If you hike in Butler Gulch and haven’t done the whole “lollipop loop trail” then you are missing the best part of the entire hike where you will see a stunning 360 degree view. Most people end their hike at the old mine (Jean Mine) where some rusty remnants of machinery are spread out at the mouth of the once active lead mine. Some go farther beyond to the base of Continental Divide then turn around, which we sometimes do as well when we spend a lot of time taking pictures of the wildflowers (See Hiking in Arapaho National Forest). But the trail continues into a loop beyond the mine, along the top of the ridge and then joins the main trail.
TO GET HERE
From Denver to the trail is a little over an hour drive via I-70 W. Take Exit 232 (US-40 W) through Empire. Turn left to Jones Pass/Henderson Mine (County Road 202) then follow the road for 2.6 miles, the trailhead is on the left. The parking space here is very small so you will have to be early or park along the road, where there are plenty of spaces.
BUTLER GULCH "LOLLIPOP LOOP" TRAIL - 6 miles
This is a short trail. It follows an old mining road with dense trees on both sides lending shade much of the way. It’s all uphill with some steep areas and soggy crossings. Then 1.5 mile from the beginning of the trail is a cascading waterfall. It's a nice stopping point, to have snack to boost your energy while enjoying the sound of the water as it flows down, before continuing uphill again.
Above tree line, during the peak season of wildflowers, you will find an amazing colorful landscape. This is one of the best spots for wildflowers in the high mountains of the Front Range of Colorado. The example below was taken during one of the hikes we did during the wildflower season.
But even without wildflowers the stunning surrounding landscape alone is enough to motivate you to take this hike whatever the season.
In taking the "lollipop" loop trail, hikers usually follow the counterclockwise route by going first to the old mine then following the trail to the ridge at the base of Continental Divide.
For me and my husband Hermann. we find it easier to follow the trail clockwise. Although the trail is steep going up to the ridge this way, it is short enough that it’s not hard work. It's more dangerous hiking down on a steep slope with loose gravel if you start at the other end. We've seen hikers going on fours hiking down. Some hikers can take it though, and with dogs along with them believe it or not. So, as they say, “whatever floats your boat” is fine.
So, when following the clockwise route, there is a fork on the left from the main trail just as the trail begin to level out. It's the beginning of the loop trail and can be easily missed if you're not paying attention, especially when you're busy chatting with fellow hikers. The trail follows the hump along the trees before the switchback ascent begins. Picture below shows the trail to the ridge.
The short switchback trail is challenging but if you have hiking poles with you it will add security to your balance when you step on loose gravel.
Once you reach the top of the ridge, you will be amazed at the view around you. On the other side of the ridge, on the south side, look below and you will find a lake, or pond. Wherever you look you will see some high mountains over 13,000 feet elevation.
It can be windy on top so be careful not to get too close to the edge. It is tempting to go to the edge and look down but that's how you can get into trouble. The view is stunning all around all the way so bring your camera.
The trail follows the ridge for about 0.35 miles before it starts to descend. Here, you will get a different perspective of the landscape. Stunning views wherever you look! On this hike the wildflowers were replaced by the copper and reddish color vegetation, the beginning of Fall in the high mountains. It starts early up high. Down from the ridge the trail passes by the old mine. Here, you will find evidence of mining artifacts along the trail. But that doesn't detract from the beauty of the place. Hermann can't resist sitting on this old rusty vehicle and inspect other remnants of the once active lead mine whenever we hike here.
NOTE: It is wise to start early since weather can change in a moment's notice in the high mountains. Afternoon thunderstorms are common, you don't want to get caught up there.
OTHER HIKING TRAILS IN ARAPAHO NATIONAL FOREST: