The Wheeler National Recreation Trail is one of the best places in the White River National Forest to hang out with wildlife and get a slice of alpine glory all to yourself. Following the ridgeline of the Tenmile Range, this steep, high-mountain route in the Colorado Rockies has breathtaking views of both Breckenridge and Copper Mountain. Despite being a mixed use trail open to mountain bikers, equestrians, and even the occasional trail runner, it’s more likely that you’ll pass a marmot up there than another human.
What Makes It Great
The narrow singletrack weaves through meadows bursting with wildflowers, past ponds, up and over alpine tundra, and through the lower elevation stands of spruce and fir for a heart-pumping day that you won’t soon forget. You’ll forget how much your lungs might be burning as each view is better than the last as you climb up on the trail. Keep an eye out for wildlife on the trail, and you might catch a glimpse of an elk, pika, mule deer, or a variety of birds.
From the ridge, enjoy views of the upper Blue River valley, the town of Breckenridge, the Breckenridge Ski Area, and the remains of mining days past. For the serious photographers out there, try and get a very early start and catch the morning light rising across the valley. But photographer or not, hit the trail early in the day to avoid the thunderstorms that are common during summers in the Rocky Mountains.
One of the big advantages of this trail is that there are variety of ways it can be enjoyed. There are several access points from other trails, and it can be a point-to-point or out-and-back hike, depending on how much time you have.
Late spring brings an explosion of colorful wildflowers in the meadows, including Indian paintbrush, clover, and alpine sunflowers. Even the tundra is dotted with tiny bright flowers and slopes covered in alpine forget-me-nots are sure to leave an impression. In the fall, aspens give the trail a golden glow.
Who is Going to Love It
Not for the faint of heart, this trail provides a challenge for most levels of hiker, though the payoff is some seriously spectacular views. Trail runners looking for a good burn love the well-defined singletrack. Backpackers and campers can also be seen dotting the landscape in the lower elevations—it’s a great overnight if you are looking for a bit solitude but don’t want to drive for hours.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Access #1 (Wheeler Junction near Copper Mountain): From I-70 take Exit 195, Copper Mountain / Leadville, and travel south on HWY 91 toward Leadville. Immediately past I-70, turn left at the gas station and continue on the road to the parking area.
Access #2 (North of McCullough Gulch) From I-70 take Exit 203, Frisco/Breckenridge, and travel south on Hwy 9 toward Breckenridge. Continue through Breckenridge and travel approximately 7.4 miles past the last traffic light in Breckenridge at Boreas Pass Road. You will pass through the town of Blue River on the way toward Blue Lakes Road (FDR 850) where you will turn right. Turn right onto McCullough Gulch Road (FDR 851) approximately 0.1 miles from HWY 9. At the fork in the road in approximately 1.7 miles, stay right. You will come to the trail marked with a small sign.