Browse Author by samanthahikes
adventures, Colorado, fall colors, Lakes, Maroon Bells, outdoors, Rocky Mountains, Telluride

Fall Colors in Colorado: My Favorite Places

I’ve always been a person that loves everything about Fall; the colors, the weather, the hikes, and everything in-between (and also the boots, scarves, and pumpkin spiced lattes of course). My birthday also just happens to be at the end of September, so it’s the perfect excuse to celebrate and go leafing!

We went on a fabulous trip last year, the high point being the chairlift in Crested Butte, where I saw some of the largest aspen groves I’ve ever seen. This year, we also went on a trip – to the Telluride, Ridgway, Silverton, and Ouray; as we have heard great things about the fall colors Southwest Colorado. It may be quite a drive from Denver…but it was more than worth it. The colors were like something out of one of the best dreams.

With those two trips under my belt, and countless other small trips near Denver to view colors, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite places to go and leaf.

This list isn’t in order of my favorites, because it would be way too difficult to decide. Instead, I have tried to list them in order of drive time from Denver. However, please remember that the drive times may vary depending on which side of the mountain passes you start, and are dependent on traffic of course.

Boreas Pass (Photo Credit: Bill Chopp)
  1. Boreas Pass

Drive time from Denver: about 2 hours

This is one of the more popular locations to view fall colors, and for good reason. It’s filled with amazing views of Breckenridge at the beginning and aspens nearly the whole drive. I would get an early start on this one, it will get busy really early. If you want to avoid the I70 traffic on the way home and are just doing a day trip, I recommend starting on the Breckenridge side and taking highway 285 back to Denver. There’s also several dispersed camping areas along the pass, just make sure to bring extra blankets since it’s at a very high elevation, and speaking from experience…it gets very cold at night!

Boreas Pass

2. Weston Pass

Drive time from Denver: 2 hours 15 minutes

I have a soft spot for this drive because not only is it exceptionally gorgeous – it is nowhere near as crowded. It also might have helped that we did this on a Friday afternoon as opposed to a weekend, but it was one of those drives that sticks with you forever as a favorite. There were only a few spots along this pass where having a four-wheel drive car was nice, but I would at least recommend an SUV for this drive. Weston Pass may take a little longer than the others in the area, but it is worth the detour.

Weston Pass

3. Aspen

Drive time from Denver: 3 hours 30 minutes

I can’t forget about a little place called Aspen. Probably the most photographed location in all of Colorado is located here: Maroon Bells. The most popular time to photograph the bells is at sunrise – in fact if you want a spot on Maroon Lake to catch the sunrise glow, odds are you should get there by 4am. However, we went to Maroon Bells at sunset and waited in line for a half hour, so I would be prepared for crowds either way.

Maroon Bells

The most beautiful way to get to Aspen in the fall in my opinion, is by taking Independence Pass. It starts below treeline, following aspen groves, then takes you above treeline, crosses the Continental Divide, and returns to aspens before entering the town of Aspen. Along the way there are several spots to take pictures, hike, and camp. This road is extremely popular so if you do expect to camp here, arriving early is best, or making reservations is better!

Independence Pass

4. Crested Butte

Drive time from Denver: 4 hours 15 minutes

Last year for my birthday we went to Crested Butte for the first time. On the we took Kebler Pass, which is home to some of the largest aspen groves in the United States. It absolutely lived up to the hype – especially getting there about a day after peak (we were there September 25, for reference). This gravel road is filled with huge aspen groves, big mountain views, and we even got to see ranchers herding their sheep.

When we arrived to Crested Butte we checked into the hotel and they let us know that with our reservation we received free passes for the chairlift. Normally in the summer and fall the mountains that have the chair lifts going are for mountain bikers…but we had a different idea in mind (although mountain biking there would be awesome). We wanted to take the chairlift to see all the fall colors, and boy, was it worth it. The views were unparalleled to anything I’ve seen at the top of any mountain (but taking the chairlift to the top to ski down is a close second).

Crested Butte

5. Telluride area

Drive time from Denver: 6 hours

This year as I said, we went to the Telluride area for my birthday. We camped at Ridgway State Park to be centrally located between Telluride and Silverton/Ouray, which worked out really well. We started out with a snowy day on the Million Dollar Highway, and while it was cold; seeing two seasons collide was beautiful, and like nothing I have ever seen before. In talking to some locals, it sounds like it’s not uncommon for this to happen; but that didn’t make it any less special. The Million Dollar Highway, between Silverton and Ouray, provided heart-stopping views, and not just because of the colors! This road is known for one of the more dangerous highways with its thousand foot drops and lack of guard rails, so prepare yourself if you are scared of heights.

Million Dollar Highway (Photo Credit: Bill Chopp)

On the way to Telluride we explored Woods Lake, which ended up to be my second favorite spot on the whole trip. The drive to the lake was complete with aspens in their peak the entire way. Woods Lake isn’t huge, but on a clear day you can see the mountains in the background and the colors seemed to go on forever.

