Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Brave this part of the Oak Creek Trail and its 2,500 feet of elevation gain, and you'll find yourself rewarded with sweeping views of Ouray, Lower Cascade Falls, the Amphitheater, and Box Canyon Falls. So close to downtown Ouray, this is one trail that's not to be missed.
Need to Know
Route finding can be especially laborious at points along the trail. If you're worried, be sure to bring the Hiking Project mobile app
or a paper map to steer you in the right direction.
The snowmelt in early spring can bring unsafe and impassable conditions crossing Oak Creek at the standard point of entry, but climbing about seventy feet upriver, I found a half-submerged line of boulders to provide a drier crossing.
Starting out on Pinecrest Drive, where the Oak Creek Trail shares its trailhead with the Twin Peaks Trail, the route climbs over one thousand feet in a steep series of switchbacks. One mile in, keep left to continue on up to the overlook, as the right fork branches off towards Twin Peaks. At about 9,500 feet, the trail then crosses its namesake creek at the crest of a waterfall.
The trail parallels Oak Creek’s opposite bank for about .75 miles until it draws away into an overgrown meadow. As the elevation climbs, route-finding grows increasingly difficult, but in its final ascent toward the overlook, the trail comes back full force, soon ending at a rock fin at the 10,500 foot overlook. From here, the view stretches all the way from the Amphitheater in the north to the lesser-known Darley Mountain in the south. Look to the west, and Whitehouse Mountain and a high waterfall along Oak Creek stand prominently against the horizon.
Flora & Fauna
Deer, mountain goat, and bighorn sightings are common, and an occasional mountain lion or bear can cross your path on any of the trails in Ouray.
History & Background
Oak Creek deposits its load in the Uncompahgre River, but the waterway originates way up on the eastern flanks of Whitehouse. A lost mining lode is said to exist somewhere near the head of Oak Creek, where two Californian miners struck gold in the 1800s. But with only a few sacks full of rich ore each, the Ute Indians chased them off the mountain, and the small quartz vein laced with pure gold was never found again. Follow the headwaters to Oak Creek and try your own hand at panning.
A quarter mile in, watch for the two adits on the side of the path, another indication of Ouray's illustrious mining history.