailhead. If you are able to drive all the way to the Baldy trailhead there is very little room to park so you might have to find a wide spot along the road to pullover.

The trail comes to its first fork within about 500 feet of the Baldy trailhead where the Storm Gulch trail begins on the right. For this post this is where our loop begins and ends.

As the Baldy trail makes its way up the mountain it climbs through small groves of conifers and aspen trees but most of the course travels through thick patches of oakbrush. This was a particularly wet year so the various grasses and wildflowers were obscuring the trail in many places.

At the 0.95/1.33 mile point (Baldy trailhead/Cutler Creek trailhead), depending on which trailhead you are measuring from, there is a bit of confusion where another unmarked trail branches off on the left. Be sure to follow the right fork at this point. There is a small cairn on the right fork that you can look for.

By the time the trail reaches the 1.62/2.0 mile point it has reached a saddle in the ridge. As the trail turns and follows the ridge northward the rate of ascent becomes more gradual.

After 1 mile of hiking up the ridge the trail comes to the spur that leads to Baldy Peak which is 0.6 miles away. If you feel a need to shorten the hike for whatever reason you can cut 1.2 miles off of the round trip distance by skipping the trek to the summit.

Baldy Peak is only about 200 feet higher than the ridge is at this point but the trail loses a little elevation enroute so getting up the summit and back adds more than 300 feet of elevation gain. Not a bad price at all to pay for the elevated view.

The Colorado Mountain Club has placed one of their trail registers on the summit of Baldy Peak like they do on so many peaks that they think are worth bagging. While signing the register you can see if anyone else that you know has made the hike and done the same.

Western Colorado was under a haze from wildfires that were burning along the Pacific Northwest at the time these pictures were taken. Looking to the east there is a good view of Wetterhorn Peak, 14,016 feet, and the flat top upper portion of Uncompahgre Peak, 14,308 feet, to the left of that. With a prominence of 4,278 feet Uncompahgre Peak is the monarch of the San Juan Mountains. (A monarch is any peak with a prominence of 4,000 feet or more.)

Off to the west Mount Sneffels, 14,157 feet, dominates the ridgeline above the Dallas Creek area between Ouray and Telluride. We have climbed all of these peaks 10-15 years ago. Sneffels and Uncompahgre we have both summited twice.

After hiking up the summit of Baldy Peak and returning to the last trail junction it is decision time on which way to return to the trailhead. For this post we are going to continue along Baldy Ridge to the top of Storm Gulch and follow that trail back. Although this route allows you to explore more territory it probably isn't easier than returning via the Baldy trail that brought us to this point.

As the trail heads easterly along the ridge it is well pronounced and easy to follow until it all but disappears along a grassy slope. At present there aren't any trail markers or cairns to go by but if you arc around the grassy area and drop into the trees along its edge you can once again pick up the well worn trail. We were able to do this easily because the trail was on the preloaded map of one of our GPS devices and we were carrying a paper map as well that showed the trail in relation to the topography.

We say this a lot, and maybe it is so obvious that we don't need to mention it, but you can usually tell if you are following an official trail, rather than some game trail, by looking for clean cut logs. If the trail has had any maintenance done to it all there will be trees that have fallen across the trail and been cut by a chainsaw to keep the route cleared. Trees fall every year so if you aren't seeing any signs of trail maintenance sometime in the past you might have strayed off onto a game trail.

The trail works its way along the thickly forested ridge and at the 5.48/5.86 mile point it reaches the top of Storm Gulch. The trail sign at this junction doesn't look like it is going to survive much longer so it is hard to say what you will see if it isn't replaced.

It is an arduous descent down the Storm Gulch trail with several steep sections of scree that will keep you on your toes trying to stay on your feet. Trekking poles can come in handy to help keep your forward momentum in check. Near the lower end of the Storm Gulch trail it is met by the Shortcut trail at the 7.31/7.69 mile point.

And just a little further at the 7.70/8.18 mile point the loop comes to an end at the Baldy trail.

From there it is a short bit back to the Baldy trailhead and down the road to the Cutler Creek trailhead if like us that is where you parked.

Parking at the Cutler Creek trailhead adds less than a mile to the round trip distance and it is the easiest mile of the hike anyway. The fact that the Colorado Mountain Club put a peak register on the summit of Baldy seems to make it more worthwhile or feel like more of an accomplishment. It must appeal to one's vanity to let those that come after you know that you too were there. If your plans are to hike the loop by coming down Storm Gulch or the Shortcut trail be sure to take a map and a compass or better yet a GPS with the track preloaded on it. The hike is excellent exercise and you get to spend 5 or 6 hours enjoying the great outdoors. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.