The approach drive is 21 miles from Silverton to Beartown, starting out on 110, then turning right onto 589, or the Alpine Loop, towards Stony Pass. It’s a really good idea to make a gpx file for this drive, as I’ve encountered several people who got lost in the area while taking side roads.
At the fork in the road, keep left to head towards Stony Pass.
The 4WD road quickly begins gaining elevation, but is easy to follow. There are several places to pass vehicles coming the other way. After about 5 miles, you’ll make it to Stony Pass.
From Stony Pass you’ll lose over 2000’ of elevation as you make your way east, towards the Rio Grande River.
I did this hike in September, when the river crossings were low. In fact, they were lower than I’d ever encountered them before, and my Tacoma had no problem crossing.
First river crossing:
Then there’s a junction. Stay right, and take the road that goes towards Beartown
Second river crossing:
From here you are now on 3A, and the road gets more difficult. It does feel like it’s been graded recently though, as it wasn’t as bad as I remember it being last year.
I parked at a nice campsite at 10890’. My truck could have made it further, but I love my truck, and didn’t want to drive it further down the road. Here’s the topo for the drive in
Now for the approach to Rock Lake. This entire approach is class 1.
Here are the stats:
2.7 miles and 1263’ of elevation gain from my parking spot to the top of Hunchback Pass
5 miles and 2349’ of elevation loss from Hunchback Pass to the Rock Lake cutoff
4.8 miles and 1713’ of elevation gain from the Rock Lake cutoff to Rock Lake.
I started out heading southwest along the dirt road (3A), towards the actual trailhead, passing a sign for Beartown along the way.
There were many capable vehicles parked at the trailhead
I followed the trail, 813/Vallecito Trail, as it wound its way up towards Hunchback Pass.
At this point I was above treeline, but that would soon change. From the top of the pass I descended down into the basin
Encountering willows (bring your rain gear) and re-entering treeline.
I crossed Nebo Creek, which is a great place to stop for lunch, or to filter water
This is where the downed trees began. There were dozens of them, but luckily this is also a horse trail, so there were paths already beginning to form around the downed trees.
At around 10135’ I came to the junction for the Rock Creek Trail. It’s marked by a wooden post, and easy to miss in the dark.
I turned left, and followed the Rock Creek Trail
The trail was easy to follow as it gained elevation, heading southeast, paralleling Rock Creek. I entered a wide basin (where I’d been charged by a bull moose on a previous trip to the area), and headed through willows towards Rock Lake.
The willows gave way to trees and switchbacks
Which gave way to more willows
At the end of the willows, was Rock Lake. From where I parked, it was a total of 12.51 miles with 3044’ of elevation gain to Rock Lake
There are tons of places to set up camp directly in front of the lake, but also on its east side. If you see campers set up on the north shore of the lake, realize there are many, many more along the trail ahead as well (hikers left).
Here’s my topo map for the route in from Beartown
And now some pictures of the way out, from Rock Lake back to the Vallecito Trail.
Back at the junction I turned right, and followed the Vallecito Trail. At this junction, there’s a great place to camp (if needed).
Now for the fun part: 2350’ of elevation gain back to Hunchback Pass
I re-crossed Nebo Creek
And came across tons of wild strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Since it was September, they were all ripe, and a great snack halfway back up the pass
I re-entered willows, and followed them towards Hunchback Pass
From the top of the pass, I headed back to the trailhead
From here you can see where I parked my truck
Back at the trailhead, I followed the 4WD dirt road back to my truck
When I got back, I found another vehicle parked in the campsite alongside mine, ready to combat those pesky marmots (I saw several on my drive out).
Here are some pictures of the drive out. Remember, it’s all left turns now to get back to Silverton.
After Stony Pass I came across a rather large herd of domestic sheep grazing on the hillsides
Here’s my topo map for the entire route
As always, please contact me if you’d like a gpx file for this route.