The Chicago Lakes are frozen. You can see them with an hour of driving and a satisfying alpine hike.

Upper Chicago Lake in November. (Elisa Elkind/Denverite)

One benefit of our unseasonably warm, dry weather: The mountains have stayed accessible much later this year. We decided to take advantage of that this past weekend with a hike up to Chicago Lakes, two alpine gems cradled in a really glorious valley.

Read on for a very brief trip report and my suggestions for gear and prep.

Upper Chicago Lake in November. (Elisa Elkind/Denverite)
Upper Chicago Lake in November. (Elisa Elkind/Denverite)

The hike:

The hike starts at Echo Lake, which has tons of parking and stands about an hour’s drive from downtown Denver. It’s off of I-70, south of Georgetown. There are no fees.

You’ll be hiking about 10 miles roundtrip and gaining a bit more than 2,000 vertical feet. My athletic lowlander friend was pretty winded, and AllTrails rates it as “difficult.” It’s a long, persistent climb, but it doesn’t get technical or crazy steep anywhere. Allow yourself five to six hours for the roundtrip.

From the parking lot, you’ll walk around the right side of Echo Lake until you spot a sign for the Chicago Lakes Trail. You’ll follow that down into the valley for about a mile, where you’ll pick up a dirt road headed up the side of the valley. You’ll eventually pass a reservoir, with a cute little private property at the far end. Shortly after that you’ll find the Chicago Lakes Trail climbs away from the road to the right.

The whole thing is pretty obvious, with signs at the important junctions. I didn’t see a lot of blazes or markings, though, so I’d be careful going if it has snowed recently. Here’s a map! Here’s the forecast for the area!

Icy Upper Chicago Lake. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Icy Upper Chicago Lake. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
The conditions:

On Nov. 14, we found that the trail was clear except for small patches of ice and snow. We saw maybe a half-dozen people the entire day. The upper reaches of the valley were beautiful – white snow clinging to golden rock walls, the crystal blue lakes of summer frozen to a steely turquoise. The highest lake was frozen solid enough to gently step on its edge, but I would not recommend venturing out onto the ice, because duh.

This trail usually gets snowed in and fairly treacherous as winter encroaches, especially in its steeper sections. I’d suggest calling the Clear Creek Ranger District for more information on conditions: 303-567-4382.

If you can’t make it this winter, go in the summer! The upper bowl fills with songbirds. It’s really wonderful.

Obligatory exploration dog. (Betsy Fowler/Denverite)
Obligatory exploration dog. (Betsy Fowler/Denverite)
Gear:

Pretty standard. You’ll want decent boots and warm layers. I’d bring a waterproof shell to cut the wind, which gets nasty up top. Also, lunch.

When you’re done:

You can hit up the award-winning Cannonball Creek Brewing Company in Golden.

 

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.