Tucked away a short hike off of a four-wheel drive road in the Guanella Pass area lies the Geneva Creek Iron Fens. A rare geologic phenomenon unique to Colorado, iron fens are formed when mineral rich groundwater bubbles up from mountain springs and forms colorful ledges and terraces composed of limonite (the earth pigment used to create ochre dyes). Iron fens also produce acidic peat-forming wetlands that supports rare plant communities, including the only known occurrence of Sphagnum girgensohnii (a sphagnum moss) in Colorado. The hike to Geneva Creek Iron Fens is short, but allow plenty of time to explore the fens and the surrounding areas.
Features: Unique geologic process, rare plant community, designated Colorado Natural Area (Colorado Parks and Wildlife), historic mining buildings
Location: Guanella Pass Area, Geneva Creek Basin
Maps: National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map 104: Idaho Springs, Loveland Pass; USGS 7.5′ Montezuma, CO
Managing Agency: Clear Creek County Open Space Commission
Emergency Contact: Clear Creek Sheriff 303-679-2376. Cell reception is non-existent in this area. Carrying an emergency GPS beacon is recommended.
Distance: 2.4 miles round-trip
Time: 2-4 hours
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate. The distance is short, but it is at high elevation.
Rating: Class I. Easy hiking on a good trail. The footing is generally good when exploring the fens, but can be slick in spots and if you venture into the swampier areas, be cautious of stepping in deep, wet mud.
Starting Elevation: 10800 feet
Ending Elevation: 11400
Elevation gain: 600 feet
Permit: Not required
Vehicle Access: Four-wheel drive is required to reach the trail head. High clearance is recommended.
Gear: Waterproof boots are recommended.
Water: Bring at least 1 liter. There is abundant water, but it may be contaminated with heavy metals.
Dogs: Dogs are permitted. Keep under control to protect wildlife, livestock and fragile environment.
Season: Late Summer, Early Fall. The access road (FR119) is closed by snow in early to mid-October until late July. The trail is accessible in winter by skis or snowshoes but much of the winter the closest starting point will be the Duck Creek Picnic ground at the head of FR119 which will add 7 miles each way.
Camping: Geneva Park Campground (National Forest Service Fee Site) offering tent and RV camping is near the start of FR119. Many free dispersed sites are available along FR119. Duck Lake Picnic area is also near the start of FR119 for day use only.
Food: Al’s Pits in Grant, Colorado provides great BBQ. For a hearty lunch or breakfast, check out The Shaggy Sheep.
Nearby: Geneva Basin mining area (requires high clearance 4wd), Shelf Lake Trail, Jackwhacker Gulch, three 13,000+ foot peaks (Landslide Peak , Geneva Peak, Sullivan Mountain), and Josephine lake (the most Northern Lake in the county).
Directions to the Trailhead: From Denver:
1. Travel south on Highway 285 to the town of Grant located about 40 miles South of the C-470/Hwy 285 intersection (45 minutes)
2. Turn right on Park County Road 62 (Geneva Road/Guanella Pass) and continue for approximately 7 miles (15 minutes)
3. Turn left at Forest Road 119 (four-wheel drive only) and arrive at trailhead after 5 miles (30 minutes)
Driving Notes: FR119 is a four-wheel drive road that starts off as a graded road, but becomes rougher and narrower the farther you go. Be prepared for large puddles, stream crossings and lots of rocks. At 4.3 miles, you will pass through private property. At 5 miles cross Jackwacker creek. The trailhead is on the left just 0.1 miles beyond the creek crossing (5.1 miles total) and only has room for one or two vehicles. If you are unsure if your vehicle can do the creek crossing, there is a wide spot suitable for parking two or three vehicles just before you reach the creek. Beyond the trailhead, the road becomes a narrow shelf road with a steep grade and is only suitable for high clearance 4wd vehicles and experienced off road drivers.
Trail Description: The trail is an old 4wd road making it wide and easy to navigate. Distances are approximate.
