Hiking in the Eagles Nest Wilderness, Summit County, Colorado. (Bob Berwyn photo)
Partaking in all the summer activities at Copper Mountain Resort is fun, but sometimes on summer vacation, you just want to get away from it all. Fortunately, Copper Mountain serves as a prime gateway to some of Colorado's most stunning backcountry — the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area — encompassing more than 130,000 acres of the craggy Gore Range.
The Eagles Nest Wilderness was probably one of Colorado's most hard-won wilderness areas. Front Range cities opposed the designation because they thought it would interfere with their ability to suck water out of the canyons and creeks. Timber interests coveted the thick pine and spruce forests, and transportation officials were eyeballing a trans-Rockies route for Interstate 70.
But after years of advocacy by dedicated conservationists, Congress in 1978 formally designated the lands under the Wilderness Act, setting them aside forever more as preserves, "untrammeled by man."
Near Copper Mountain, the wilderness boundary dips down to within less than a mile of I-70, one of the few places in the world where a major transcontinental highway runs so close to an area where all motorized and mechanized uses are banned. And despite the proximity of that thoroughfare, just a few short miles of hiking will bring you into some of the most remote backcountry in Colorado.
Copper Mountain sits at the very southern tip of the Eagles Nest, and you can get a good taste of the wilderness with a two to three hour hike up the Gore Range Trail to Wheeler Lakes, a pair still alpine ponds ringed with tall spruce glades and flower-filled meadows. From a few vantage points near the lakes, you can see some of the lifts and trails at Copper. Click here for directions to the trail head.
If you're feeling a bit more ambitious, you could continue along the Gore Range Trail (which runs the full length of the range) over Uneva Pass to the junction with the North Tenmile Creek Trail. Head head east and follow North Tenmile Creek downstream back to Frisco, where you can hop on a Summit Stage bus and complete the roundtrip to back to Copper Mountain.
The Copper to Frisco trip is a great full-day hike, but you need to be in decent shape and somewhat acclimated to the altitude. The area around Uneva Pass also offers a chance to scramble up a few 12,000-foot peaks. Long-distance hikers can even trek over to Vail by following the Gore Range Trail to its junction with the Gore Creek Trail, which drops down the backside of the Gore Range to East Vail.
Finally, if you don't mind a little drive, head east on I-70 and north on Highway 9 to the Cataract Lake area, near Heeney, which provides access to the far northern end of the range, including the spectacular Cataract Falls.
Wherever you go in the Gore Range, you'll find the peace and solitude that will heal the scars of city stress and make you appreciate your time in the Colorado Rockies all the more.