Sunday, October 9, 2011

Crystal Lake Trail near Lake City, Colorado

          Crystal Lake trail zig-zags across golden meadows and winds through towering aspen and ponderosa pine forests.  Tim and I have hiked 2.5 lung-bursting miles to a huge rock slide by Hay Lake.  From this point we have another mile and a half to go and the scenery becomes even more spectacular—aspen leaves shimmering brilliant gold and iridescent green in the morning sun.
Aspen leaves shimmer in the morning sun.
         After traversing rough, steep switchbacks we hike along a hillside with views of the endless mountains between Henson Creek and the Upper Lake Fork of the Gunnison River.  These southwestern Colorado mountains regale you with glory as far as the eye can see.
The endless San Juan mountains.
         Finally we arrive at Crystal Lake, nestled in a bowl at the base of 12,933 foot Crystal Peak.  At the lake we meet a man from Oklahoma who is planning to summit Crystal Peak.  Today’s weather—blue skies and a few puffy white clouds—is perfect for mountain climbing, but rather than climb another 1200 vertical feet I’ll relax by the lake while Tim fishes.
       Tim and I start a small campfire and sit by it while snacking on zucchini muffins, then Tim rigs his fly rod for a few hours of lake fishing.  While he fishes I start a new book:  “Ranger Confidential: Stories From Our National Parks”.   It’s interesting reading; you wouldn’t believe some of the people and situations that our National Park rangers have to contend with.  Well, maybe you would.
Campfire in the shadow of Crystal Peak.
          Crystal Lake makes an excellent destination for an overnight backpack.  Unlike the terrain around many other alpine lakes there is plenty of level ground, a mixture of woods and meadows, and a variety of vegetation and landforms.  I walk around to explore the territory and discover a hammock strung between two trees; nearby a Northface backpacking tent is tucked among the pines.  What a glorious place to stay, an authentic alpine motel.
        Earlier today, as we were climbing up the trail, we met a backpacker hiking down  trail. He and his Dad slept here last night and had a wonderful time.  He assured us there were plenty of fish in the lake—just what Tim wanted to hear.
        When Tim returns from the lake he tells me that he hadn’t had a single bite.  Maybe that young man and his Dad caught them all, or scared them all away. 
Crystal Lake and Crystal Peak.
          On the way down the trail we stop numerous times to take pictures of mountain views and golden aspens.  It seems more aspen leaves have turned from green to gold since we hiked up this morning.  Also on our return hike we hear the unmistakable sound of an elk bugling—either that or it’s a hunter blowing an elk whistle.  I’m hoping that it is a real elk and that he’ll avoid hunters this autumn and live to bugle another year.
         We return to the car and we’re in Lake City five minutes later; how wonderful that a trailhead to such a rewarding hike exists only minutes from town.  If only Tim had caught a few fish, it would have been a perfect day in the mountains.  Actually, even without any fish, it was a picture-perfect day at Crystal Lake.
         Information on Lake City and Crystal Lake Trail can be found on these websites:
Golden Aspens and blue sky.

Hiking to Crystal Lake on a picture-perfect day.


  1. Wow! Wow! Wow! It's difficult to comprehend how it could get any better than this!


  2. Your gorgeous photos take me right there! I love day hikes like this.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Vickie and John. This day hike was indeed superlative in every way!