Hike the Devil's Causeway Loop

10.5 miles 1550 ft gain  - Loop Trail

Added by Brian Lewis

Test your comfort with dramatic exposure with a vertigo-inducing crossing of a narrow stretch of rocky terrain. Get a taste of the expansive high-altitude grassy plateaus unique to the Flat Tops Wilderness. Lounge or camp alongside beautiful mountain lakes and a trout-filled river.

Crossing the Devil's Causeway is a rite of passage for Colorado hikers. The dramatic exposure will terrify some and exhilarate others, but the loop offers much more than the short rocky expanse that's the draw for most people.

The Approach:
From the trailhead at Stillwater Reservoir, the East Fork Trail (#1119) is obvious as it follows the shore of the reservoir and meets the junction of the Bear River Trail (#1120). Stay right on the East Fork Trail at this junction and navigate gentle terrain past Little Causeway Lake on your left. After the lake, the trail climbs significantly, switchbacking up to a saddle on the ridge before the causeway. Take a left at the saddle and push through the final steep, but very short, climb to the high point of the ridge.

The Devil's Causeway:
At this point, you're now facing the main obstacle of the loop, and likely the reason you came here - the Devil's Causeway. The rocky land bridge sits at an elevation of 11,800 feet and features dizzying drop-offs on both sides. It's only about 50 feet in length and 3-feet wide at it's narrowest point. But the rock is very solid and the true obstacle is the mental battle you'll have over the exposure.

This is a good point to assess the weather and how you're feeling about the crossing. If there is any threat of lightning or other bad weather, consider turning back and crossing another time. There is absolutely no retreat on the causeway and once across, you have to hike 2-3 miles of open tundra with no shelter from the weather before descending back into the trees.

But if all is good, start your crossing. Take your time and find a technique that is comfortable for you. Some are able to walk normally over the rocks; others use their hands to maintain three or four points of contact; and others will even scoot across on their knees or butts.

The Grassy Plateaus:
After a safe crossing of the causeway, the trail continues across a flat expanse of tundra grass on a high plateau that is very characteristic of the Flat Tops. Look for large rock cairns and wooden poles that mark the trail. There are also a few intersecting trails in this area that could lead to longer backpacking trips deeper into the wilderness area.

The Bear River Drainage:
After about 2.5 miles on the plateau, the trail bends to the left and you'll start to descend, eventually intersecting with the Bear River Trail (#1120) which takes you into the drainage of the Bear River. The trail descends steeply off the plateau then levels out as it follows the meandering Bear River through beautiful meadows fringed by steep cliff bands. You'll pass Mosquito Lake on your left, which has excellent camping if you're backpacking. Otherwise, follow the gentle trail back to Stillwater Reservoir and take a right at the trail #1119 junction back to the trailhead.

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Overall rating: 

Beautiful, Exhausting, Worth It

While the specs of the hike don't sound tough, it is a surprisingly difficult hike with steep switchbacks and uphills (with little else but dirt, so wear shoes with good tread). It is absolutely worth it - the flowers, fields, and peak views are beautiful. Early on, you'll reach a fork where the path splits into a few directions, be sure to follow signs for Trail 1119 (this is Devil's Causeway). None of the trails are listed by name or nickname, only trail number. You'll walk on a narrow path along fields (peppered with vibrant wildflowers if your timing is right - we were there mid-July). There's little shade cover so consider heat and sun preparation. The first 2/3 of the hike is a balance of flat and uphill, nothing too intimidating, though a few of the uphill stints may leave you needing a short break. At one point, you'll reach a narrow uphill that looks over a rock-covered field and a lake, then beyond that, another uphill through a field, and finally, you reach the switchback section, leading up to the final vertical scramble up to the causeway crossing. This last 1/3 of the hike is tiring, steep, and maybe even technically challenging in certain parts. You'll also meet a number of other hikers, as it's a well-traveled trail, so be prepared to share the narrow trail. Once you reach the top of the causeway, you'll cross over a very narrow series of boulders that sharply drop on either side - it's an uneven 10 foot-wide (ish) crossing - I crossed by crawling on feet and hands, no shame! The views from the top are beautiful and the adrenaline rush from the crossing is a thrill. The hike is challenging but really pretty - well worth the effort and inevitable exhaustion that follows. Don't forget sandals to change into once you've gotten back to the car - a lifesaver!

A hike of great emotions

We hiked this loop clockwise in July. This trail has so much to offer, many lakes, ponds and rivers. Also many Mosquitoes so come prepared. The views are constantly changing. There is a good shelf with many possible camp sites just below tree line. Many beautiful small streams running below snow fields. Once on the high tundra the flat top area is so vast. From here you you will have views into so many different valleys as you travel towards the causeway. Standing before the crux of the causeway is overwhelming, but with some 8 miles behind you there is only one way home, you must cross. Even after the high of the crossing there was still more adventure ahead.

Tightrope Walk On Top Of The World!

The hike up is beautiful in and of itself and is a convenient trail for nearby campers. At the end is a bit of a "stairway to heaven" as you ascend up to the top of the flat tops. Crossing the causeway isn't just a narrow trail with a 1,000+ foot drop off...you're walking (or crawling) over boulders at the same time.

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