kroenke lake

Happy Hiking: Kroenke Lake Trail

  • Kroenke Lake Trail
  • Distance:  9.3 miles
  • Type: Moderate, out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 1,673 ft
  • Other: Dogs Allowed, Rough Road to Trailhead
  • All Trails Link

Kroenke Lake lies in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and is just a short drive from Buena Vista.  Buena Vista and Salida are wonderful small towns to visit while exploring this amazing wilderness area chock full of Colorado’s famous 14ers

Camping

There are many places to camp nearby, including on the road leading to the trailhead (CR 365) as well as CR 272 which is in between Buena Vista and Salida.  I should mention both roads are dirt, though CR365 is much rougher and has one washed out spot that may require a high clearance vehicle.

Parking

The Kroenke Lake Trail shares the same trailhead as Mt. Harvard, a 14er.  As a result, the parking lot fills up early.  For less crowds, hike this trail on a weekday.  That said, the Kroenke Lake Trail branches off to the left after about 1.75 miles.  Consequently, the foot traffic continues straight to Harvard, and those hiking to Kroenke Lake enjoy a tranquil surrounding.

I arrived at the parking lot on a weekday around 8am, thus most hikers had already set out for the 14- mile trek to Mount Harvard.  Therefore, the entire hike for me was rather pleasant.  I only ran into a group of young men in their 20’s, two of whom were relieving themselves trail side, before the split.  Perhaps there embarrassment is what made them overly friendly to this 49 year old lady! And after the split over the next three miles, I saw only a mom, son and dog returning from camping at the lake.

The Trail to Kroenke Lake

The trail begins at 9,778 feet, immediately crosses North Cottonwood Creek, and gradually ascends 1,650 feet over 4.6 miles (one way) through an evergreen forest.  The trail is rocky, has a few mud pits, and includes some creek crossings (most via bridges), but is easily navigable.

The first several miles through the shaded forest feature few wildflowers, though upon approaching the lake a few colors pop in the meadow.  The most prevalent wildflowers in mid-July are elephants head, Indian paint brush and queens crown.

Kroenke Lake

Much of Kroenke Lake is extremely shallow, thus the brown color, but it makes spotting fish easy.  The trout were prolific and very active at 10:30am when I reached the lake. They breached the surface while feasting on the bugs that swarmed the lake’s glassy top.  Definitely come armed with bug spray!

kroenke lake

Just a 15 second panoramic view of the lake.

The Fish

After videoing the fish (1 fish, then 10 fish), I sat down for a lakeside snack when a Canada jay swooped in and landed on nearby pine tree.  While I tend to refrain from feeding any animals, I tossed a few crackers down on the ground in front of me.

The Jay

Seeing as the crackers were only a foot or two away, I expected it would be a while, before the bird built up any courage to land on the ground next to me.  Not so!  That bird snatched up the crackers and flew away before I could even remove my camera!  Oh well, I thought to myself.  It will be back.  Nope!  I completely missed the photo op.

After lunch, I explored around Kroenke Lake.  I met another couple who was camping to the south of the lake where the trail is very well defined.  In fact, it keeps going for miles past the Kroenke Lake for anyone who wishes for a longer hike.

Circling Kroenke Lake

Satisfied with 9.3 miles round-trip, I stuck to just circling the lake.  Its western end is fed by many creeks trickling down the mountain side.  While this area is slightly boggy, it is possible to hop from rock to rock while keeping your shoes dry. 

kroenke lake

The northern side of the lake is far less traveled and requires a little bushwhacking, but it is possible to circle Kroenke Lake, unlike Lake Isabelle where my failed attempt left me with an assortment of scratches from thick willows!

In my opinion, while the small island adds to the lake’s beauty, Lake Kroenke’s biggest attraction is its solitude.  I had the lake almost entirely to myself, and it wasn’t until 1.5 hours later that I came upon other hikers who were ascending the trail as I was headed home.  Ahhh, the rewards of nature! ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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