Summit County’s Straight Trail
I’ve been visiting Summit County my entire life, usually entering the outdoor playground via the Eisenhower Tunnel, thinking only of the fun awaiting far below. Little did I know that the trailhead to one of the higher reward to effort ratio trails is located at the western entrance to that same tunnel. It’s not marked on many maps. The best description I could find online was from the Summit Daily News. From what I can gather, it’s called the Straight Trail.
To access the trailhead (from the county) you head east on I-70 and take the “exit” just before the tunnel set aside for trucks to check their brakes. From there, you take the road up behind the tunnel entrance usually reserved as the last chance turnaround for any vehicles transporting hazardous materials, and go just below the CDOT building which will be on your right. From there, the Summit Daily News article describes a parking lot. “Lot” is generous; it’s really just an expanded shoulder to the right of the solid white line. Park here. If you see a no parking sign, you’re still too far up the hill.
From the parking shoulder, begin walking up the paved road that bends around to the north. It’s not the most idyllic trailhead, what with all the traffic noise and a walk past a modern engineering marvel, but as you ascend the paved road, which turns into an obvious footpath, the traffic noise quickly subsides. This first section is where the Straight Trail gets its name, as it’s literally a straight line up or near a creek bed to the end of the valley. On your right side is the face you’ll ultimately climb. It looks intimidating. It isn’t. This section of the trail is the roughest, but it’s in no way too rough. We were a little past prime time for wildflowers but I suspect this portion of the trail puts on quite a show earlier in August.
At around the 45 minute mark (probably less time for many, we weren’t in a hurry), the path either continues straight up the valley or there’s an obvious path to take to the right. You’ll want to take the path to the right. From this point, you start to gently ascend the face that now looks far less intimidating. As you start to climb, you double back toward the tunnel entrance and many familiar features become more and more clear. Features like your car parked far below, Buffalo Mountain, and the Gore Range. There’s a gentle switchback and you once again head toward the north doubling back toward a second switchback. The second switchback is the last and the ascent remains gentle toward the ridge.
The views continue to get better and better. The primary view is west toward Silverthorne (the Lowe’s is a long, white manmade feature you can use to orient where you’re looking). As you continue higher, you’re able to see the Ten Mile Range and even far to the west to a distinctive fourteener, the Mt. of the Holy Cross. As the climb to the “summit” ridge, views to the east start to emerge, including Torres and Grey’s Peaks, Loveland Pass, the top of A-Basin’s notorious East Wall, and the Loveland Ski Areas. At the top of the ridge, you hike along the border of the Loveland ski resort and can stop for a quick photo next to a ski run sign, high enough to provide some sense of the amount of snow this place gets in the winter.
From this point, we hiked up a short hill that ultimately showed the path to a second small hill where we decided to have lunch. Just below our lunch spot was Chair 9 at Loveland. From that point, you could see 4 ski resorts: Loveland, A-Basin (if you count the top of East Wall), Keystone, and Breckenridge. The most surprising view was that of Keystone, where you could essentially see the entire front side of Dercum Mountain, the original part of the mountain. The view was the trail map I had grown up memorizing as I learned to ski. It was a view I didn’t know actually existed, at least from land. But each of the classic groomer Euro-centric “man” named runs across the front were visible as well as my all-time favorite screamer, Go Devil, on the far west side of the mountain. For me, the trail map view of Keystone was an unexpected highlight of the trail.
After lunch, it’s an easy all downhill walk back to the parking lot. In total, it took us about 2.5 hours to get up though it could be done in far less time. It’s a little over two miles in length (one way) and a very manageable 1500ish vertical climb to just below 12,700. The entire hike is out in the open with views that well, you’ve already read about the views.
For someone that enjoys hiking above the tree line, this is about as easy a way to get there quickly. Add that to gaining a new perspective on a lifetime vacation location, and this hike easily qualifies as a hidden gem.