Pavilion Point Trail
Location: Silver Plume
Length: 3.75 miles one way
Altitude gain: 900 feet
Highest point: 10,000 feet
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Of yore, mighty trainloads of silver-laden argentiferous ores poured down the slopes of Leavenworth Mountain on their way to distant smelters. Savvy prospectors can still find riches aplenty on Leavenworth’s steep flanks, although gold is king in Silver Plume these days, and his gala coronation is conducted anew each autumn in nature’s grand cathedral.
For connoisseurs of fall finery, it doesn’t get any better than the Pavilion Point Trail, a relatively indulgent off-road amenity offering a delightfully intimate look at Clear Creek County’s most public seasonal spectacle. To stake your own claim, exit at Silver Plume, jog south under Interstate 70, and sidle west for a quarter mile along the dirt access road that parallels the highway. Then get out your camera, because you’ll need it.
Plunging into dense pine and spruce, you’ll find yourself sauntering due east, and gaining height steadily, but not hastily. Within just a few hundred yards you’ll behold one of Clear Creek’s least-seen and most-enchanting panoramas – Silver Plume laid out beneath you in its pioneering entirety. But don’t fill up your photo-chip at the very first vantage, because the view only gets better.
The trail carves five long switchbacks through the forest on its way up the mountainside, and offers a remarkable showcase of Clear Creek’s sterling historical pedigree. That’s because it lies atop the ancient Argentine Central Railroad grade, which provides both an ascent gentle enough for heavily burdened steam engines and lightly conditioned pedestrians alike, and a very personal look at artifacts, great and small, from the Argentine’s bright mineral past. Massive ore-chutes lumber past at intervals, and mossy, dry-laid stone revetments support the ground beneath your feet. Short spurs projecting ahead at each about-face in the trail should be explored to the fullest, because each comes equipped with its own fascinating freight.
For our purpose, the trail concludes four miles from where it began, although persons of particular energy can follow the broad rail-bed into the high Argentine if they feel like it. You’ll know you’ve reached Pavilion Point when you meet a lonesome-looking stone chimney standing watch at a spot that, were it less densely wooded, might supply fine views of Georgetown. Promoters with more ambition than good fortune once undertook to construct a posh mountain resort in that place, but little besides the solitary smokestack remains.
To the remote observer, Leavenworth Mountain appears only casually painted with Colorado’s signature softwood. And yet, be it by design or happy happenstance, the Argentine Central seems to steam straight through the heart of every quaking grove on the mountainside. In many places, towering specimens reaching up to catch the westering sun blaze like molten gold. In many others, dense concentrations of thin, white trunks press close enough to muffle all sound except the quiet swish of your feet through a carpet of brilliant doubloons.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of autumn on Pavilion Point is that so few people appreciate its unique gifts. But that just leaves more gold for you.