Middle Fork Swan River

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4.9/5 (68 reviews)
Breckenridge, Colorado (Summit County)
Last Updated: 07/30/2023

Trail Information


Altitude Category Icon Altitude
Camping Category Icon Camping
Forest Category Icon Forest
Ghost Town Category Icon Ghost Town
Iconic Category Icon Iconic
Mine Category Icon Mine
Rock Category Icon Rock
Scenic Category Icon Scenic

Middle Fork Swan River 4WD trail follows the river up its valley through picturesque pine forest and onto the high alpine tundra between Whale Mountain and Wise Mountain. From the high saddle, there are spectacular views, with Breckenridge Ski Resort visible to the west and the iconic Red Cone descent to the east.

The Swan River Valley was ground zero for the second Summit County gold and silver rush in the 1880s. Many popular 4WD trails now follow the routes established by prospectors' mules and heavy ore carts. Middle Fork Swan River connects to several of these trails, including North Fork Swan River, Deer Creek, Saints John, Georgia Pass, and SOB Hill. These trails can be combined into various loops offering a full day of fun near or above the treeline.

Trail Difficulty and Assessment

Trail Navigation

From the western trailhead, the Middle Fork Swan 4WD trail begins as an easy dirt road that becomes narrow, rocky, and moderately difficult as you travel eastward. The crux of the trail is a rocky hill climb just above the treeline. This climb has several options. The moderate line includes a shelf road with rocks up to 12 inches and a couple of small ledges. The most difficult option presents large, loose rocks and several ledges, one over three feet tall.

While it may be possible for select stock vehicles to tackle this trail, we recommend at least 33" tires, lockers, good trail armor, and an experienced driver. A built-up rig, taking the hardest lines, will find plenty of challenges. The gpx track offered here takes the easiest route.  As noted in the waypoint descriptions below, there are more challenging lines that will deviate a bit but end up back on the track after the obstacle.  Enjoy the challenge, but please stay on the trail! After summiting at a high saddle, Middle Fork Swan traverses high tundra to intersect with several other popular trails at the eastern trailhead. Because of the challenge of the hill climb, Middle Fork Swan is usually run from west to east, beginning near Breckenridge.  Connecting to North Fork Swan River makes a loop back to Tiger Road toward Breckenridge. Continuing on Deer Creek or Saints John leads down to Montezuma. Cell service is nonexistent in the Swan River Valley and only spotty on the high tundra. The nearest emergency room is at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center (970-668-3300), located just off CO-9 south of Frisco. Summit County Sheriff's Office (970-453-2232) is on CO-9 in Breckenridge.

Trail Reviews

4.9/5 (69)
Rated 5/5
Visited: 09/23/2023
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

This is one of my favorite trails in Colorado for a combo of beautiful scenery and some good technical spots. All in all the trail is pretty spot on to its rating, the Tombstone obstacle at WP 15 is quite dug out but a lot of fun! I took the hard line on the far left and had to reposition 2-3 times but got it lined up and finally grabbed. No snow on trail and an overall excellent day!
Trail Review: Middle Fork Swan River - Grant Shaffer
Rated 5/5
Visited: 09/15/2023
Difficulty Accuracy: Harder

Took a day trip during September not realizing there would already be a foot of snow at the summit. First 7 miles of the trail is super easy, you can probably get by with 32s and a small lift. The last mile gets a lot more technical quick. Also, if there’s a lot of snow just turn around, it’s highly unlikely you will make it to the top with the grade, and a fishtail will be very costly with the drop off. Very scenic trail, I would go back during the summer.
Trail Review: Middle Fork Swan River - Ben Welker
Rated 4/5
Visited: 09/06/2023
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

We ran this from east to west, on our way to SOB Hill, which had us descending from waypoint 19 through 5. This is a fun trail with all the optional obstacles being no problem since we were headed downhill. I would like to run this west to east someday. One highlight for us was running into some mountain goats. We also couldn't help pose on a rock that was perfectly ramped (lol).
Trail Review: Middle Fork Swan River - Brian Schaefer
Trail Review: Middle Fork Swan River - Brian Schaefer
Rated 5/5
Visited: 09/02/2023
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

Fun trail with some great optional obstacles that you will need a spotter to get through. Rough trail on the climb up with a lot of lose rocks to maneuver through and great views at the top.
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Rated 4/5
Visited: 08/23/2023
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

Fun little trail, cool vistas, def rocky and bony, drop some air pressure for sure. Clocked a 29 degree ascent.
Trail Review: Middle Fork Swan River - NW Nomad
Trail Review: Middle Fork Swan River - NW Nomad
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