In the town of Telluride, the fall colors were just as gorgeous. Telluride is home to the only gondola in the United States that connects the town and the mountain village, and better yet, it’s free to travel between the two. At the top of the gondola there are several trails that provide you with 360 degree views of the San Juan Mountains, the largest range in Colorado by area.

Woods Lake (Photo Credit: Bill Chopp)

When we left Ridgway State Park to go home, we decided to take Owl Creek Pass instead of the highway. It added about 45 minutes, but it was the best end to an already beautiful trip. Owl Creek Pass has beautiful views complete with fall colors and the jagged peaks of Cimarron Ridge. As we were coming up on the turn to Silver Jack Reservoir, we stopped to take a picture of the views, and out of nowhere a few minutes later, a huge bull moose came out of the brush. We talked to someone who was working for the forest service and he said he only saw a moose here one other time this year, and one time last year. Both of us stayed a safe distance from the moose, he could tell we were around and he was definitely not happy about it…but man were we happy about it!

Owl Creek Pass

The colors in Colorado are my absolute favorite, and if you play your cards right you can have fall colors in your life for nearly a month or more while exploring this beautiful state…at least that’s what I try to do. If you need any advice planning your next Colorado fall adventure please let me know, I would be more than happy to help!

Colorado, Forest Lake, Hikes, Hiking, Lakes

Journey to Forest Lake


I’ve done a lot of hikes since I’ve moved to Denver, but by far the best hikes are those that are tough, have great views, and give you a glimpse into the history of the area. The trail to  Forest Lake had all of those things, and quickly became one of my favorites (I probably say that about all of the hikes I do…but they are all really wonderful). The trailhead for Forest Lake is at a location known as the Moffat Tunnel.  First of all, it had the biggest parking lot I’d ever seen for a trailhead, so it’s hard for me to believe that you can’t get a spot if you get at the trailhead later in the day – we got there at 10:00am and there were plenty of spaces.

The Moffat tunnel on the East side is the trailhead for our hike – if you were to view the tunnel from the West side it would be near Winter Park, Colorado. The idea for the tunnel began around 1902 with David Moffat and the Denver, Pacific, and Northwestern Pacific Railroad. The original idea for the tunnel was for it to go over what is now known as Rollins  Pass, but the harsh winter conditions made snow removal impossible – thus the idea for the tunnel. There was quite a bit of controversy after Moffat died in 1911 as to how to finish (or if they would finish) the tunnel – it’s definitely worth researching if it’s something you are interested in. Eventually the tunnel was completed and the first train went through in 1928. Today it is the 3rd longest tunnel in the country, and also one of the 30 tunnels you will travel through if you take the Amtrak from Denver to Winter Park.

Trail Stats

  1. Starting Elevation: 9,211 feet
  2. Ending Elevation: 10,664 feet
  3. Net Elevation Gain: 1,453 feet
  4. Round Trip Length: 6.8 miles
  5. Trailhead: Moffatt Tunnel near Rollinsville, CO
  6. GPS Coordinates: N39 54.181 W105 38.660
  7. Drive time from Denver: 1.5 hours with no traffic
  8. Fee: None
  9. Dogs allowed?: Yes

After we parked and read a little bit about the tunnel – we got going on the trail. I would highly recommend having a map with you, because I was little confused at the beginning about where to go. There isn’t a clear map at the trailhead and  I hadn’t really researched the first trail we would be on before intersecting with the Forest Lake trail. Anyways, when you first start the trailhead is to the right of the Moffat Tunnel – the South Boulder Creek Trail. It’s 1.3 miles of meadows, forests, and more meadows with a steady climb of about 350 feet; the perfect warm up to a more aggressive climb.

Meadow views

We turned right to continue to Forest Lake at the trailhead split – staying straight takes you to Crater Lakes, which is where I suspect most of the crowds were, but our trail was very peaceful with few people. Shortly after the split we crossed a bridge to go over Arapahoe creek, and braced ourself for the steep 2.1 mile climb to the lake.

Photo Credit: Bill Chopp

Most of the remainder of the trail was shaded by thick trees, with the occasional breaks like the one pictured above. The information and reviews about the hike that I read said that at 2.4 mile marker there will be a split for Arapahoe Lakes, where you turn north to continue to Forest Lake, or straight for Arapahoe Lake. However, it’s worth pointing out that I didn’t see that sign when we did the hike – the path looked like it was blocked with trees, perhaps by the Forest Service.

There were also several reviews about how the end of the trail is hard to follow – but the path is well-marked so if you pay attention and take your time you’ll be fine. The trail finally flattened out after we gained about 1,100 feet, and then the lake was in sight! It is quite deceiving, as we had to walk around the left side of the lake to stay on the trail and walk around a meadow to get to the lake.

Final approach to Forest Lake (Pictured: Bill Chopp)

If you do this trail, I have to stress that it is important to stay on the trail and not cut across to the lake skipping the meadow before the lake. Areas at this high of elevation are damaged so easily and it could take years for the area to be back to normal if people keep walking off the trail  – as it was quite obvious it happens often. The lake is relatively small in size, but it’s still just as beautiful as any large lake.

