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.
- Starting Elevation: 10,940 feet
- Ending Elevation: 11,530 feet
- Round trip length: 5.5 miles
- Trailhead: Colorado Midland Trailhead, 4.8 mile marker on Hagerman Pass Road
- Time: 3 hours (taking our time, and pictures of course)
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.
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.
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.
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.