Hiking Mount Royal: Dillon, Colorado


As Day 4 came to a close, I was snapping some shots of the Dillon Reservoir, when I happened to turn back to the west, and shoot this photo of Frisco, Peak One (the highest peak), and Mount Royal — it’s that little cliff, protruding from the side of the bigger mountain.  I didn’t really think Mount Royal deserved to be called a “Mountain”, all on its own — at least, until I tried climbing it.  Gaining about 1,500 feet of elevation in just a mile and a half will give you a new respect for any mountain.

It wasn’t until Day 8 that I found time to tackle Mount Royal.  And finding time was a most remarkable feat.  Day 8 was my fly-home day.  I had to be back in Denver by mid-afternoon, to return the car, check in my bags, and get on a plane.  After a week of hiking, it would have been quite easy to sleep late, check out of my hotel in Silverthorne, and make a leisurely drive back to DIA.  Thankfully, I didn’t let laziness get the best of me.  I arranged a late checkout at my hotel, got up early, and drove into Frisco, for one last lung-straining hike.

The trailhead for the Mount Royal trail is a short walk down a paved pedestrian/bicycle path.  You can leave your car at a parking area, just off Exit 201 at the edge of town.  Cross the footbridge from the parking area, and you’ll run into the trail.

I happened to be there in the middle of some sort of biking event.  I felt a bit out-of-place amongst hundreds of cyclists, but I managed to avoid them, and walk down the trail (towards Frisco and Breckenridge)…

… until I located the official trailhead for Mount Royal and Peak One.

Hopefully, you enjoyed the flat walk along the paved bike path, because that’s the only easy part of this trail. As soon as you step onto the dirt, you’ll be gaining altitude, and it doesn’t stop until you’re at the top.

Masontown Ghost Townsite

About halfway up the trail, give or take, you’ll come upon the ruins of Masontown.  If you’re looking for a full-fledged ghost town, you’ll be disappointed.

Most of what remains of Masontown is rusty junk.

Masontown was never quite a town, it was more of a mining camp.  It did have a few permanent (okay, not quite permanent) buildings, including a boarding house and a mill.  Unfortunately, they were all built in an avalanche path, and in 1926 the inevitable occurred.

You’ll have to look closely to spot the remnants of Masontown.  I didn’t notice this chunk of an old brick foundation until I passed by, on my way down the hill.

I also found this segment of an old wall…

… and a couple of areas that looked like ditches, though I suspect they were basements.

Another trail diverges here, and I followed it for a few hundred feet, hoping it would reveal something that better resembled a ghost town.  I didn’t find anything.

Once you’ve explored Masontown, it’s time to commit to the long, uneventful climb uphill to Mount Royal.  You still have about 1,000 vertical feet to climb, and most of it goes by on a remarkably straight stretch of path.  It’s an uphill march that’s unrelenting, with no scenic views along the way — just trees.

Near the top, the trail splits, without any kind of a sign to provide advice.  I decided to go right, which was the correct decision (going left, I assume, would take you on up to Peak One — a much longer climb than I had the time or strength to accomplish).

Mount Royal

A few hundred yards after that split, you reach a clearing, and it’s obvious where you’re headed next.

The protruding peak of Mount Royal is up ahead, and its sheer cliff is at your feet.  Along here, there are numerous places from which you can dangle your feet, while admiring the matchbox-sized cars that are rolling along I-70, more than a quarter of a vertical mile below you.

Looking westbound (though it’s actually more to the south at this point), Interstate 70 enters Ten Mile Canyon.

At the top of Mount Royal, you’ll find a wide assortment of weathered, dead tree stumps for your photographic pleasure.

From here, Peak One looks quite do-able, don’t you think?

That’s exit 201.  The parking area for the bicycle path is underneath my right foot.

If you look far into the distance, you can see Silverthorne from here, and you could even spot my hotel, if the image was a little bigger.

I didn’t have time to walk all the way out to that final pinnacle.  I went part of the way…

… and ran into this guy.  This Rocky Mountain goat was headed the same direction as me…

… and he was quite patient with me, as I followed along behind him, snapping pictures.

These creatures are usually laid-back and friendly, though they can charge you.  A couple of times, this guy gave me a look that said, “Okay, that’s close enough”, but then he’d mosey along.

As he headed on out towards the final ledge of Mount Royal, I decided to leave him alone.  I found my own perch for a few minutes of reflection on the past eight days, and a prayer for the journey home.  Then, I made the 1,500-foot descent back to the car.

My schedule worked out perfectly, because I had just enough time to shower and change at the hotel, before my deadline for leaving for Denver.  As much as I’ve traveled, it’s still hard to believe that you can start your day hiking above 10,000 feet, and end it at sea level in Florida.

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