Butler’s Gulch Trail
Starting Elevation: 10,500ish
Final Elevation : 11,900+ if you go all the way to the Jean Mine ( 1400 ft elevation gain)
Trip Length: 6 miles round trip, if you aren’t over protective of your lower carriage civic that doesn’t seem to like the way the road looks after the parking lots. If like us, the dirt road freaked you out, walking from the parking lot to the trailhead might add another .5 miles total.
Trail Uses: Hiker, Biker, Horses, snow shoe – no motorized vehicles
Degree of difficulty: Moderate – mostly because of the altitude
Bathrooms: No – must be ok with peeing outside so pack your ziplock baggie and toilet paper. There is an outhouse on the paved road going to the access road and out, the Bend picnic area is closest- all part of the National Forest.
Pets: Yes, dogs are allowed and can be off leash as it is in National Forest …
One of my husband’s coworkers told him about this trail in July and that same week I had read about it on a blog I have been following on hiking. It seemed like a good choice because it was close to the same elevations we did last week and was decidedly described as something not too challenging outside of the elevation part of it. After 3 weeks of progressively harder hikes we needed a week of something a little easier. From what I read, the best time to do this hike is June/July- ish as the flowers are AMAZING or to snow shoe it in the winter. We of course went today so there were no flowers or snow but it was still a great hike and beautiful, as it seems everything is in Colorado.
We got there pretty early considering the hour drive, and we were walking by 8AM. It is right by the Henderson Mine outside of Empire, there are 2 parking lots on the left shortly after you get on the dirt road, you can park here and walk up to the trail, it’s not far. Or you can continue up the road and then park by the gate at the start of the trail, along the side of the road. My little Civic started crying when we were at the parking lots, so we decided walking was better than bottoming out the car and just parked it. We were probably over-cautious, but we are Chicagoans at heart and dirt roads are foreign to us, well me really and I was driving.
The trail is essentially the old road up to the old mine….it is nice and big and has a steady incline. It is covered with trees and runs along a stream , it also requires you cross over this stream several times throughout the hike. We started early so it was relatively cold on this September morning, in the 40’s, and completely alone. There was one other car in the parking lot but it looked like it had been there for a while. For all of our talk of wanting to be alone on a trail, it was kind of weird. I had a small heart attack when we scared a large bird ( sounded HUGE) and it took off with its enormous wings beating very loud, and this is completely irrational, but I immediately thought BEAR!
At about 1.5 miles, we had crossed the stream 3-4 times when we came up to the falls they aren’t huge but still lovely!
The trail did increase in its incline from this point, but really the altitude is the bigger challenge. It is not too long from here to reach the bowl and old mine that is our goal. Coming out from the trees was really beautiful, suddenly we were there. The trail wound around the shelf to the Jean Mine, which has a lot remains of when the mine was active:
This is a great hike, we are coming back next summer to see the flowers everyone else raves about.
When we headed back down, we came across a few groups ( 6-7) of hikers and they were all so nice and chatty! It was the least crowded trail we have done yet and it had the nicest hikers.
Going down was fast, had we not killed time taking pictures we would have cruised through the whole trial in probably 3-3;30 hrs, but we have a new camera and can’t stop playing with it so it took us much longer……
There was one thing that was really annoying, I couldn’t find a map of the trail anywhere. There are topography maps but they weren’t that detailed and hard to print off. Otherwise this is a must do!
To get to Butler Gulch take 70 west, exit #232 – Highway 40 towards Winter Park/Empire go 9-10 miles on highway 40. Turn off of Highway 40 at Henderson Mine Road heading due west for 1.8 miles towards the Henderson Mine. Just before the mine, a dirt frontage road splits off and parallels the paved road. Continue on this dirt road until the parking area right at the junction with the Jones Pass Road. Park along the side of the road by a large gate or at the parking lots at the beginning of the frontage road.
Some more pictures: