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
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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Mayflower Gulch Trail