Well, summer is here [just around the corner], and that means the high country snows are melting out, allowing anglers to access the numerous alpine lakes of the Zirkel Wilderness just northeast of Steamboat Springs. While most folks are familiar with the world-class fly fishing found in the Yampa River flowing through Steamboat Springs, this area is also blessed with outstanding lake fishing, primarily in the high alpine country of the nearby Zirkel and Flat Tops Wilderness areas.
There are literally hundreds of lakes to choose from in and adjacent to these large wilderness areas, ranging from massive man-made reservoirs like Steamboat Lake and Yamcolo Reservoir, to small and secluded pocket lakes hidden deep in the backcountry and only accessible by foot or horseback. While the big lakes have their merits, I prefer a more primitive experience, and that means seeking out the blue blobs on the maps that aren’t accessible by road.
The Slavonia Trailhead just outside of Clark is the launching pad for both short day trips to nearby lakes and streams to long multi-day excursions into the furthest reaches of the Zirkel Wilderness. And while there are several trails and destinations to choose from out of the Slavonia Trailhead, one of my favorites is the Mica Lake Basin below Little Agnes Peak.
The Mica Lake Basin has a little bit of all the things that make the Zirkel Wilderness such a special place. A relatively short but challenging trail, big meadows full of blooming wildflowers, high craggy peaks, and a beautiful alpine lake with the opportunity to catch wild fish in a stunning setting.
The trail to Mica Lake is just short of four miles in length, making the trip attainable as a long day hike, or better yet, as an easy overnight destination. The trail is well-marked and begins by traveling up the dense aspen and pine forests surrounding Gilpin Creek. After about 1.5 miles, you’ll reach an intersection where the Mica Lake trail takes a sharp turn to the north and begins switch-backing up the steep slopes of Mica Creek. With the steeper angle and southern facing slopes, this part of the trail can be sunny and warm, so be sure to take your time here. There are a couple of hidden swimming holes in Mica Creek that you can spot from the switchbacks if you’re game for a cool, refreshing dip.
About 1.5 miles from Mica Lake, the trail enters an open valley, and you can catch outstanding views of Big and Little Agnes peaks towering above. One more relatively steep section and you’ll see it—Mica Lake. With water cascading into the lake from the surrounding hills, wildflowers decorating the base of large granite boulders, and idyllic campsites hidden in the pine trees above the lake basin itself, the Mica Lake basin is a stunningly beautiful, take-your-breath-away kind of place. And the fishing in Mica Lake is about as simple as it gets. Just about any type of dry fly or small streamer will work. I like a simple parachute adams or small black wooly bugger. In the evenings you’ll see fish rising all over the surface of the lake and the occasional “hog” prowling the shallows. Trekking and fishing the Zirkels is a true wilderness experience, with exceptionally beautiful trout to catch while picturesque views are reflected back to you in the looking glass of the high alpine lake water.
For more information contact the United States Forest Service’s Hahn’s Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District in Steamboat Springs.