Old Crystal Mill a favorite fall hike
September 30, 2008
MARBLE, Colo. ” I’d rather walk.
At least, that’s what I always think when I watch a four-wheeler crawling, herky-jerky, over a rough road.
One of my favorite area hikes up a Jeep road is Forest Road 314 out of Marble (that tiny burg in the upper Crystal River Valley, south of Carbondale) to the old Crystal Mill.
The mill is one of those scenes I always photograph, sort of like the Maroon Bells, as if I don’t have enough shots of it already. But every time I see that historic relic of a building, improbably perched on a rock ledge above a turquoise pool (it’s still standing thanks to cables and other preservation efforts), I snap yet another photo.
One can arrange a Jeep tour out of Marble for a ride to the mill and the quasi-ghost town of Crystal just beyond it, but I’d rather walk. Timing, however, is everything.
It’s a gorgeous hike and not particularly difficult, but for one steep hill right out of Marble. At the top of the climb, the road levels out and one is soon greeted by the intensely green Lizard Lake, followed by vistas that always have me grabbing for the camera well before I reach my destination.
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While the road makes for a pleasant hike, it can be crawling with four-wheelers, ATVs, motorbikes, etc. This spot is no secret, and I avoid it on weekends. The hike is best done on an autumn weekday when the weather is iffy ” conditions that seem to keep motorized traffic to a minimum.
The road follows the upper Crystal River all the way to the mill, at times from a ledge far above the water. While clarity is a hallmark of most Colorado streams, I was amazed the first time I looked down on the Crystal, some two decades ago, and I still am. I swear, I can pick out the outline of every stone on the stream bottom, it’s so clear. Hmmm, crystal clear, I guess.
The walk to the mill takes roughly 90 minutes, and the town of Crystal is just beyond it. Keep on walking to access Lead King Basin, hike up toward Schofield Pass, catch the trailhead to Geneva Lake or loop back to Marble via Forest Road 315. Take a map, along with a camera. The possibilities are enticing, but many of them require a backpack and a multiday outing.