Forest Lake (Photo Credit: Bill Chopp)

There is another lake if you continue on the trail, but we decided to save that for next time. Part of the joy in going to beautiful places like this is leaving at least one thing unseen – then you have a reason to go back. Although I have to admit when we go back we probably won’t hike to it (even though I did love the hike).

We ran into a group on the way back down who let us in on a secret that if you drive to the top of Rollins Pass, you can hike 1/2 mile down on a trail and get to Upper Forest Lake. Don’t get me wrong – I think there is nothing better than exploring places of the world with your own 2 feet; but I will never say no to a new area to go off-roading.

Until the next adventure…




adventures, Colorado, Gear, Hikes, Lakes, Leadville, outdoors

Fancy Lake Hike

Most of the time when I read about a hike, I have to do it. I add it to a list in my phone, and know that one day (even if it’s a year from now), I’ll do it. To make it on my list, there isn’t a lot of criteria I have – mostly I just want it to be pretty, which I mean, aren’t 99% of hikes pretty anyways? I don’t care how long it is, how short it is, or where it is – if it looks pretty, it probably made the cut.

About six months ago I added a hike called Fancy Lake to my list. The only thing I knew about it was a photo I saw on Instagram – that of course made it look absolutely beautiful. After I saw that I knew one day I would need to see it for myself. So last week, myself and a friend (and her adorable puppy) headed West at 6am to see the beauty of Fancy Lake for ourselves.

Trail Stats

  1. Starting Elevation: 10,017 feet
  2. Ending Elevation: 11,551 feet
  3. Net Elevation Gain (because of ups and downs): 1,534 feet
  4. Round Trip Length: 6.4 miles
  5. Trailhead: Fancy Lake Trailhead, GPS Coordinates: N39 23.445 W106 28.237
  6. Drive time from Denver: 2.5 hours with no traffic
  7. Fee: None
  8. Dogs allowed?: Yes
Photo Credit: Jessica Christie

The trail begins with gradual switchbacks up a forested slope, and doesn’t waste any time gaining elevation, and by the time you get to the bridge (pictured above), you will have hiked only 0.85 miles and gained about 440 feet in elevation. Here the water was SO clean and clear I filled up my water bottle right there. However I did have the perk of having a LifeStraw water bottle which I recommend (link: here). Having this water bottle has honestly made it much easier to do longer hikes (where there’s water), because I can just fill it up and there’s a water filter that doubles as my straw; I no longer have to worry about the water weight in my pack.

After we crossed the bridge the trail continues to rise steadily for the next 2.2 miles, mostly in a thick wooded forest. As the climb continues we saw occasional breaks on the left side after about a mile or so – they are definitely worth exploring – you’ll see a huge rocky canyon with a creek below. We couldn’t see a safe way down to the bottom however, so we observed from afar.


Once we reached the 3.0 mile mark we knew we had to be close, but it didn’t seem like any path we took could get us to a lake in the 0.2 miles we had left. I would take a break before you start the last stretch of the trail as it will gain about 400 feet up some steep rocky switchbacks.

View from climbing the rocky switchbacks

As soon as we got to the top we had to sit…but I would recommend that you don’t rest!  Just keep walking, because Fancy Lake is maybe 100 feet away after you get to the top of the rocky switchbacks, and it is worth the exhausted walk there!

Jessica Christie featuring Fancy Lake

We went on a Friday, and were lucky enough to be the only ones at the lake for the whole time we were there, so I can’t speak to how busy it gets on the weekends – but it’s worth it. After exploring around and hearing marmots squeals and echoes for a while, having a snack, and contemplating how we could build a house and just stay here forever; we decided to head back.

Photo Credit: Jessica Christie

It seems silly, that I saved a hike because I saw a picture on social media. But with so many people posting all these beautiful places, I feel like it’s only natural to want to go to them. I feel so lucky that I am living a state that allows me to adventure to beautiful places like this (regardless of how they were found) and I can’t wait to cross the next hike off my list.

adventures, Boston Mine, Colorado, Emerald Lake, Hikes, Hiking, Lake Isabelle, Leadville, Maroon Bells, Rocky Mountain National Park, Rocky Mountains

My Top Five Easy Colorado Hikes (so far)

It’s no secret that Colorado is a great place to live or to visit. The opportunity to explore this beautiful state is something I have never taken for granted, not for a second. Every weekend the conversation usually isn’t “should we go hiking” it’s “where should we go hiking.”

It can be overwhelming to try to plan things in a state that has so many opportunities for beauty, whether you are living here or planning a trip. Some of the best adventures can be found within just a few hours of Denver, and I’ve decided to compile a list of some of my favorite easy hikes.

1. Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

This is my absolute favorite short hike close to Denver. Alpine lakes are something of a wonder to me, and you get to see four of them on this hike. Just under 4 miles round trip and 652 feet of elevation gain will get you to Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and finally – Emerald Lake. Each lake is more beautiful than the last, and the gradual elevation gain makes for a very enjoyable, not exhausting hike. Bear Lake trailhead, the starting point for the hike, is about two hours from Denver. I would recommend getting to this trailhead early in the day or late in the afternoon to avoid some of the crowds as this is one of the most popular areas in the park.


