Hiked to Chicago Lakes from Echo Lake on May 14th, 2020. Idaho Springs, Colorado boasts many popular hiking destinations such as Echo Lake, 14er Mount Evans, and our exercise for the day, the Chicago Lakes Trail.
Currently the road to the Mount Evans summit is closed; the only way to reach it is by hiking. Mount Evans can be ascended via the Chicago Lakes Trail, a round trip distance of 18 miles – we were going to attempt this depending on how we felt at Upper Chicago Lake.
Video of our Hike to Chicago Lakes in the Spring
Echo Lake is where our Hike started
The Chicago Lakes Trail starts at Echo Lake – we found ourselves there at 4:00am. There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot. The plan was to be at the Lower Chicago Lake by sunrise; a 4 mile hike one way. The weather didn’t seem to be particularly cold, but it was snowing a little when we set off. Head lamps were a must for much of the hike to the first lake.
The trail starts on the easy path circling Echo Lake counter clockwise, then Chicago Lakes Trail veers off to the right. Once you get on this trail there is some switchback downhill hiking to a bridge that crosses a creek. Directly after crossing, the trail meets up with a dirt road that leads to the Idaho Springs Reservoir and some cabin camping sites. The road sloped gradually uphill for 1.25 miles before we exited to the left to follow Chicago Lakes Trail.
Mount Evans Wilderness
At this point in the hike we encountered a map and a sign saying we were entering Mount Evans Wilderness. There is a box where you are required to fill out a pass to enter, however there were no blank passes nor writing utensils in the box when we checked. We decided to push on regardless; it didn’t pose any problems for us.
The trail continues through the forest – for the most part the trail was dry and free of snow but there were some areas of mud and water obstructing our way.
Lower Chicago Lake
Finally we reached the first Chicago Lake. The sun was just coming up and we rushed down to the banks. This was easier said than done as we had to bushwhack a half mile to get to water’s edge.
The lake had a few frozen patches but was otherwise thawed. Both GoPros and the camera were put to good use in order to capture the splendor. We spent 45 minutes enjoying the first lake before crashing back up through the bushes and rejoining the trail.
It’s a .8 mile walk to continue on to the upper lake, with 200 feet of elevation gain. Just before the second lake is a steep incline, and today it was covered in snow. We geared up with microspikes.
Upper Chicago Lake
Upper Chicago Lake was completely thawed and the view looking down on Lower Chicago Lake was excellent. On the left hand side of the lake is the path that continues up to Summit Lake and onward to Mount Spaulding and eventually Mount Evans. While we were exploring the upper lake, one solo hiker passed by; the first person we had seen all morning.
We decided to save the Mount Evans summit for another day and began our trek back to the trailhead. We encountered an increasing number of hikers on our return trip as well as several climbers. Many of the climbers were carrying these awkward box-like pillows on their backs and we weren’t sure what they were used for, I wish we had asked more questions!
The uphill directly following the creek crossing was a battle; we had been hiking for nearly 10 miles and were tired. Upon reaching Echo Lake we found it to be quite crowded.
People were fishing and picnicking all around the lake, the parking lot was full and more cars were parked along the road. We experience this a lot when we hike; even though it’s so difficult to wake up at 1AM we are grateful to avoid over-crowding.
Walking back along Echo Lake we saw ducks and a bunch of Clark’s Nutcrackers. The hike amounted to 10.6 miles with 2,300 feet of elevation gain – this took us 5 hours and 45 minutes.
Leave a Reply