Have you seen the trail map for the Buffalo Creek Recreation Area near Pine Junction in Jefferson County? There are miles and miles of trails!
While I did a short loop two years ago, this time I decided to venture further out and tackle a bigger loop – the Buck Gulch Trail to the Skipper Trail, then to the Strawberry Jack Trail.
The hike starts at Pine Valley Ranch Park, about seven miles from Highway 285 at Pine Junction (directions below). When you enter the park, continue past several driveways, past two parking lots until you reach the bottom parking lot where the road ends. The trails begin behind the bathrooms.
At the map board/sign board, pick up maps for both Pine Valley Ranch Park and the Buffalo Creek Recreation Area. While there’s a trail next to the river, I recommend crossing the river on the bridge and turning left.
This is the Pine Lake Loop. Walk the trail a short distance and follow the path as it turns right and heads for Pine Lake. You’ll pass a staircase on your left, but don’t turn off yet. You’ll be coming back down those stairs later.
For now, stay on the path as it passes the lake house, the lake and comes to a trail split. Take the Buck Gulch Trail turnoff on the left. After a few steps, turn left as the Buck Gulch Trail goes up a gulch in the forest.
After a nice, flat stroll for the first half mile, take a deep breath because it’s time for some elevation gain. The Buck Gulch Trail is an old road that’s about three people wide. This trail is open to cyclists, so expect to see quite a few here .
Hike about a third of a mile up the gulch and you’ll come to the turnoff for the Strawberry Jack Trail. Stay on the Buck Gulch Trail as it switchbacks up a hill and continues climbing in the forest. And I do mean climbing, you’ll gain about 1,000 feet on the
2.75-mile long Buck Gulch Trail.
If you need a break along the way, take it. Take a few and enjoy the fascinating scenery. You’ll hike through sections of forest, then sections of burn zone, alternating between the two. In some areas of the burn zone, there isn’t much to see, but in other sections, you’ll see rocks and interesting trees.
This area was burned in 1996 during the Buffalo Creek Fire. The fire burned 12,000 acres. In some places, you’ll see new growth. In others, it looks like the fire was much more recent.
At 1.4 miles from the trailhead, you’ll pass a sign with a map that explains you’re leaving the open space park and entering the Pike National Forest and the Buffalo Creek Recreation Area.
It’s another 1.35 miles to the end of the Buck Gulch Trail at the Buck Gulch Trailhead. After hiking in this remote area, I was surprised to find campers, vehicles and a trailhead. The Buck Gulch Trailhead is listed on that second map you picked up at the trailhead.
Now, you’ll turn on the Skipper Trail No. 790. Much like the Buck Gulch Trail, the Skipper Trail winds in and out of the burn zone. At one point, the trail drops down into a gully, then climbs back out.
Near the end of this 1.4-mile trail, you’ll hike through a large meadow, then come to a trail split.
Now it’s decision time. You’ve completed 4.6 miles. Are you ready to head back for a 7.4-mile loop? Or do you want a longer hike? This turnoff is a great place to create a longer or shorter hike.
For us, we turned on the Strawberry Jack Trail No. 710. While the trail was in the forest for a short time, after about a third of a mile on this trail we came to a great viewpoint. We walked into a burn zone, but in this spot, you could see for miles — the foothills in the distance, the snow-capped peaks way out there — it was impressive.
The trail wanders through this open area, heading downhill, back toward Pine Valley Ranch. There was a bit of surprise at one point when we passed a blue kiddie pool. A sign says it’s there for equestrians, so don’t go swimming.
As you hike in this section, you may notice some dramatic peaks to the east. A photo in the attached slideshow points out Banner Peak, Dome Rock and Cathedral Spires.
The trail winds through the burn zone, eventually coming to a trail split at 6.2 miles and the turnoff for the Park View Trail. You can stay on the Strawberry Jack Trail back to the Buck Gulch Trail and the lake where we started, or turn off here.
I like the Park View Trail because it has impressive views of Pine Valley Ranch below. However, the trail starts with a climb over a couple short hills, then it drops back into Pine Valley Ranch Park.
From the trail, you’ll likely see the nearby town of Pine Grove to the east, the scenic Pine Lake below you and even a large lodge. Baehrden Lodge was a 27-room summer home that was built in the 1920s for a wealthy Chicago utility company owner. If you look on the hill to your east, you may also spot an observatory that is open during events put on by the Lookout Mountain Nature Center.
At the bottom of the trail, return to the parking lot or you can stroll around the lake or explore the North Fork View-Narrow Gauge Trails.
Details: From the parking lot and around the Buck Gulch- Skipper-Strawberry Jack-Park View loop is about 7.4 miles with 1,350 feet of elevation gain.
Click here for a map of the Buffalo Creek Recreation Area trails. Pine Valley Ranch Park information/website.
For more Colorado hiking trails, check out this list of 400+ hikes in Colorado. Don’t miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.
Directions: From Denver, take Highway 285 south about 21 miles to Pine Junction. Turn south on County Road 126/Pine Valley Road. Take the windy road 5.8 miles and turn right on Crystal Lake Road. Follow the road about 1.3 miles to the lower parking lot where the road ends.