2. Lake Isabelle, Indian Peaks Wilderness

This lovely lake is about an hour and a half from Denver. It’s in the popular Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, so getting here early is important. For reference, we got to the trailhead just after 7:00am and we had to park at Brainard Lake and walk to the trailhead. Although, if you have to do that it’s not the worst thing – you get to walk around a beautiful lake and have prime moose viewing opportunities, so keep your eyes peeled! This hike is 4.5 miles total and 630 feet of elevation gain, so it’s a great opportunity to take your time, take in the views, and see the beauty the Indian Peaks Wilderness has to offer.

Lake Isabelle

3. Hagerman Pass, near Turquoise Lake 

For those willing to drive just a little bit farther (approximately 2.5 hours from Denver), and love the joy of being one of the few on the trail, I highly recommend Hagerman Pass. The details are in a previous blog, but this hike was so wonderful it’s worth mentioning twice. For me, this hike has everything you would want on a Colorado hike: alpine lakes, mountain views, ghost towns, and wildflowers. At 5.5 miles round trip, this hike will take you a little longer than the previous mentioned, but the gradual elevation gain of 590 feet makes it a relatively easy hike. The only reason it will take you a little longer is because of the views; they are more than worth taking your time.

Opal Lake, Hagerman Pass Trail

4. Crater Lake, Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness

Most people visiting Denver probably don’t want to drive 3.5 hours to get to Maroon Bells – but once you’re there, you’ll see why so many make the trek. This is quite possibly one of the most photographed areas of Colorado, and for good reason. It’s absolutely beautiful at every season – although it’s worth noting that in the winter the only way to access this area is by hiking or snowmobiling, so be sure to check the road closures if you are coming in the Spring or Fall. Crater Lake is perhaps the most popular short hike at Maroon Bells; it’s 3.4 miles total (with 630 feet of elevation gain). If you can be an early riser, I recommend arriving well before sunrise to photograph the magical glow and reflection with Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake.

Crater Lake, Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness

5. Mayflower Gulch Trail

Lastly, for those that want an easy hike, but a little bit more of an elevation gain, this is the trail for you. It’s about 6.5 miles beyond Copper Mountain (about an 1.6 hours from Denver),  but parking has never been an issue when I’ve hiked here, so just watch the weather for afternoon storms as you’re planning. I have to admit, the hike doesn’t have anything super interesting (besides amazing views) until you get to your destination at 3.1 miles, after 1550 feet of elevation gain. The trail leads you to an old ghost town, the Boston Mine, where you can explore the remains of the cabins of the people who used to live there in the early 1900s.  I recommend doing your research before this hike, as there can be snow well into June or July and it’s important to make sure you have the right traction devices.

Mayflower Gulch Trail
adventures, Colorado, Hikes, Rocky Mountain National Park, Rocky Mountains

The Adventure to Sky Pond

As a girl from Minnesota, one would think I was in love with the great outdoors. However, I wasn’t at all. I would go on a few hikes occasionally, like around Gooseberry Falls outside Duluth, MN – but that was the extent of my hiking. I preferred shopping, hanging out on the lake, and spending time with friends (but not outside, there were too many bugs).

When I moved to Colorado that clearly changed, and throughout my second summer here I have been working up to longer and more difficult hikes. I finally had the right gear (kind of), the confidence (most of the time), and I was ready to stomp all over the hike to Sky Pond; which I had heard was one of the more difficult hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).

You might recall we tried to do the hike to Sky Pond a few weeks ago, and it was an epic fail (well not totally, we did a different amazing hike, but that’s besides the point). We got to the parking lot at about 9:30am, which is prime for Bear Lake Trail traffic. This time though, we were prepared. We had our bags packed, alarms set, and we woke up at 4:00am to be on the road by 5:00am. Starbucks in hand, we were at the trailhead about two hours later and got close to the last spot in the parking lot.

Trail Stats

  1. Starting Elevation: 9,240 feet
  2. Ending Elevation: 10,900 feet
  3. Net Elevation Gain (because of ups and downs): 1,780 feet
  4. Round Trip Length: 9.0 miles (add 0.3 if you are starting at Bear Lake Trailhead)
  5. Trailhead: Glacier Gorge or Bear Lake Trailhead, RMNP
  6. Fee: 20 dollars (or free if you have a National Parks Pass or RMNP Pass)
  7. Dogs allowed?: No

The trail starts out in a wooded forest going downhill, which is important to note because we had to save some energy to go back uphill at the very end, when everyone is usually exhausted. At just over 0.8 miles we arrived at our first destination, and one of the most popular in RMNP, Alberta Falls.


Alberta Falls

Following Alberta Falls we followed the trail about halfway up the falls to the right. This portion of the trail had a gradual incline and was shaded in the morning, but not the afternoon on our way back, which was another great reason to get an early start. At 2.1 miles we arrived at the Loch Vale/Mills Lake junction. We continued right to go up to our second destination, the Loch Vale. Soon we were welcomed with a snapshot of the incredible views of Glacier Gorge that we would soon see much closer.


Another shaded, but steady climb was ahead of us through a series of switchbacks. The trail was a little busier than I thought, but we kept moving over so people could pass as we maintained our moderate pace. However, shortly after groups passed us, we almost always passed them – maintaining a moderate pace, esspecially up steep areas, is important because we won’t be exhausted at the end of the hike.

