Hiking in the Flat Tops Wilderness: Devil's Causeway

YAMPA, Colo. - One of the "bucket list" hikes for many Coloradans is the Devil's Causeway. The landmark is a thin strip of rock in the Flat Tops Wilderness near Steamboat Springs. The isthmus of sorts is just two feet wide, about 100 feet long, with dropoffs of about 1,000 feet.

*See a slideshow of images of the hike: http://ch7ne.ws/1b7V4ic

The hike starts near Yampa (directions below). At the trailhead go right, around the sign boards, and start hiking through the willows. Come here early in the season and you may be walking through water in this area.

The trail follows the shoreline of Stillwater Reservoir for about a half mile. The trail goes up and down a bit through a wildflower-filled meadow. Enjoy the views of the reservoir, the cliffs in the distance and try counting how many different wildflowers you see.

About 0.75 miles from the trailhead, you'll come to a register. Please let the Forest Service know where you're from and where you're going.

A few steps later, you'll come to your first trail split. This is the Devil's Causeway loop. I suggest turning right on the East Fork Trail, it's the shortest way to the Causeway. I think it's best to do the Causeway as early as possible to avoid thunderstorms and crowds.

The East Fork Trail begins to climb in the forest. This trail can be steep at times. If you're finding yourself struggling to catch your breath, remember you are hiking at 10,400 feet -- nearly twice the elevation of Denver.

As you hike through the forest, notice how thick the forest is here, listen for birds and look for tarns (small lakes).

From the trail split it's about a mile to the turnoff to the Little Causeway Lake. At the turnoff, we stopped for photos of the lake with the Devil's Causeway above. You can't tell it's the Devil's Causeway from this angle, but it is.

Quite honestly, we didn't hike to the lake's shore. We knew we'd be climbing above this lake to get good pictures and since we had a big hike ahead of us, we decided to continue on.

Here the trail gets steeper, don't worry it mellows out as it hangs on the side of one of the flat tops here. You'll hike a hanging trail of sorts above the lake.

Two miles from the trailhead, the trail suddenly crests a ridge putting hikers at the edge of a meadow. This is a beautiful spot. Enjoy the meadow, the 360 degree views, and look at the cirque ahead of you -- you may spot the steep switchbacks ahead.

Hike about 0.2 miles through the meadow and begin hiking the switchbacks. You're going to gain about 340 feet of elevation in the next 0.45 miles. Take your time here, there's no rush. Remember to turn around occasionally and see the remarkable views behind you.

At the top of this climb, there's another wildflower-filled meadow, but this one is small. There's also a trail split here. Hikers doing the big loop to Round Lake, Long Lake, Lost lakes, etc. go right.

Hikers going to Devil's Causeway turn left here. Yep, there's another steep climb here. But before you head up, walk across the meadow for a view of Causeway Lake below and the scenic cliffs to the west.

Then it's time to climb. This next section of trail climbs about 250 feet in 0.2 miles. At the top of the climb, walk across the ridge a short distance to the Devil's Causeway section.

You can't miss the Causeway. It's the place where the ridge turns rocky and gets quite skinny. Not everyone can hike across this section -- some people crawl, some people turn around, others easily walk across. Just be very careful, there are extremely steep dropoffs on both sides.

On the other side it's decision time:

- You can cross back on the Causeway and return the way you came for a round trip hike of about 6 miles.

- Continue west to the Chinese Wall Trail and loop back via Mosquito Lake for a hike of about 10.6 miles.

-  Continue west to the Chinese Wall Trail and turn north for the big loop around Lost Lake, Long Lake, Round Lake and others.

Directions: Drive to Yampa and turn at the sign for the "business district." Drive through town to Highway 7. A sign here tells visitors Stillwater Reservoir is 17 miles. You'll drive on a paved road, then a bumpy dirt road to Stillwater Reservoir at the end of the road. Use the turn around at the end of the road and find a parking space. There is a portapotty here and some signs, but no good trail maps.

Want more hikes and Colorado adventures? Check out our Discover Colorado page: http://www.thedenverchannel.com/lifestyle/discover_colorado