While trails are typically just a path to great places, the Bear Creek National Recreation Trail is a hike that is about the trail and the destination.
The Bear Creek National Recreation Trail is just 2.3 miles from Ouray (directions below). The trailhead is on Highway 550 just past a tunnel. Walk across the highway to a trail that goes up to the top of that tunnel and over it.
After a short walk, the trail quickly changes from rock and dirt to rock. Not rocks like you see on most trails, we’re talking piles of shale. One of my hiking buddies said it sounded like walking on china plates as we hiked up the hill. Not only are you hiking on these piles of rocks, you’re climbing a series of steep switchbacks. How steep? Expect to climb about 1,000 feet of elevation in the first 1.15 miles.
The trail is not only rocky and steep, it’s quite thin. In some places, there’s not even room to step off the trail to let others pass. If you don’t like heights, you will not like the skinny trail with steep drop-offs.
While you’re watching your feet for your safety, make sure you stop and look up occasionally at the amazing scenery in this area. Look for Red Mountain in the distance, mines on the hill across the highway and all the incredible peaks in the area.
About 1.35 miles into the hike, the trail turns up Bear Creek Canyon. Now you may spot waterfalls and cascades in the creek below. Watch the trail as you hike up the canyon, at times it gets so skinny it’s only wide enough for one foot to be placed. There are also spots where you’ll find yourself climbing over rocks.
It’s about 2.5 miles from the trailhead to the Grizzly Bear Mine remnants. The ruins are easy to find because the trail is right next to large metal equipment pieces. There is a collapsed structure here and lots of rusted equipment. At the end of the remnants, look for a hole in the ground on the right side of the trail with a metal grate over it. This is likely a shaft of some sort. Also look for a shack on the hill, inside you’ll find three drums with electrical wires. This appears to be much more modern than the other equipment in the area.
A sign here tells visitors it’s another 1.8 miles to the Yellow Jacket Mine and 4.7 miles to Horsethief Trail and Engineer Pass. While I decided to turn around here, my hiking buddies went on to Yellow Jacket Mine and said the extra distance and 1,200 feet of elevation gain was worth it because there were more structures and the trail entered more of a meadow zone.
Want more hikes in the area? See a list below and check out this list of 200+ great hikes in Colorado.
Details: The hike to the Grizzly Bear Mine ruins and back is 5 miles roundtrip with about 1,600 feet of elevation gain.
Directions: From Ouray, take Highway 550 South 2.3 miles to a tunnel over the highway. The trailhead parking in on the left side of the road, just past the tunnel. The trailhead is on the right side of the road.