Middle Fork Swan River

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4.9/5 (72 reviews)
Breckenridge, Colorado (Summit County)
Last Updated: 11/23/2023
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Trail Information

Highlights

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Camping Category Icon Camping
Forest Category Icon Forest
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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 (73)
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Official Crew
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51850
Seasonal Closure
Visited: 11/23/2023

Closed for the season.
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Official Crew
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51850
Impassable
Visited: 10/29/2023

16" of snow reported in Breckenridge this weekend. The surrounding trails will all be impassible. Most likely a season ender for the area.
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Official Crew
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51850
Open
Rated 5/5
Visited: 10/20/2023

There are some icy spots in the trees, a few whisps above treeline, and the easier option after the saddle is blocked. Otherwise, the trail is open through. However, both Sts John and Deer Creek are blocked. So you'll be going out-and-back anyway.
Trail Review: Middle Fork Swan River - Trint Ladd
Trail Review: Middle Fork Swan River - Trint Ladd
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Official Crew
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126050
Impassable
Visited: 10/14/2023

The season's first real winter storm has moved through, and daytime temps are not enough to melt the snow. Numerous reports indicate there is impassable/dangerous snow on the trail at this time and it is likely going to be done and closed for the season.
Open
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

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