• Activities:

    Fishing, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Intermediate

  • Season:

    Summer

  • Trail Type:

    Loop

  • RT Distance:

    10.5 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    1550 Feet

Forest
Lake
River
Scenic
Wildlife

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.

Pack List

Summer Hiking Gear:

  • Daypack
  • Food and water
  • Rain and wind protection
  • Trekking poles (though you'll want to stash them for the rock scrambling on the causeway crossing)
  • Camera to capture your epic crossing
  • Other 10 essentials

Additional gear if backpacking:

  • Tent, sleeping bag and pad
  • Stove
  • Fishing gear (if that's your thing)
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Reviews

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The Flattops are spectacular, and the Devil's causeway is not to be missed! Just enough adrenaline on the causeway to keep things interesting.

12 months ago
12 months ago

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.

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

Brian Lewis

Trying to do life right as a filmmaker, adventure junkie and semi-serious runner.

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

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