Friday, July 16, 2010

Grizzly Lake - Collegiate Peaks Wilderness

Camping just off a rough road that cherry-stems 10 miles into the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness provides one with ample opportunity for epic high-country running. Today's destination:  the awe-inspiring Grizzly Lake.

Time:  1:36
Distance: 7.63 miles
Effort: Moderate
Body: Average
Weather: Sunny & hot  

After a much-delayed departure from Evergreen, we finally turned off Highway 82 onto Lincoln Creek Road, about 10 miles below Independence Pass, around 8 p.m. This rough road, which pretty much requires a high-clearance vehicle, dips 10 miles into the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. This road corridor was excluded from the wilderness area as it provides access to old mining claims in the Lincoln Mining District and and contains water diversion structures and Grizzly Reservoir owned by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company.

We ended up camping about three miles up the road the first night in an area of free, but restricted, dispersed camping sites. The next morning, following a tip from a fellow camper, we drove up the road to check out the Forest Service campground on the edge of Grizzly Reservoir. With great views up a valley and surrounded by a slew of thirteeners, not to mention the wilderness area, we were hooked.

After quickly packing up and moving up to the campground, we set up camp and prepared for another couple of nights of hanging out in Colorado's high country. With the lake, friendly dogs from other campers and plenty of dirt roads for the kids to bike on, we were set.

Camping on the edge of Grizzly Reservoir, Portal Campground.

Late in the afternoon, following an all-too-brief family hiking jaunt up the same trail, I headed out to do the 3.6 mile run up to Grizzly Lake, which lies within the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area.  The trailhead was about 2/10s of a mile from the campsite. 

The trail climbs steadily, switchbaking through a forest, for the first half-mile or so. Soon, though, it enters a beautiful mountain valley, filled with wildflowers and offering classic Colorado alpine scenery. 

Since it was late in the day, I pretty much had the trail to myself. I encountered two pairs of hikers coming down, but saw no one headed up. That said, I did have a bit of company. This yellow-bellied marmot claimed to own the trail and tried to exact a toll. Fortunately, I managed to get by him without incident.

After passing the Trail Marmot, the trail began turning upwards as it led me up to a shelf. I powerhiked through this section and then began running the minor ups and downs alongside a couple of small tarns. The views from here, both down valley and up valley, were mesmerizing. As I passed the second tarn, I began wondering where the hell was the lake. Just then, I saw a trail climbing steeply up through the tallus that looked like a "V" laying sideways. It disappeared over a rocky ledge above -- another shelf. I made quick work of the V and within a couple of minutes, I gained the shelf and was treated to a drop-dead gorgeous alpine lake - Grizzly Lake.

The final stretch of trail just before gaining the shelf that contains Grizzly Lake.

 Grizzly Lake.
Grizzly Lake and Grizzly Peak from a promontory above the lake. See trail down and to the right.

After a few minutes of exploring and soaking up the views, it was time to head back down for dinner. The return trip was quick and uneventful. One thing about running Colorado's high country is that out-and-backs are never boring. Even though one covers familiar ground, it all looks different given the new perspective.

Elevation gain: 2,166.


  1. SWEET. That is what I am talking about. Well done. Love the marmot of asking the three questions.

  2. Don't f*@#k with the Trail Marmot. His is a serious business.