We arrived at the beautiful views of the Loch Vale at about 2.8 miles. It was a perfect spot to rest as we had climbed to 10,190 ft (gained 950 ft), and needed to refuel for the last 1.7 miles.

Loch Vale

Full of energy and hydrated, we continued in hopes of getting some of the views to ourselves at Sky Pond. The trail followed around the lake and climbed gradually for another 0.8 miles. After a bridge at mile 3.6, we continued left here to go to Sky Pond, as going to the right will take you to Andrew’s Glacier. Soon after this we started to see a waterfall, one that I assumed was Timberline Falls as I read you saw a beautiful waterfall before Sky Pond – but my mind was having a hard time believing we actually gained THAT much elevation. Spoiler alert: you do gain that much elevation.

Just after we continued the left, the trail steadily climbed until the ultimate climb – the trail of stairs that didn’t ever want to end. I was thankful we started the hike early, because this portion of the hike was completely exposed, and rose a steep 200 ft in 0.15 miles (not pictured because I was soley focused on surviving the ascent).

Loch Vale from above (Photo Credit: Bill Chopp)

Everyone always says that the climb is worth it – and that is definitely still the case when it comes to this hike. Not only were we able to see just how much we had climbed, but we were able to see Timberline Falls up close and personal; without all the crowds.

Timberline Falls (Photo Credit: Bill Chopp)

I always research hikes before I do them, naturally because I like to know what I’m getting myself into; elevation gain, time to hike, time to drive, and more difficult parts of the hike. That being said, I knew we had to climb the right side up Timberline Falls to get to the Lake of Glass and Sky Pond. What I didn’t know, was that the right side might still have water, and that the whole climb up would be wet and steep. Again, the climb was more than worth it, it just took a little bit of time (and patience, as you will likely have to wait for other hikers either on your ascent or descent). A few boulder hops later and we arrived at the Lake of Glass.

Lake of Glass

We followed the Lake of Glass on the West side to continue the final 0.4 miles to Sky Pond. Here the trail became a little harder to follow, but if you pay attention you’ll be fine. The only reason it may have been a little difficult for me was because I was distracted by the amazing views and wildflowers that were surrounding us. It’s a flat final stretch though, which was a nice break after the 1,780 feet we had just completed. We continued the  boulder hopping trend, turned the corner and there it was, Sky Pond. We walked around the left side of the lake to get a more picturesque view of the Sharkstooth and enjoyed our lunch in front of one of the best views of the Rockies.

Sky Pond

I hike now because I like it. Because I was unaware of how at home one can feel in nature. I didn’t know that I would feel at home in the wilderness. It’s like people say, you never know until you try. I tried, and it became an obsession. An obsession with pushing myself to the limit, an obsession with seeing amazing views that you can only walk to with your own two feet. An obsession that’s not only good for my health, but good for my soul. Hiking helps keep me grounded, it relaxes me. For me, hiking has added an intangible something to my life that I’ll probably never be able to describe, and I will always be thankful for it.



adventures, Colorado, Hikes, Rocky Mountains

Mirror Lake Trail

Sometimes you complete a hike and you feel like you’ve conquered the world. That hike could be 3 miles, 6 miles, or 20 miles – whatever the length, it’s a huge feat when you have completed something you didn’t think you were capable of.

That’s how I felt about the hike to Mirror Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It was the hardest hike I probably will ever do, not only because of its length, but the elevation gain of ups and downs throughout the hike. However, it will also most likely hold the title of most beautiful hike in my first 26 years of life. I almost turned around so many times because my legs were hurting, my feet were tired, and I didn’t feel like I could physically do the hike; but I did it.

Trail Stats

  1. Starting Elevation: 8,345 feet
  2. Ending Elevation: 10,328 feet
  3. Net Elevation Gain (because of ups and downs): 2,507 feet
  4. Round Trip Length: 14.8 miles
  5. Trailhead: Monarch Lake Trailhead (GPS coordinates: N40 06.651  W105 44.781)
  6. Time: 8 hours
  7. Fee: 5 dollars (or free if you have a National Parks Pass)
  8. Dogs allowed?: Yes

Our hike began fairly easy, following Monarch lake for approximately 1.2 miles. We were told that Moose frequent the area, although we may have been there a little late in the day because we didn’t see any (so be on the lookout if you do go).

Monarch Lake

At 1.6 miles, there is a T in the road where you keep going straight to continue to Mirror Lake – (going right will take you around the Monarch Lake loop). Note: the signs will all say Crater Lake, but our destination was Mirror lake, so something to keep in mind if you do this hike. The trail continues to rise through a series of steep switchbacks with a fair amount of exposure – so making sure we brought adequate water was important. After about a half a mile of switchbacks the trail leveled out to a beautiful wooded forest that followed a stream for another mile.


After crossing a bridge at 3.6 miles, the trail starts to get steeper again, rising a couple hundred feet before crossing another long bridge (pictured below).


