Beaver Lake Trail and the Royal Elk Trail

June 17, 2022

Hiking at Beaver Creek

Beaver Creek ski resort offers ample hiking opportunities in summer. Many routes stay within the confines of the ski resort, crossing grassy ski slopes and ducking into lush, piney tree islands. A few other trails connect into the adjacent Holy Cross Wilderness, where they amble on for miles into the alpine.

Lupine and aspen along the Five Senses Trail at Beaver Creek.
Lupine and aspen along the Five Senses Trail at Beaver Creek.

In summer, visitors can park for free in the Ford Hall garage beneath the main village. This provides convenient access to both hiking and the Centennial Express, the only chairlift that runs in summer. Many hikes (including this one) can end by riding down the lift.

The Five Senses Trail

I arrived early (like 7 am) and snagged a prime parking spot. Then I coasted up the village escalators to the slopes. My route would involve three marked trails on the resort: the short and sweet Five Senses Trail, the Beaver Lake Trail, and the Royal Elk Trail.

The first trail meandered through a narrow forest of aspens and pines along Beaver Creek (the babbling brook from which the resort takes its name). It rose quite gradually, roughly 400 feet over one mile. Signs along the trail talked about your five senses. They seemed geared towards a very young audience, as written by a litigation-averse corporation. “Don’t eat anything” was a prominent message of the “taste” sign.

Signage for the Five Senses trail.
Signage for the Five Senses trail.

And along this short path, you pass by a curious array of resort infrastructure. I saw a chapel, a fire station, an armada of snowcats, and many opulent second homes.

Continuing towards the Beaver Lake Trail.
Continuing towards the Beaver Lake Trail.

Beaver Lake Trail

This route leads to the ‘trailhead’ for the Beaver Lake Trail. This route continues higher along Beaver Creek towards the “Talons” lodge deep in the ski area’s interior. Then it continues on beneath the ski slopes towards the Holy Cross Wilderness.

The Beaver Lake Trail passes under a few chairlifts en route to the lake.
The Beaver Lake Trail passes under a few chairlifts en route to the lake.

Shortly beyond the Talons lodge, I mostly left human infrastructure behind. The road across the creek ended. And the chairlifts were out of sight. The trail passed at the base of the Royal Elk Glade, an “off piste” expert ski run through steep woods and meadows. The trail crossed the creek once or twice.

The Beaver Lake Trail sticks close to Beaver Creek.
The Beaver Lake Trail sticks close to Beaver Creek.

Shortly beyond the ropes marking the edge of the ski resort, you cross into the Holy Cross Wilderness. By this point in the hike, you’ve risen roughly 1300′ over 2.5 miles—a respectable ascent!

Leaving the resort behind en route to Beaver Lake.
Leaving the resort behind en route to Beaver Lake.

Moments later, you reach Beaver Lake at roughly 9,800′ elevation. I saw a couple camping out near the lakeshore with their dog. But otherwise the scene was deserted and pindrop silent. And I could hear a couple of waterfalls veiled by thick tree cover.

Beaver Lake is the natural conclusion of the Beaver Lake Trail.
Beaver Lake is the natural conclusion of the Beaver Lake Trail.

The Royal Elk Trail

The trail rose higher past Beaver Lake, onwards into the Holy Cross Wilderness. But I turned around and descended back into the ski resort. And just after crossing under the ski patrol rope, I branched right onto the Royal Elk Trail.

A caterpillar negotiating morning dew.
A caterpillar negotiating morning dew.

This hiking route takes its name from the ski glade it traverses across. The route led me higher still, but now back towards the front of the resort. I cut across the “Grouse Mountain” trail complex and towards the Birds of Prey race course. And I got a big kick out of seeing all these ski runs in summer.

Red Columbine along the Royal Elk Trail.
Red Columbine along the Royal Elk Trail.

Eventually I made it to the top of the Centennial Express chair. The lift uploads roughly 2200 vertical feet above the village. I could have taken a few other nice hiking trails back down. But the allure of a knee-saving chairlift was too strong! I was saving myself for a harder hike the next day.

Centennial Express, with the Gore Range in the background.
Centennial Express, with the Gore Range in the background.

If you’re one of roughly 2 million Epic pass holders, summer lift rides are free. For anyone else, they typically do not check tickets at the top (meaning you can effectively download free). Centennial is a mix of chairs and gondola cabins. Riding up, you can choose either. Unfortunately coming down they make you load a gondola cabin.

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