Wheeler Lake Trail sits nestled in a high alpine valley in Colorado’s Park County. This 5-mile in-and-out trail is rated in the mid/upper moderate level at a 5 to 7, but it does offer a good pucker factor for those willing to push their Jeeps a bit. The high-elevation trail begins at 10,800 feet and climbs to just over 12,100 at the lake. Most of the fun obstacles are within the first 1.5 miles of this trail, and it can take you a couple of hours to traverse this distance as you play along the way.
Much of this trail crosses private property and is narrow and overgrown with brush, so pinstriping and scratches will happen. There are very few places to pull off and let other vehicles pass, and a very limited sight distance, so proceed slowly and with caution. This area was settled in 1861 when gold was discovered, and there is still evidence of the past mining activity as you head up the trail. The gold played out in the late 1860s when miners moved on to richer grounds. Silver discoveries brought renewed prosperity to the district in 1881, but the silver crash of 1893 ended the hopes and dreams of those that lived here. What remains of the town of Montgomery lies at the bottom of the reservoir near the parking area at the trailhead.
The trail requires low range almost from the get-go, and the scenery is outstanding. You pass the old Magnolia Mill with its beautiful waterfall. The first major obstacle you encounter is known as “The Flopper”—a slightly milder bypass option is available to the left side, but the right-hand line offers the opportunity to get the passenger-side front tire in the air. Those wanting more of a challenge can try a tippy line up the middle. A short distance up the winding overgrown trail is the best obstacle section of the trail, and here you have multiple options for breakage and mishaps. I like to call this area “Pick Your Poison,” but it is commonly known as “The V Notch.” The left side offers the greatest challenge and has been known to snap axleshafts if you are too heavy on the throttle. The V Notch is the right-hand line, and having a good spotter is essential to not slipping off the line. The bypass is a Z-turn through the middle of both harder lines.
From here the trail meanders through heavy brush, water, and some rocky sections. As you near tree line you come to Bowling Ball Hill, a fairly steep and very rocky section that can change after each rig passes through. A large boulder marks a tight right-hand turn into a ledge area where you can get in a bind if you aren’t careful. From that point on, it’s just a short, bumpy jaunt to the top where you will be greeted with views down on the valley, over the lake and waterfall, with wildflowers galore. For additional information on Wheeler Lake Trail please contact Mile-Hi Jeep Club at mhjc.org; they have adopted and maintain this trail.