Happy Hiking: Winter Park

After three days in Grand Lake with Tina, I met my next guests in Winter Park, an hour away.  Dom and Gary had much farther to drive…from Texas.  Actually, they spent a few days in Vail first, so their drive wasn’t too long either. 

Corona Pass Road

We met up Friday night at my friend’s Beaver Village condo and prepared for a weekend of hikes.  The trailheads to all the hikes we took this weekend are located in Arapaho National Forest on Corona Pass Road.  While the road is just a few minutes down Hwy 40 from Winter Park, getting to the trailheads are somewhat tedious.

Though passable with a regular SUV, certain sections were very rough.  While it could probably be done in a sedan, I wouldn’t recommend it unless it is an old rental!  There would definitely be a few scrapes. I just slightly caught might hitch twice on the way down.

Dom, Gary, and I planned our first hike for our weekend in Winter Park to King Lake, Betty Lake, and Bob Lake.  Additionally, if we had enough time, we planned to add on another hike to Pumphouse Lake and Corona Lake. 

We rose early, packed our lunch, met another friend Angie at the condo complex, and headed out at 7am.  I got so caught up talking with Angie, who I hadn’t seen for year, that I made the rookie mistake of not checking my odometer when we turned onto Corona Pass Road.

According to my Colorado Mountain Club Guidebook, we were supposed to travel 13.8 miles to the trailhead.  Unsure of how far we had gone, we made a few stops along the way to read trailhead signs and to check out a cool old railroad bridge.

railroad bridge on corona pass road

PumpHouse Lake and Corona Lake

Eventually, we saw some people parked across from a lake, so we pulled over, strapped on our gear and realized we were at Pumphouse Lake.  Oh well, by this time, we had had enough driving and the crisp morning air encouraged us to “get a move on”.

We popped onto the trail just behind the other folks who had their skis strapped to their packs.  Yes, it was the end of July and yes, there was a long patch of snow on the slope above Pumphouse Lake.  Yes, they were skiing it. Angie told me there is usually a ski competition here in mid-July!

Pumphouse Lake hike in Winter Park

We, on the other hand, kept descending the trail lined with willows to a creek crossing.  Donning shoes and pants soaked from the night’s precipitation on the willow stocks which rubbed against us, it didn’t matter how we crossed the shallow creek.  Though we mostly skipped from rock to rock, a few folks’ feet slipped into the water to ensure soggy socks!

The trail to Pumphouse Lake and Corona Lake is only two miles round trip, so it wasn’t long before we made it Corona Lake which was socked in with fog.  Wishing to hike the other trail as well with a suspect weather forecast, we probably spent to much time wandering Corona Lake’s western edge, but it was very pretty.  We savored the wildflowers, the views of the ski mountain, and the placid waters.  Without time on our side, soon we retraced our steps, ascending 500 feet back to the car.

Corona Lake in Winter Park

8 second video view of Corona Lake

King, Betty and Bob Lakes

After chatting with the skiers, we learned the trailhead to King, Betty, and Bob Lakes was just up the road at the gate, which blocks the pass.  Ha…had the book mentioned the trailhead was located at the end of the road, rather than 13.8 miles from the start, that would have been most helpful!

By the time we reached this trailhead, there were ten or so cars in the parking lot.  By Colorado standards, this is not much on a Saturday at 10:30am.  That said, it felt busy relative to our last jaunt.

The trail to this trio of lakes begins by crossing the tundra to the ridge which provides a lovely view of King Lake.  At this point, one trail climbs the ridge while the other drops below to the east of King Lake.  Fortunately, the latter was the direction we were traveling for our moderate 4.2 mile out-and-back hike.

King Lake in Winter Park

6 second video view of King Lake

We followed the trail, or should I say small stream, with rainwater and snowmelt trickling along the path down to King Lake.  Despite the clouds, the views were magnificent as were the plethora of wildflowers that dotted the slopes.

We continued to an unnamed lake which we thought might have been Betty Lake, but upon review of the map later, we found it was not.  Regardless, with waterfalls flowing into the lake from two locations, it is worth a stop.  In fact, it might have been the prettiest of all the lakes in my opinion.

unnamed lake

6 second video view of No Name Lake

Betty Lake

With billowy clouds in the sky, our visit was brief, and we carried on to the next lake.  This time it was Betty.  Betty Lake took some effort to reach.  First, we had to cross a creek.  A few options presented themselves…a wide, shallow crossing; a narrow, deep crossing; or a leap. 

I took the leap and likely should have followed the same protocol on the return as I fell in trying to balance on a pointy rock at the narrow crossing on the way back.  I could feel the slow motion fall coming, so I just tried my best to keep my camera dry, and fortunately that worked!

the creek I fell in

16 second video view of waterfall

Before crossing the creek, I recommend following it down to the right to see a spectacular waterfall.  The “leap location” is that way too.  After crossing the creek, the trail begins to climb and climb and climb.  Eventually, it takes a turn in the northwesterly direction, and hikers are rewarded with a view of Betty Lake.

We stopped at Betty Lake and did not continue to Bob Lake for multiple reasons.  First and foremost, we were hungry!  Second, while the skies still didn’t look that threatening, our slow pace coupled with a climb out from King Lake at the end required a self-imposed cut-off time of noon just to be safe.  Third, we didn’t know how much further we’d have to go to Bob Lake.  It turns out it was just at the end of Betty Lake, so we should have kept walking. 

Betty Lake in Winter Park

7 second video view of Betty Lake

Oh well.  We had an adventure none-the-less and leaving Betty Lake by 12 was perfect timing.  The thunder rolled as we crossed the last quarter mile of tundra, and as soon as we closed the doors to the car, the rain began falling.

Rogers Pass to Heart Lake

The following day, our hiking group decreased by two, and just Dom and I went for a five-mile hike to Rogers Pass overlooking Heart Lake.  I have previously hiked to Heart Lake from the Moffat Tunnel side.  It was my first time to hike from Winter Park.

The hike from Winter Park was easier and far less crowded.  In fact, we didn’t see anyone on the trail until we reached the overlook, and those were campers coming up to the pass from Heart Lake.  For a more peaceful experience, I definitely recommend hiking from Corona Pass Road.

The trailhead is located across from the old railroad bridge I previously mentioned.  The path is an old mining road.  While I’m generally not a fan of hiking roads, this morning, beneath a foggy sky, it was perfect!

The road ascends a mile or so through the forest before it reaches treeline where it opens up to extensive views.  As the clouds swept across the terrain, our views varied from clear to limited.

fog with a limited view on the way to heart lake

Then the road steadily climbs through the tundra and turns around a talus field full of elusive pika and an inquisitive marmot which came to visit as we stood still to watch.  Soon we reached the pass with a smattering of snow and a super view of the valley of lakes below.

marmot on the way to heart lake

Heart Lake

Heart Lake was the closest, then Rogers Lake.  And on goes the list.  We didn’t make the one-mile steep hike down as the dark clouds ahead looked threatening, and we couldn’t see behind us.  We did, however, descend the now single-track trail just a few hundred feet to a nice view point where we had our token snacks.

heart lake and rogers lake

11 second video view of Heart Lake

We had an uneventful return to the car, as the rain held off (even long enough to meet some friends on the patio at the Fraser River Beer Company).  What a nice weekend in Winter Park!  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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