Roadtrip to the Rockies: Hiking in Buena Vista

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Hiking in Buena Vista

My tennis peeps and I headed out for a weekend in Buena Vista and had a great time!  We wandered the town, soaked in the Mount Princeton Hot Springs, relaxed at the house, visited St. Elmo (a ghost town) and of course, hiked.  Some of us hiked more than others, but Marissa and I knocked out three trails.

Many of the hikes in Buena Vista are high altitude and the most recent snow reports for many of the trails which were a few weeks old suggested that trouncing through snow was still required to reach many of the alpine lakes.

Little Rainbow Trail

As such, on Friday, we opted for Little Rainbow Trail which is a popular mountain bike trail located near Salida.  We figured we wouldn’t have to dodge too many cyclists on Friday, relative to Saturday and the lower elevation (7,500 to 7,900) would keep us out of snow.  We were right on both occasions, though we didn’t find this 9 to 10 mile section of a much longer trail to be that picturesque.

We followed an undulating, sandy trail past cacti and juniper trees.  Occasionally, we stumbled across and animal bone and sometimes stopped to enjoy the view of the Collegiate Peaks.  We were thankful to have begun this hike mid-morning as there was little shade beneath the beaming sun in the arid, desert like terrain.

Marissa’s dog Beans came with us, and he stopped in the slightest shade that the low bushes and trees offered.  We were both happy to be outside and to get in some mileage, but didn’t expect we’d ever hike this trail again.  After our four-hour walk, we headed to the Mount Princeton Hot Springs to join the rest of the ladies that were enjoying a spa day!

Denny Creek Trail to Hartenstein Lake

The Denny Creek Trailhead is located about eight miles from Buena Vista off CR 306, and only about four miles from the VRBO at which we were staying.  The trailhead also leads to the popular fourteener Mount Yale.  I didn’t realize that I had already completed half this trail until we arrived, as my first fourteener was Mt. Yale, but once we reached the trail junction where we veered left this time, instead of right, the trail to the lake was new to me.  All the girls (Nicole, Sue, Ellen, Marissa, and I) joined on this trail, and it was fun!

The trail to the Hartenstein Lake is rocky and steep.  It begins at 9,00 elevation and climbs to 11,500.  We started out admiring aspen groves, soon crossed some log bridges, and eventually reached a fantastic overview.  It’s not often that I say this, but this overview may have been the best part of the trail and better than Hartenstein Lake which was surrounded by dormant willows and was VERY buggy.

We sat pretty far away from the greenish-brown alpine lake to keep from being swarmed by gnats and flies as we snacked.  Based on our increased heart rates, it was clear we were in the early hiking season and not quite acclimated to the high altitude during the steep ascent.  Overall, it was a great half-day hike (3 hours plus lounge time at the lake), and the trail was completely dry and devoid of snow, a pleasant and welcome surprise.

Going early in the season rewarded us with a rather tranquil hike.  We only crossed paths with about six people who were headed to or from the lake which we had to ourselves.  Most everyone else seemed to be peak baggers and took advantage of the light snow year to summit Mount Yale in June.  Upon return to the car, the last mile of the trail was busier as the two paths intersected, but it could have been a lot worse sharing a path with a sought after 14er.  ETB

Lost Lake

This trail is appropriately named!  The trailhead, is located 18.1 miles from Buena Vista.  Again, it was on the road where we were conveniently staying.  Given it was our last day in the area, the forecast called for thunderstorms by 11am, and we had to make the 2.5 hour drive home, we opted for a quick 2.6 mile hike to another alpine lake.

The trailhead is unmarked and is on the opposite side of the road from a paved pullout with enough room for two cars.  Fortunately, we were the first to arrive.  Unfortunately, we hardly dressed for the occasion.  Unlike yesterday, there was a chill in the air and the trail was muddy!  I found myself immediately wishing I had donned hiking boots rather than trail shoes.

A light mist fell upon us as we ascended the moderate, muddy trail through the evergreen forest as we weaved around small snow drifts.  We left the forest and continued through a meadow as we hopped across the rocks in the creek and sloshed through the willows in an effort to avoid the water and more mud.

The trail connected to a jeep road which passed a lake and climbed to another forested area.  We continued our leisurely ascent while navigating more snow and eventually ended up at a false summit where we didn’t find the lake nor initially did we see the trail veer off to the right as we came across another snow drift.

We saw a trail to our left that led down the mountain side and that just didn’t seem like the correct direction to take as we expected the lake to be tucked in the rocky basin beneath a mountain peak.  After sidestepping the snow in front of us, we spotted the path leading up to the right.  Soon, to our relief, we found Lost Lake as we felt kind of lost on this trail.

The lake with both a green and icy bluish tinge was simply beautiful.  The rocky island in the middle seemed like an idyllic summer hangout.  Today, however, overcast and misty, with a thin layer of ice still covering part of the lake, swimming to the island was not inviting.  Of course, the icy water didn’t stop Beans from fetching a stick.

We didn’t expect to stay very long at the lake with threatening weather in the forecast, but the surrounding snow patched mountains, icy waters, and awesome reflections on the lake’s surface kept us mesmerized.

Soon we descended the same way we came, and despite my soaking wet shoes, I was very happy to hike this trail with Marissa.  The short mileage makes it a trail I normally wouldn’t go out of my way to do, but today, it fit in perfectly with our schedule.  The rewarding views at the lake were worth it.  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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