The first official destination on this hike is Cascade Falls (there is a lower and an upper). The lower was a perfect spot for us to stop for lunch, not only because we had already gained 1,000 feet of elevation; but because there was some shady areas to escape the heat and refuel.

Lower Cascade Falls

After we refueled, I was building up the courage to continue as I saw how steep our next ascent looked. We followed the trail on the right side of the waterfall and at about 5.0 miles we walked out to see the views of Upper Cascade Falls.

Upper Cascade Falls (Photo Credit: Bill Chopp)

Continuing on our adventure, half a mile after the falls the trail opens into a meadow for a short while before beginning another series of extremely steep ascents. Here we took several breaks, as it’s rocky and has high sun exposure (don’t forget the sunscreen). At 6.5 miles the trail comes to a T, turn right here to continue to Mirror Lake. When we got to the 6.9 mile marker, the trail crossed another long bridge, before opening up into another beautiful meadow – we were finally in the home stretch!


We had 0.5 miles to go, and I was so excited…we were so close! Following the meadows, we completed our LAST steep ascent of switch backs to Mirror Lake, gaining roughly 150 feet in the last 0.2 miles – it took all of my energy to push through that final ascent. After the last switch back, we turned the corner and there it was: Mirror Lake with Lone Eagle Peak in the background, and it was the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. We sat and had lunch looking at the most beautiful view, wishing we could stare at it forever because it was so perfect.

Photo Credit: Bill Chopp

One of the puzzling things about this hike for me was that I found it hard to tell which peak was actually Lone Eagle Peak. I have seen the iconic picture with the reflection, but for some reason it was difficult to figure it out in the moment. I found this to be one of the most rewarding and frustrating parts of the hike; I was exhausted and couldn’t tell where we were even going until we were about 1.5 miles away. I think that was better though, despite being confused and feeling like we would never get there, because it left the best surprise for the end.

Mirror Lake and Lone Eagle Peak (Photo Credit: Bill Chopp)

Instead of turning around, I am so thankful to my boyfriend for his encouragement (and patience) while I just wanted to give up but he kept pushing me along. With every step completed, I was one step closer to accomplishing something I didn’t think my body could physically handle. When we got back to the car my legs were shaking and I could barely walk, but it was worth every step. I realized on this hike that the only limits I have are those I put on myself; and if you think about your hike step by step instead of as a whole, you will be able to climb the seemingly ominous mountain.

Colorado, Hikes, Rocky Mountains

Hagerman Pass Trail

For those of you that don’t know me, I am a planner. I am the girl who plans the hikes I want to do at least a few days in advance, to mentally, emotionally, and physically prepare myself. Most of my friends and family have me plan hikes and weekend trips; maybe because I make it easier on them, maybe just because I like to plan. I spend a lot of time researching hikes that will be pretty, challenging, and most importantly – not crowded. I find any hike much more special if I’m sharing the view with a few people, versus 100.

Last weekend a few friends and I went camping on Turquoise Lake, just outside of Leadville, CO. This area is a gold mine for amazing hikes – and when I came across Hagerman Pass Trail on the U.S. Forest Service website and I was intrigued. So Saturday morning we found our campsite, and then made our way to the trailhead, which was at the West end of Turquoise Lake.

Trail Stats

  1. Starting Elevation: 10,940 feet
  2. Ending Elevation: 11,530 feet
  3. Round trip length: 5.5 miles
  4. Trailhead: Colorado Midland Trailhead, 4.8 mile marker on Hagerman Pass Road
  5. Time: 3 hours (taking our time, and pictures of course)
Old rail bed along the first 1.2 miles of trail

The trail is fairly easy, with perhaps some of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen. The first 1.2 miles is flat, and follows an old rail bed through a mostly wooded forest. There’s also a few streams to cross and the occasional opening where one can see the Sawatch Mountain range.

At the 1.2 mile marker we came to a point where we could continue straight, or go to the right up the rocky path. Here you should go right, and it’s a steady ascent for maybe 0.5 miles. The trail will again level out, and we reached another crossroads where one could go left, straight, or right. I would suggest going straight – however it’s worth noting that going right will just bring you in a loop the opposite way. For our hike, we went straight and reached the old abandoned ghost town of Douglass City, where you’ll see maybe 10 or so cabin remains.

Information about the ghost town.
Remains of an old cabin at Douglass City.

It’s worth noting that the wildflowers were absolutely spectacular this entire hike. I would highly recommending completing this hike between the middle of July – middle of August to enjoy the wildflowers at their peak.

A bit more of a rocky ascent (about 0.3 miles) and we were rewarded with the spectacular views of the very clear Opal Lake. Don’t forget the bug spray though…they were out in abundance. However, it was definitely worth spending some time taking in the view. When we were over the mosquito bites, we continued on the final ascent to the Hagerman Tunnel. There is a very steep ascent that lasts 0.1 miles before the 0.2 mile flat walk to the tunnel, but the good news is you get views like the one below as soon as you complete the final ascent.

Opal Lake

Hagerman Tunnel was perhaps one of the greatest feats of railroad history. It was completed in 1887 and was the highest tunnel in the world at its time of completion. You can’t go in the tunnel, but you can walk on the rocks to the beginning of the tunnel.

