Butler Gulch | Colorado | 01/07/21

Butler Gulch | Arapaho National Forest

Empire, CO | 01/07/21 | 4.57 miles | 1,449′ gain


One Thursday in early January, Diana and I snowshoed a popular trail through Butler Gulch. I’m not often convinced to go snowshoeing but I was desperate to get above treeline, plus I had new, fancy snowshoes that needed to be used. We met up and drove together to the trailhead. I’d read a report from a few days before that the summer parking area was plowed and accessible but we didn’t find that to be the case. We somehow turned around without getting stuck and parked at the winter trailhead, just 1/4 mile back down the road.

Summer trailhead – room for just a couple cars

We walked the 1/4 mile back up the road to the summer trailhead and went around the gate. The trail starts on an old road and is very wide. It gets a lot of ski and snowshoe traffic in the winter and was nicely groomed. We were able to walk it in boots.

West Fork Clear Creek is under all that snow
Nice, wide trail

The trail wraps around the Henderson Mine property, connecting with Butler Gulch and following it all the way up into a beautiful basin.

First glimpse of Vasquez Peak (12,947′)

After a mile or two, the trail narrowed and was no longer groomed. Near the basin, the trail turned into single-track. We put on our snowshoes here.

Heading into the basin…time for snowshoes
Vasquez Peak (far left, 12,947′) and Stanley Mountain (far right, 12,521′)
Into the basin
Looking back

We didn’t go too far into the basin since there was no longer a great track to follow and we were postholing even in snowshoes. In the summer, the trail leads up to nearly 12,000′ to an old mine site with abandoned vehicles. We figured everything would be covered in snow anyways so, happy with just seeing some great views today, we turned around at about 11,650′.

Noooo… Photo: Diana

We kept our snowshoes on the entire way down, though we probably didn’t need them once back on the groomed trail. The trail was surprisingly busy for a Thursday and we passed numerous groups of skiers and snowshoers. It seems skiers are winter’s bikers in that we were almost smoked by one coming down way too quickly. Thankfully we were able to jump out of the way quickly enough that no one was injured. Other than that, everyone else seemed to be paying attention and going a speed that was safe enough for the conditions. This was a really beautiful trail and I hope to one day make it back up in the summer to see the mine.



10 thoughts on “Butler Gulch | Colorado | 01/07/21

  1. It looks like a perfect winter day (except for the inconsiderate skier) with blue sky and little wind. Looking at the photo of your friend, I try to imagine what it would take to walk through that deep snow without snowshoes.


    1. We had PERFECT weather! It was a gorgeous day. I almost think that super soft section was made more difficult WITH snowshoes. They kept getting caught and occasionally one would fall right off. As soon as we hit that soft snow, we just turned around. Not worth it!


      1. I have the same pair!! They’ve held up well over the years and I’ve been extremely happy with them. I guess I haven’t really put them to the test either as I haven’t snowshoed up a mountain, but maybe someday.


      2. No way!! They’re so popular, everyone here uses them lol. I didn’t think about them being popular elsewhere but it’s funny how the word spreads! One day we’ll use them for mountaineering and not just standard snowshoeing…maybe…haha!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. That post hole photo still gets me every damn time 🤣 I’m looking forward to doing this one again and seeing everything, it’s on my list for this summer!


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