Originally Posted June 2020
Pictured Above: Jess at Upper Chicago Lake
Date Hiked: 6/7/2020
Starting Elevation: 10,611 ft
Ending Elevation: 11,780 ft
Round Trip (RT) Mileage: 10.2 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 2,182 ft
Trail Conditions: Dry with Muddy/Wet Sections between the Lakes
Temperatures: 40s-60s (Very Windy in the AM and at the Top)
Dogs Allowed: Yes
(Actual Trail Recordings from 6/7/2020)
First alpine lake hike of 2020! Also, I should note that this is the second time I've completed this hike, the last time was September 2019. It was really cool to see the landscape change between the seasons!
This spring, I tried to maintain my hiking fitness by hiking local trails, trail running (when weather allowed), and running. I definitely felt better than normal for the first hike of the season, but I definitely underestimated how much the elevation would affect my pace. It's funny... I've lived in Colorado for over twenty years now, and every summer, I still forget about the mosquitos (until I get bitten) and how much harder it is to hike at higher elevations (until the first one of the season).
This hike starts at Echo Lake in the Mount Evans Wilderness. We started our hike at about 7:15am on Sunday morning, and we managed to get a close parking spot across the street. All of the main parking spots (there aren't many) were already full by the time we arrived. It's not a huge issue though because people park all along the street throughout the day. There were definitely always people around us while we were hiking, but it wasn't particularly bothersome. On the ascent, you'll play leap-frog with other hikers as you stop and rest along the trail or wait for others to pass by. On the descent, you'll find that you're waiting for others at a few sections, and the trail is certainly populated, but most people are pleasant and you won't find the people distracting.
As for weather, it was A LOT colder than I thought it would be. Idaho Springs was about 50-60 degrees at 7am but Echo Lake (10,000ft) was around 40-50 degrees with a TON of wind, especially in the early morning. Luckily, a fair amount of this trail is in the woods, especially the first mile. Nevertheless, I would recommend preparing for variable weather, dressing in layers, wearing shoes with solid tread, and having a windproof jacket.
The trail starts out relatively flat and then starts to descend into the woods. You'll cross a small log bridge and then continue to hike up a dirt road - this is where the incline begins for the hike. As you're hiking along the road, it isn't very picturesque. You'll pass Idaho Springs Reservoir (on your left) while you're on the road and the official trail start will be a little ways past the reservoir on the right. For the most part, it's what I consider a gradual and steady incline all the way to Lower Chicago Lake. It's not particularly challenging for anyone of average fitness levels, the main factor is that you're starting at 10,000ft. If you've been hiking a lot at lower elevations throughout Colorado (5-8,000ft), you'll definitely feel the difference once you start to go uphill. It'll get your heart rate up, but you can pace yourself and the trail isn't overly exposed.
Once you hit the official trailhead, you'll hike through fairly open woods until you come to a clearing. This is when you'll start to see Lower Chicago Lake (to your left). The mountain views are pretty cool, especially this time of year when there's still a little bit of snow to provide contrast.
I didn't take any pictures until we hit this clearing before the lower lake. But once you spot the lower lake, you'll definitely want to stop for some photos. There are a couple of small boulders you can stand on for instagram-worthy pics!
I really love Lower Chicago Lake because you get to see it from a variety of angles throughout the hike.