0.0 Mile – Walk in past the locked vehicle gate
0.5 Miles – Cross a shallow pond by rock hopping or walking through the shallow water. The trail starts to climb after this crossing.
1 Mile – Unsigned fork in the road. Take the right fork. The left fork leads to another fen that is also worth exploring if you have time.
1.25 Miles – Arrive at the Iron Fens. Explore the Fens as long as you like before returning the same way you came.
Check out these videos we made at the fens. The first one was starting at a different, less accessible trailhead. It’s about a mile up the high-clearance 4wd road and requires some off-trail navigation.
and this one too!
We would love your feedback! Did you find the guide useful? Would you like more information in a trail guide? Did you get hopelessly lost following our directions? Let us know in the comments!
Katie and Marybeth
We’ve had a lot of adventures this summer, but the highlight has to be the one we just returned from…Burning Man! A blog post is in the works, but enjoy this video we made in the meantime!
It’s cold and there is fresh snow on the ground, but it’s Colorado, so the sun is shining and it’s a perfect day for a hike. There’s too much snow for the mountain bikers and not enough for the snowshoers so I get the trail all to myself. That’s exactly how I like it.
With my faithful companion, Fluffy Dog, I set out on the trail to finally finish Section 3 of the Colorado Trail. The trail starts at the Little Scraggy Trailhead and rolls through ponderosa pine forests. It winds around the sides of hills and up and down drainages until its terminus at Rolling Creek.
Rocky peaks, composed of well worn rubble dominate the landscape. The lower reaches are strewn with boulders wearing blankets of snow. Remnants of ancient peaks, they are reminders that the mountains are no more eternal than we are, just longer lived. Now and then, there is a a glimpse of the snow capped mountains through the trees.
The cloudless sky is a shade of brilliant blue that I’ve only ever seen in winter. The sun throws long shadows, even at midday and it’s low angled rays glide over the snow making it sparkle like precious gems. The stark white of the snow contrasts sharply with the conifers making the green needles and the red bark of the ponderosas appear deeply saturated. Here and there the trees let loose a silvery cascade of snow dust. I stop and watch the show until a nearby tree decided to loose it’s cold, shimmery gifts upon my head.
The going is slower than usual because of the snow, but I don’t mind. There is something extra special about hiking after a fresh snowfall. With the crystalline carpet muffling the rustling of the trees and brush, the silence overwhelms the senses. Even the streams are quiet. No babbling brooks chattering on their course, there is only a muted glug, glug as the water makes it’s way under the ice. Punctuating the silence are the sounds of mountain song birds, clearer and brighter than what you hear in summer, and a lone woodpecker is tap, tap, tapping in search of grubs.
And, oh the happy puppy dog! He’s unfettered to frolic freely in the snow. He’s bounding through the forest after who knows what. Oh look, he found a deer leg. Hope the critter that left it isn’t still around.
It takes some route finding to find my way through the forest with the trail obscured by snow, but the path is well worn and the depressions left by thousands of footsteps are not too hard to follow. I make my way through this cold, white Eden contemplating all and nothing. The landscape is beautiful and silent and the peace it brings my soul is unmeasured. I leave this place and return to the bustle of “real life” but it lingers in my mind and I am restless and anxious to return to the woods to find that peace again.
After dark, the city really comes alive. Too hot to be active during the day, the nightlife in Cartagena is robust with tourists and locals mingling in every square. Just follow the voices and music and you’ll find yourself being entertained by talented street performers or stumble upon a local bar where you can grab a cervasa and find the people of all ages salsa dancing. One of our favorite finds was the “Cuba 1940’s” bar where you can dangle you feet in a cool indoor pool while sipping Mojitos. Plaza de La Trinidad, in the Getsemani quarter, was steps from our hotel and swarming with people every night. Located in a working class neighborhood that is undergoing gentrification, and awash in expensive boutique hotels alongside hostels and modest local homes, a gathering of people from all walks of life occurs on the square. Grab some rum laced fruit punch from a street vendor and find a spot to sit and watch the show.
