Silver Creek ...
Silver Creek is one of the most difficult trails in the immediate Denver area. Less than an hours drive west of Denver the Silver Creek trail leaves Lawson at 8,100 feet and quickly climbs to 11,000 feet in little more than five and a half miles finally connecting into the Lamartine trail network.
During the summer and fall months most of the trails that make up the Lamartine trail network are traversable by factory short and long wheel base 4-wheel drive vehicles equipped with a transfer case with 4-Lo, 8 to 10+" of ground clearance and A/T tires. These trails are favorites for the ATV and trail motorcycle crowd.
The Silver Creek trail is the exception! Consider a lift, 33+ inch A/T or M/T tires, rock skids, heavy skid plates, differential guards or heavy (1/4") differential covers, rear locking differential, winch and recovery gear a minimum for this trail. Only the first obstacle has a by-pass; all other obstacles must be traversed to continue up the trail. The trail is complicated by a couple dozen steep, tight switchbacks, a lack of turn-around points, and it"s general narrowness and steepness; there are very few places to allow another vehicle to pass or for a driver to turn around if the going gets too rough. On this trail expect to have to back up for a considerable distance at least once. This is a trail STRICTLY for Jeep Wrangler to Cherokee/Montero Sport/Explorer length/width vehicles; in no way should a full sized truck be considered!
The access trail to Silver Creek starts out at the west end of Lawson on the south side of Clear Creek and immediately becomes quite steep requiring 4-wheel drive to keep from spinning and tearing up the trail. Shortly as you drive up the trail you"ll pass a house on the right and the trail will appear to switch back to the right and continue up the side of the mountain while a smaller trail continues straight along the mountain to the east. This is the first of several unmarked forks in the trail.
From the first fork it"s possible to turn right or continue straight ahead. At this point a decision needs to be made. The right hand turn is the main trail and the bypass for the first obstacle; it continues for about ½ a mile before the side trail reconnects. The narrower trail ahead continues up and around the side of the mountain to the obstacle; it is narrow, steep and loose with some awkward, uneven shelf rock and deepening moguls. Before the obstacle is reached there is nowhere for another vehicle to pass so be prepared to back up for a considerable distance if you meet another vehicle coming up or down.
The first obstacle - while not technically on the Silver Creek trail - is a nasty grit covered, off camber, uneven 20 foot tall and 30 foot long outcropping of very slick granite. At the top of the outcropping are a couple large rocks sticking out and lots of loose dirt. This obstacle is frequently the site of rollovers and other carnage and should not be attempted with a stock 4-wheel drive vehicle - good ground clearance, rear locker, A/T tires and good articulation are minimum requirements. Beyond the top of the obstacle the trail continues for about another 40 yards before merging with the main trail.
Continuing up the mountain through several wide switchbacks and over lots of loose dirt and basketball size rocks the main trail eventually levels out and meets the stream Silver Creek. Here the left fork of the trail crosses Silver Creek while the right fork switches back northwest up and around the side of the mountain. This is officially the beginning of the Silver Creek trail. The trail stays fairly level for about a half a mile before beginning to climb again and the trail is very narrow with a sharp 1000 foot drop on the right to the highway visible below. If you have any problems backing up in a situation like this it"s probably best not to take this trail.
The next major obstacle - number two - appears about a mile from the fork. This obstacle is a rock shelf about five to six feet high and ten to twelve feet wide right on the spine of a ridge. You"ll approach the shelf on a fairly steep grade which makes it difficult for long nosed vehicles to judge wheel placement. Hitting this late in the afternoon also makes this obstacle difficult, as you"ll be facing straight into the setting sun. As you top the shelf you"ll need to make a hard 90 degree right hand turn into the next obstacle. This is a smaller version of the first shelf. There is a decent amount of maneuvering room as you make the turn as long as you take the first shelf slowly and turn quickly. Independent Front Suspension - IFS - equipped vehicles will find this turn rather awkward due to the tight required turn. Choose your line carefully as getting stuck halfway between obstacles will not make for a fun day. Ground clearance, decent articulation, a rear locker and good approach and departure angles will make a world of difference here. This obstacle is probably the easiest of the four major obstacles. From here to the third obstacle is about 1/3 of the entire trail. The trail continues being steep, rocky, and very narrow with only occasional space at the switchback for passing.