Hagerman Tunnel

After taking in the views of the tunnel (and cooling off as it was quite chilly since it has a glacier for a floor), we continued north along the old railroad bed past the trail we originally went up. You will soon see an option to either continue straight, or go slightly uphill; here we chose to go uphill and continue to our final destination of Hagerman Lake.  Wildflowers took over the entire field on the way there, which made this stretch absolutely breathtaking.


We originally set out on the hike to Hagerman Lake not knowing anything about the rest of the hike, except that the tunnel was along the way. This hike had everything one could want in a Colorado hike: mountain views with snow-capped peaks, alpine lakes, ghost towns, and an old railroad tunnel. I couldn’t have even dreamt of a more beautiful way to spend the day. One couldn’t help but wonder what everyone’s lives were liked that lived in Douglass City, or if the area had changed at all. Hagerman Pass Trail showed me how much of the world there still is left to discover because of little known trails like these – and I can’t wait to see it all.

Hagerman Lake



adventures, Colorado, Hikes, Hiking, Lakes, Rocky Mountain National Park, Rocky Mountains, Uncategorized

Hiking to Timber Lake

I am a destination hiker. I love the feeling of reaching the top of a peak, a lake, a waterfall, or anything else one might consider a destination. So, this weekend we planned to hike to Lake Haiyaha, at the ever popular Bear Lake Trailhead, in Rocky Mountain National Park. We made the rookie mistake of getting there at 10am, when we probably should have gotten there by 7am or much later at 4pm to get a spot and avoid the crowds.

Anyways…I have been wanting to explore the trails on the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park for quite some time, and when we couldn’t find a spot at Bear Lake, Timber Lake came to my mind. For those who haven’t been, or those who haven’t spent much time in the park – the West side is magical. There aren’t as many people, the trails are just as beautiful, and you will almost always see wildlife.

I’m a firm believer that things always happen for a reason. If something doesn’t work out – it’s because something better is in the works. It didn’t seem like we were meant to go to Lake Haiyaha, the parking was crazy everywhere. Plus, who really wants to try to fight through the crowds when the options for alpine lakes are limitless in Rocky Mountain Park? So we made our way over Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the United States, and had the luxury of seeing views like the one below the entire drive.


Hike Stats for Timber Lake:

  1. Starting Elevation: 9,000 feet
  2. Elevation Gain: about 2,000 feet
  3. Round trip length: 11 miles
  4. Trailhead: Timber Lake Trailhead, 10 miles from the Kawuneeche Visitor Center (GPS Coordinates to trailhead: 40.399722, -105.847361)
  5. Time: 4 hours to lake (taking our time), 1 hour at the lake, 2 hours back

The hike began through the trees, and it was absolutely beautiful. The shade was a nice perk as well, especially since it was a sunny 80ºF day. Shortly after we started, the uphill climb began. We took a longer break at the about the 1.5 mile marker where you reach nice plateau with rocks for relaxing – trust me you’ll need it after climbing about 700 feet! When we continued on the hike, we were shortly rewarded with some openings in the trees and views like the one below.


At roughly the 2.5 mile marker (though the trailhead signs say it’s at 2…I wasn’t convinced), you’ll see the aftermath of a huge landslide from 2012. We ran into a couple of hikers and they said it’s a lot worse than a couple of years ago – now I wasn’t here then, but I can say that it was very difficult to try to figure out. They have a pink/orange ribbon and a sign that says the trail turns up to go above the landslide. However, we didn’t see that on the way there, so make sure you look for it (the sign was on the ground and it was hard to tell). We spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out the best way to get around it, and just when I was ready to call it a day my boyfriend found an area that looked passable below the landslide. Kudos to him, it worked out perfectly – we went to the bottom at the end of the landslide, hopped across a couple of creeks, and went the steep grade back up the trail. I highly recommend taking the route we took through the bush wack down and around instead of the seemingly straight up and down alternative that was marked.

The landslide – when we thought we could try to go through it (mistake).


Once we made it past the landslide, the trail continued to climb gently to Timber Creek. After about 1 mile we reached the Timber Creek Junction – I recommend taking another brief break before you turn left and begin the next ascent to Timber Lake (if you turn to the right here you’ll go to Long Meadows). The trail climbs pretty steeply here, gaining about 800 feet of elevation in 1 mile through some rocky switchbacks.

Follwing the 800ft climb, the trail opens up into a pretty meadow, and we started to see a variety of signs for backcountry campsites. When you reach the first Jackstraw campsite you are roughly 0.8 miles to Timber Lake. The views from the meadows were just enough to keep me going for that last stretch, because I was fairly exhausted at this point; I mean we did gain 1,800 feet of elevation so far.


After we crossed the meadow there was another small section of switchbacks to complete gaining another 200 feet – and then we made it!

