Trailhead: Summit of Berthoud Pass (Parking Lot at the top)
Activities: Hiking, Skiing, Snowshoeing
Closest City / Town: Empire or Winter Park, Colorado
- From I-70, head west beyond Idaho Springs.
- Get off on Highway 40; head north towards Empire/Winter Park.
- Take Hwy 40 to the summit of Berthoud Pass and park in the summit parking lot.
Hiking Distances: 3.0 miles (roundtrip) – but you can go further in the summer.
Description: The Berthoud Pass Ditch trail/road is not really a designated trail, but it is a well used route on the Pass for hikers, cross-country skiers and snowshoers. This is a great trail if you are looking for something easy that can be accomplished in just a couple of hours, it’s close to Denver, and has amazing views.
The “trail” starts at US 40, just north of the Berthoud Pass warming hut and parking lot. It is not marked, since it is not really a trail, but rather an access road for the Berthoud Pass Ditch and a USGS Snotel site. It does have a green gate that is visible after the snow melts, but that is the only indication of the road and trail. Individuals that wish to hike the trail can park at either the warming hut lot and walk north to the road or there is a small pull-off from US 40 just northeast of the entrance. You will have to cross the highway to access the road from either of these locations, so be cautious and mindful of the traffic.
This trail and road takes the user from Highway 40 to Current Creek, First Creek and Second Creek. The distance to Current Creek is about 1.5 miles, one way, and is the most well maintained section of the trail. This post will only cover the trail to Current Creek.
At the beginning of the trail, there are two options for hikers, there is the scenic route that follows along the ditch, through the trees, or follow the road past the Snotel sight for a quicker option. Both trails converge at a really nice overlook of the valley and US 40. From this point, follow the road west. It is a wide road and a relatively easy hike in the summer. On June 15th, the road and trail was still very well covered in snow, and I spent quite a bit of the hike trekking through the snow. I would recommend long pants and water-resistant boots if hiking the trail in late spring or early summer. The trail does get narrow at about the 1 mile mark, and also has a steep incline that can be challenging for folks that aren’t use to the altitude. Beyond this incline, the trail flattens out again, with little to no elevation gain back to Current Creek. There is a nice open area at Current Creek, which is good for resting and checking out the amazing views. From Current Creek, adventurous hikers may want to continue north, and follow what is left of the ditch structure to First and Second Creeks. There is a nice hanging lake about a quarter of a mile north of Current Creek, that in the spring and early summer is a great view and well worth a little extra walking.
A couple of important pieces of information on this trail. First, it is the access road for a functioning water conveyance structure and the Snotel site. If you hike the road during the week, May through October, you are likely to encounter individuals working on the ditch structures, and vehicles on the road. Please keep in mind this is the primary purpose for the road and trail, it is not a designated hiking trail. Second, if you are on the road in the winter or early spring taking advantage of the cross-country ski or snowshoeing opportunities, be aware that you will cross active avalanche paths.
Worth Noting: In 1902, the 3.5 mile (5.6Km) Berthoud Pass Ditch began diverting water from the headwaters of the Fraser River over the continental divide into the basin of Clear Creek. Initially, this water was used for irrigation, but the cities of Northglenn and Golden purchased the ditch in the mid-1980s. The ditch has a capacity of 53.4 cubic feet per second.