A little synchronicity happened in our schedules allowing Marybeth and I to embark on a short backpacking trip to tackle segment 10 of the Colorado Trail. It was a good chance to test out our gear and have a little adventure. We started our trek in the great little town of Leadville, where we met up and had dinner at the Tennessee Pass Cafe. I popped into the Leadville Outdoors & Mountain Market to pick up a dehydrated meal for our trip and ended up walking out with a new air mattress and a bunch of maps. The Market is a small but well-curated shop and the owner was very helpful and knowledgeable about her products. I can definitely recommend stopping in if you’re in the area and need some gear.
Segment 10 of the Colorado Trail meanders through a pine forest along the base of Mount Massive, and aptly named 14er that is the second highest mountain in Colorado. There are two long up climbs going either direction on the trail. We started from the Mount Massive Trailhead, hiking “backwards” from the way most people choose to do it. The grade is not too bad on the legs and lungs (and about the same whichever direction you choose), though I think we both were a very happy when we completed the second uphill portion. Water crossings are abundant which made this a good section to go lighter on the amount of water in our packs and I didn’t need to carry extra water for Fluffy Dog which was a welcome change from most of my hikes. The trail winds mostly through pine forest and grants you occasional glimpses of Mount Elbert (which is right next to Mount Massive). After 10 miles on our feet, we found a good campsite at a large clearing with views of Leadville and the surrounding hills just inside the Mount Massive Wilderness.
The lack of good rain this summer and subsequent burn ban meant we couldn’t build a campfire, so we made quick dinners from our dehydrated meals. It would have been perfect except we were swarmed by mosquitoes for a couple of hours before the sun went down. We took shelter from the pesky bugs in Marybeths tent until they settled down for the night. We broke out the campstove again to toast marshmallows for ‘smores, my favorite camping treat.
While Marybeth and Fluffy Dog spent the night in her tent, I brought along my hammock and rainfly for a trial run. In one night, I’ve become a hammock camping convert! I spent a very comfortable night (even when it rained) with the exception of my sleeping pad shifting. A new sleeping bag with a pad holder is now on my wishlist, along with a bug net.
My pack weighed in at 28 pounds including 1 liter of water and all my food. I’d like to get that pack weight down a bit (under 20 pounds if I can) when my budget allows buying lighter gear. I have a toasty warm sleeping bag, but it weighs in at 4 pounds and takes up an extraordinary amount of pack space. A lighter, smaller sleeping bag is first on the list! Fluffy Dog is also going to learn to carry his own food, dog booties, some of his water and few other pup supplies. His gear and food (not counting water) adds nearly 3 lbs to the pack so I’ll be searching for a pack for him soon!
I’m loving my Osprey pack (3 lbs) which is big enough to carry all my gear, but not terribly bulky. My spur of the moment purchase of a Thermarest NeoAir sleeping pad was a welcome upgrade from my old foam pad. I cut the foam pad down to Fluffy Dog size so he could have his own backcountry dog bed. My trusty Down Under oilskin hat, my trekking umbrella and my versatile shemya, round out my 3 favorite pieces of backpacking gear.
We packed up our gear the next day and had a quick 3 mile hike to the Timberline Trailhead. It was time to get back to civilization and our jobs (so we can buy more gear!). We’re already dreaming of our next journey!
But first, a few more pics…
For more information about the Pryor Mountain Mustangs check out:
Soon, you leave the lower forest and gain a ridge, hiking the rolling terrain of the ridge for another 1.5 miles. Quicker than I thought I would get there I made it to Lenny’s Rest, and was officially back on the Colorado Trail. Three more miles of hiking up and down drainages (with several water crossings) finally found me at my turnaround point. Fluffy and I stopped for a bit and had some snacks and I refilled my water bottles at Bear Creek. This part of the trail is really lovely, and the moisture from the creek supplies plenty of water to support lush vegetation.