brian, erin and beth at lower Chicago Lake

Happy Hiking: Chicago Lakes

WOW!  I have wanted to hike Chicago Lakes Trail for a while, but I had no idea what I had been missing.  The scenery on this 9.6-mile trek is nothing short of spectacular.

The trailhead for Chicago Lakes begins at Echo Lake at the top of Squaw Pass Road.  This popular area is is situated next to Mount Evans Road which leads to the summit of one of Colorado’s famous 14ers.

Many cyclists ride both Squaw Pass and the road to Mount Evans.  Additionally, the scenic drive up Squaw Pass to Echo Lake complete with picnic tables and bathrooms also attracts sight-seeing visitors.  As a result, the trailhead is busy with all sorts of people.

The parking was almost full at 8am on a mid-September Saturday.  I suspect in the summertime it is likely filled by 7am.

The Hike to Chicago Lakes

The trail begins at 10,600 feet.  It remains relatively flat for the first mile as it passes through the evergreen forest, before it drops approximately 500 feet in a ¼ mile.  Descending at the beginning of a 10-mile hike is not a problem but ascending at the end is a different story!  Be sure to save some water and some energy for the return.

brian on chicago lakes trail

After crossing the creek at the bottom of the descent, the trail connects to a rocky dirt road which gradually ascends past Idaho Spring Reservoir and a couple of cabins as it meets another single track in the forest.

The trail passes through a golden basin lined by magnificent granite cliffs to the east.  The dramatic, jagged formations dusted in leftover snow from last week’s big storm took my breath away.  The sheer wall that climbers boulder reminded me of Yosemite.

The Chicago Lakes

The trail undulated between intermittent views of evergreen forest until it finally reached lower Chicago Lake encompassed by yellow willows.  For an easier hike, stop here.  The lake is pretty and has nice views.

But for a more rewarding vista, put in the extra effort and climb to upper Chicago Lake.  Though a steep 40% grade, it is only an additional ¼ mile.  The upper lake sits above tree line beneath jagged granite peaks.  Despite the surrounding mountains, it is exposed to the elements and can be very windy.  Be sure to bring layers in order to enjoy a relaxing lunch at the lake.

9 second video of Chicago Lakes

For an even more difficult trek, hikers may continue up steeper terrain to Summit Lake. This is the trail that the All Trails app indicates as Chicago Lakes. Since Summit Lake may be reach by Mount Evans Rd (currently closed), the additional hiking mileage isn’t necessary unless more exercise is desired.

The return is uneventful, though tired feet still must make it up all the switchbacks in the end.  There are not many trails that I repeat, as there are too many I have yet to explore, but I could be talked into Chicago Lakes again during wildflower season.  It is really beautiful.  One of my favorites.  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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