Ever since I saw this trail listed in my Falcon Guide hiking book, I’ve wanted to do it, and we finally made it out Sunday after church. The Iron Mountain Loop explores the eastern corner of the Black Elk Wilderness. Other sources list it as a 5.1 mile loop, but we came out at exactly 6 miles. It is a pretty gentle trail overall, but it is long enough and has enough up and down to make it a solid hike that I do think most would enjoy, whether experienced or novice.
Basic directions for this hike: Start at the Iron Mountain Picnic Area, where the trailhead is clearly marked as Centennial Trail 89B. About a quarter mile down the trail, the trail splits. We hiked clockwise around the loop, so we took the left hand trail, which is the Iron Mountain Trail #16. Eventually the trail intersects with FS 345. Take a right and follow this road for about a mile or mile and a half, with multiple bridges crossing creeks at various points. The Grizzly Bear Creek Trailhead will be on the right hand side of the road. Follow Grizzly Bear Creek Trail for a little less than a mile, taking a right onto the Centennial Trail. After a little more than a half mile, take the Centennial Bypass, clearly marked towards the Iron Mountain Picnic Area, to complete the loop.
This time of year is one of the prettiest in the Hills, when all the aspens and other hardwoods start to turn and brighten up the dark ponderosa and spruce forests. Wildflowers are still abundant, but are quickly being overshadowed by the brilliance of the autumn foliage. Deer, squirrels, snakes, and a few sleepy bumblebees were pretty much the extent of the wildlife we saw. Maybe we hike too loud. After all, a group hike is a social event!The landscape was stunning, of course, particularly with the autumn sneaking up on us. One website mentioned a “waterfall feature,” which really was just a pile of rocks down which the water fell a few feet, but it was beautiful nonetheless. I would love to see this trail in the springtime or early summer, since I’m sure the wildflowers would be more than abundant in this area! To top off the day, we got dinner at the Himalayan restaurant in Keystone, which I now can highly recommend. Definitely a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon! God’s creation and Christian fellowship. A lovely afternoon.