The third obstacle is relatively new being created by a rock fall caused by heavy rains. This obstacle is another rock shelf with a bunch of beach ball sized or bigger loose rocks - all of which is flanked on the right by a Honda Accord sized rock, which you have to skirt to the left. This is, of course, on a switchback. Thankfully, there is enough room to pull forward past the switchback and turn around so the approach to the rock jumble can be made in a straight line. There are two big rocks that will catch the front and rear differentials of any Montero Sport wheel base vehicle so a carefully thought out approach is necessary. It"s almost impossible to keep from slipping here so a spotter is handy to have as well as good - non-factory - skid plates, rock skids and differential guards. Montero and Montero Sport owners will appreciate the new 2.85 ratio transfer case gears - this is NOT the place to try the "velocity method". As you top the shelf and round the Honda sized rock you"ll make a steep accent for about 50 yards through a bunch of big half buried rocks and dug out holes. From here to the "rock garden", the last obstacle, the trail climbs and drops a couple times a little until the last accent into the "rock garden".
The last obstacle, the "rock garden", is a jumble of stove to refrigerator-sized rocks and holes, loose dirt and rocks, tree roots and vertical tree obstacles for the tall vehicles on a very steep incline. This section of trail climbs about 170 feet in not much more than 200 feet. At this point the trail requires a lot of ground clearance, rock skids, good skid plates, lower gearing, A/T or M/T tires, front and rear locking differentials, a LOT of articulation and good approach and departure angles. A winch wouldn"t be a bad thing to have here either. This obstacle has something of a by-pass - although the by-pass isn"t much easier then the actual obstacle. The by-pass weaves back and forth across the main trail in switchbacks. The by-pass has a few large rocks and several hole/tree root combinations but the biggest obstacle concerns high profile vehicles like Monteros and Montero Sports or any lifted long wheel base vehicle. Trees are packed very closely alongside the by-pass trail at inappropriate points. High profile vehicles will tend to be tipped into the tree trunks and branches so extreme care must be taken to avoid upper body damage. Even the by-pass trail requires at the least decent articulation, good skid plates, rock skids, A/T tires, and a lift. Good approach and departure angles would also be very helpful. Once past the "rock garden" the trail continues steeply up the side of the mountain.
The trail continues for about a mile from the "rock garden" to the top of the trail where it merges with the Lamartine trail network. Once past the "rock garden" the trail continues to be steep and rough with lots of loose beach ball to bar "fridge sized rocks and loose dirt. There are a couple short off-camber sections, which should be no problem even for lifted vehicles as long as the trail is dry. Negotiate the trail carefully and slowly. The loose rocks can tend to "throw" the front of a vehicle in completely undesirable directions before you realize what"s happening.
Update: June 2009 This trail has gotten considerably worse since this review was initially written. This trail now ranks 4.5 on the 1-5 4-wheel drive trail scale. The first obstacle noted above at the beginning of the trail is much more dug out at the bottom and washed out at the top. This obstacle should not be attempted without both front and rear locking differentials, big, aired down MT/s, a spotter and a second vehicle stationed at the top for assistance if necessary. There is a very high risk of roll-over. Use extreme caution!
Obstacle number two, the high step on the shelf road is also much more dug out both at the base and at the top. This is more of a problem for short wheel base vehicles like Jeep TJs, YJs, etc. This climb is steep enough that the risk of fipping over backwards is significant. I strongly sugest walking this obstacle before attempting to drive it. The dug out holes and rocks just past the step can be a nasty surprise.
About a quarter of a mile before the Rock Garden several large rocks have come down and landed in the road just as finish a 180 degree switch back. This is now another obstacle. Be very carefull here. It doesn't look like much but some injudicious use of the throttle on the wrong line can cause a roll-over. The rocks and surrounding ground is covered in oil spots from punctured transmission pans and other various broke parts. Very high ground clearance and big tires are required here. If you're driving a lightly to moderately modified vehicle and made it this far then here is where you turn around and start back down. The next obstacle is the Rock Garden. It makes everything that came before look like a quiet Sunday drive in the park.