First view of Timber Lake

As soon as I thought the views couldn’t get any better…we continued to walk around and saw not one, but two more small lakes. We walked around the right side of the lake when we arrived, and took the left side back. I recommend just walking on the right side, as there’s quite a bit of rock scrambling and it’s muddier on the left side (depending on the season). We were taking pictures of the second lake and relaxing, when I saw something that looked like antlers. I zoomed my camera in, and it was a MOOSE! Before this hike, I had never seen a bull moose with a rack; but it was definitely worth the wait. We were taking pictures and then all the sudden not one, but two bull moose started walking toward the trees. They clearly sensed our presence (and probably heard my squeal of excitement), because they stared at us for a few minutes.


The feeling of completing the hike to Timber Lake was incomparable. Since I was little I never thought I would be the girl who climbed mountains; I only thought I would someday see them and marvel at them. But two years ago I moved to Colorado, and now I had literally climbed up a mountain, farther into the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park than I’ve ever gone.

Remember what I said at the beginning of the hike? How everything happens for a reason? If we would have done Lake Haiyaha and not Timber Lake, we would not have seen our first  two bull moose in the most majestic way I could ever expect to see them. I have been impatiently waiting for two years to see one, and we got to see two! I also would have never accomplished the great feat of climbing 2,000 feet up a mountain. Rocky Mountain National Park…you never cease to amaze me.

Timber Lake



daypack, Gear, Hiking, shoes

What to Bring Hiking: for the girl who packs everything

I have no shame in saying I am a girly girl. I like to do my hair, my nails, and my make-up, even if I’m going hiking. I mean, pictures, right?

So what does the girly girl who always needs everything, really need to bring hiking? This was where I really struggled because I wanted to look cute, and hike. Additionally, in Colorado you need to be prepared for any weather. In the spring you could see rain, snow, and sunshine all in one hike.

I’ve put together some basics that I keep in my daypack bag pictured below:

Let me also just add a side note – a daypack CAN be functional and stylish, like this one from Woolrich that was done in collaboration with Topo designs. It’s easily my favorite bag so far for normal day hikes.


Anyways…back to the list:

  1. 2 water bottles that hold at least 24 oz of water (or more for a longer hike)
  2. Your camera/phone to take pictures, because you’ll want to remember it all.
  3. 1 light jacket with a hood
  4. 1 hat (winter or baseball cap depending on the season)
  5. 1 set of spikes if you are hiking in spring snowmelt season or winter.  I bought these: REI STABILicers and honestly, they make a world of difference! (My boyfriend bought these: REI Kahtoola MICROspikes which are also really good, just little bit more expensive)
  6. SNACKS! Don’t underestimate the length of the hike you are planning. Even with just a 4 mile hike I will usually make sure a few granola bars or trail mix are in my bag.
  7. 1 extra pair of socks. This might seem silly, but if your feet are hurting, or you get a blister and it pops, having an extra pair of socks will be your lifesaver.
  8. 1 first aid kit. You can buy these at a store, or you can make your own with band-aids, gauze, disinfectant, etc that you have at home. You will thank me when you need it (or when you get to make someone’s day by having a band-aid because someone else forgot to bring one and needed it).
  9. A map of your hike if you are able to get one, so you aren’t questioning which way to turn when some of the trails aren’t clearly marked.
  10. Finally…wear a comfortable pair of shoes. I can’t tell you enough about how happy you will be after investing in a great pair of hiking shoes. I recently bought the Danner Mountain Light Cascade and it has been a life changer (but actually). I can wear these for days at a time and they are so comfortable.


At the end of the day though, I’ve learned that I really don’t need to bring everything. It’s fine if it’s a little too warm or cold, it’ll be fine if your hair gets messed up or if it rained on you – all that matters is that you got out and saw a little bit more of the world. I mean it is pretty big, after all.

adventures, Rocky Mountains, Uncategorized

Becoming a hiker

Hi Everyone,

A couple of years ago I moved from a tiny town in Minnesota to Denver, Colorado.  Before moving, I worked retail management – my job was the biggest part of my life, and I didn’t mind it at all, or I didn’t think I did at least. Don’t get me wrong, I had a social life…but I hardly ever hiked, or did much outside unless I was at the lake.

When the opportunity arose to move to Denver, I thought there would be several things rolling through my mind. But honestly, here’s how it went:

  1. Could I actually pick up my whole life and go?
  2. How could I not pick up my life and go?

About two months later, I packed up everything that would fit in my SUV and nothing more. My boyfriend and I had an apartment, but I had no job and hardly any money.  The only things I possessed were my belongings and a heart that was ready for a grand adventure.

The day after I arrived in Denver, we hiked to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park.  I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but hiking at 9,000 feet one day after you move from a much lower elevation is not easy.  I struggled the whole way and fell into a stream because I slipped on a rock – I was not a happy girl. However, when we went around the last curve and arrived at Alberta Falls, I didn’t care about slipping or being out of breath. My heart was so full of happiness and peacefulness. I swear I’ve never felt so free, so at home. I had fallen in love with hiking, with the feeling that it gave me.

It was then that I realized the most important things in life should be feelings like that. The rush when you accomplish something and can see the world from new perspectives is unparalleled. That was the beginning of everything.  That first hike, it was the beginning of an adventure that I never wanted to end; and it still hasn’t.

I hope to write continuously about my love affair with hiking to try to inspire people to get outside and adventure anywhere that makes you feel at home, that makes you feel free.