Buffalo Meadows Loop
excerpts from the book
Incredible Backcountry Trails 
by David Day

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Incredible Backcountry Trails
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    Distance: 11.4 miles (loop)

    Walking time:  7 1/2 hours

    : 1.900 ft. gain/loss
       Rich Creek Trailhead (start): 9,950 ft
       highest point: 11,560 ft. 

    Trail: Well marked, easy to follow

    Season: Midsummer through mid-fall. The higher parts of the trail are usually covered with snow from November through early July.

    Vicinity: near Breckenridge and Fairplay

    Buffalo MeadowsBuffalo Meadows


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    The Buffalo Meadows Loop is a somewhat long but very pleasant day hike that will take you through an interesting variety of mountain ecosystems. The route starts at the South Fork of the South Platte River and follows Rich Creek, a smaller tributary, to its headwaters. It then crosses a gentle alpine pass and drops down into the wide grassy valley known as Buffalo Meadows. From there the trail follows the Rough and Tumbling Creek down into a gorgeous riparian area that includes numerous beaver dams and lodges. Finally, the trail climbs up over the ridge that separates Rough and Tumbling Creek from the South Fork South Platte and returns to the trailhead.

    Immediately after leaving the parking area the trail crosses a well-constructed bridge that spans the South Fork of the South Platte River. Once on the south side of the river the trail turns right, and within 200 feet you will see a sign marking the beginning of the Buffalo Meadows loop. This loop can be walked in either direction, but the hike I describe below assumes you will bear right at the sign and begin by following Rich Creek.

    Over the next 30 minutes the trail crosses Rich Creek three times, finally coming to a junction above the north side of the creek where a spur trail branches off toward the Weston Pass Campground. Continue straight ahead at this junction, following the north side of Rich Creek in a westerly direction. The trail stays on the right side of the creek for the next 2.1 miles, climbing very gradually through an elevation gain of 800 feet. Initially the path is immersed in a conifer forest, but eventually it climbs out of the forest into a wide meadow of sagebrush and willows. Also at this point Rich Creek begins making a long, gradual turn to the south.

    As you proceed you will begin to notice a large number of beaver dams in the bottom of the drainage. Interestingly, the trail uses one of the larger dams to cross to the east side of the creek. You may get your feet wet at this point, but most people find it great fun to walk across the narrow, spongy 80-foot dam made of willows and mud. Notice the lodge behind the dam at the south end of the pond where the resident beaver family lives.

    Once on the east side of the creek the trail begins to veer away from the bottom of the drainage and back into the forest. Then, for the next 1.6 miles, it continues its gradual climb to the top of the low pass that separates Rich Creek from Rough and Tumbling Creek. After crossing the pass the path descends 1.4 miles to Rough and Tumbling Creek and Buffalo Meadows.

    When the trail reaches the valley floor you will come to another junction where the Rich Creek Trail joins the Tumble Creek Trail. In order to complete the loop you must turn left here, but before doing so you may want to follow the Tumble Creek Trail further south into the heart of Buffalo Meadows. The trail extends for another 5.5 miles, finally ending at Fourmile Creek on the southern boundary of the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area.

    The trail eastward along the Rough and Tumbling Creek is almost level for the next 1.0 mile. Then as the meadow gives way to forest the trail begins to loose elevation. The stream also begins to flow faster now as in descends through a steep V-shaped canyon. For the next 1.4 miles the water cascades noisily downward through a streambed full of boulders and fallen logs, making it clear how Rough and Tumbling Creek got its name.

    0.5 mile before the end of the steep canyon the trail veers away to the south and then returns to Rough and Tumbling Creek at its confluence with Lynch Creek. The Tumble Creek Trail also intersects the Lynch Creek Trail at the confluence, but the trails are well posted with signs directing you northward along the Tumble Creek Trail.

    For the next 1.3 miles the trail climbs slowly northward along the slopes on the west side of the Rough and Tumbling Creek. The personality of the creek is much different in this area. It has become a slow moving, meandering stream in the bottom of a lush, flat-bottomed valley filled with quaking aspen. This stretch of the Rough and Tumbling is a beaverís paradise, and, predictably enough, dozens of beaver dams can be seen below the trail.

    After about 30 minutes the Rough and Tumbling Creek turns east, and the trail begins climbing northward up the ridge that separates it from the trailhead. Most of the climb is through thick groves of aspen, but as you cross over to the north side of the ridge you will again find yourself in a familiar forest of Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir and, surprisingly, a fair amount of bristlecone pine. The ridge tops out 400 feet above Rough and Tumbling Creek, and from there the trail descends 350 feet back to the South Fork South Platte River and the trailhead.

    The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

    IIf you are interested in a supplemental map of the Buffalo Meadows loop trail
    we recommend:
    Leadville, Fairplay  (Trails Illustrated, map #110)

    Click here for DISCOUNTED MAP ORDERS

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