Hiking Chocolate Gulch
After arriving in the Sawtooths and realizing both how low the snow line was and how much snowmelt was pouring down the mountains we opted to consult the rangers since our intended hikes were all in the high country. As we suspected all the trails we had planned to do were closed. Phrases such as “chest deep water crossings,” “4 foot snowbanks less than a mile from the trailhead,” “snow line at 7,300 feet,” “record high snow year,” and “truck sunk up to the axles on the way to the trailhead,” punctuated the conversation as we inquired about specific trails high in the wilderness areas. Needless to say, the ranger convinced us to seek alternatives. Luckily he had a bunch of suggestions for us.
And so we began our second morning in the Sawtooths hiking Chocolate Gulch, a 4.5 mile low-country trail. Tom and I never would have considered doing any of the hikes at this elevation or this far south in the national forest but we found our expectations easily exceeded: Chocolate Gulch was the first of a few truly beautiful hikes.
We walked the loop trail counterclockwise, beginning on a mostly flat section that ran north between the shore of the Big Wood River and the wildflower-covered cliffs. Less than a mile later however we started turning west with overlooks into the valley and views to the Boulder Mountains. At this point the trail began to gain some elevation. After another mile-plus walking through aspen and then pine we emerged in a high meadow punctuated by rocky outcroppings: It was here that we had the most spectacular views during the hike. The ruggedness of the outcroppings and the mountain meadows made us feel like we’d been suddenly transported to the wilderness despite our proximity to town and the fact that our phones began announcing that they were suddenly able to pick up service. After some extended photo taking along the ridge we followed the trail as it turned southeast through more meadows and open stretches where we got views of the mountains to the west. Finally we dropped into the gulch, descending the rather steep downhill back to the trailhead.