inside mad creek barn

Roadtrip to the Rockies: Mad Creek Trail

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  • Mad Creek Trail
  • Distance:  8.8 miles RT
  • Type: Moderate, Out-and-Back
  • Elevation Gain: 1,322 ft
  • Other: Toilets Available, Dogs Allowed
  • All Trails Link

Mad Creek Trailhead is located about 15 minutes northwest of downtown Steamboat Springs in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.  It is a very good trail for visitors from lower elevation as it only gains 1,322 feet over 4.4 miles which makes for a gradual grade.

Mad Creek

The first and last miles on this moderate out-and-back path are the steepest sections, with the middle two miles being relatively flat.

mad creek trail

Uniquely, despite being called Mad Creek Trail on the All Trails App, the sign posted at the start identifies the path as Swamp Park Trail.  Regardless, this is the correct track to take.

The dirt path ascends through southwestern like terrain shrubbed with scrub oak, dotted with enormous dandelions, and filled with countless wildflowers.  Pink wild geraniums, red Indian paintbrush, yellow salsify, and purple penstemon are just few in full bloom at the end of June in the Mad Creek area.

Butterflies are also prevalent.  I’m not sure if swarm is the correct technical jargon, but it is the best way to describe the numerous butterflies that flock to the abundant wildflowers.

butterfly on mad creek trail

The path continues through a gate to an open meadow with excellent views of the creek below.  A side path will take hikers all the way to the water.

view of mad creek

The Barn

Mad Creek Trail widens as it reaches a historic barn from the early 1900’s.  Hikers may go inside and even upstairs.  The ladder rungs are next to one of the windows. I love that people are allowed in the recently restored barn without supervision.  Please be respectful so that others may enjoy it too.

From the barn, Mad Creek Trail veers to the right where hikers soon come to a fork.  To the right is a bridge which offers a good photo op, but to continue on Swamp Park/Mad Creek Trail, go straight through the opening in the fence and keep the creek on the right.


The trail continues past a crumbled cabin, through another meadow and small groves of aspen trees until it reaches a field blanketed in mule’s ear.  The wildflowers are just tremendous in the Mad Creek at the end of June. Click for a panoramic video of the meadow.

mule's ear on mad creek trail

The path continues past wild rose, Canadian anemone, sunflowers, and orchids.  I couldn’t begin to name all the flowers that create the kaleidoscope of colors.


Eventually the trail sidles up to the creek.  A few fallen trees welcome a short rest and snack before tackling the next climb. Or turning around early makes for a respectable 6.8 mile hike rather than an 8.8 miler. ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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