August 13th 2022 Emily and I hiked to Spectacle Lakes from the Lawn Lake trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. Spectacle Lakes are located in the Mummy Range section of the park, underneath Ypsilon Mountain (13,520′).
Hiking Distance – 12.8 Miles Round-trip
Elevation Gain – 3,661 ft (The hike fail to Chiquita Lake added about 1 mile)
Getting to Spectacle Lakes
Starting from the Lawn Lake trailhead, hike 1.4 miles on the Lawn Lake trail until you reach the trail junction for Ypsilon Lake and Lawn Lake. Take the route to Ypsilon Lake. Frem here it’s about a 3 mile slog through a forest with very little overlooks or views. Once the mountains come into view you are getting close to Chipmunk Lake.
This is a nice mental break to be out in the open. The shallow lake is usually calm providing nice reflections of Mount Chiquita and Ypsilon Mountain. Descend down the trail and pass the Upper Chipmunk campsite. Some maps show a lake here but all I see are a bunch of rocks. Less than a half-mile away you will run into Ypsilon Lake.
If you want to explore here there are some social trails that will take you around the lake. Moving forward to Spectacle Lakes, head west over a few log bridges. You’ll pass by a few spectacular cascades while gaining some elevation.
There’s a worn path that is pretty easy to follow. There will be a couple more creek crossings and a few more cascades as you make your way up. About 5.5 miles into this trail, you’ll come across a giant rock slab, with the small cascade off to the right.
Video of our Hike to Spectacle Lakes
Crux Move to Spectacle Lakes
This is the class 3 crux move that can be a bit sketchy for those not used to being on exposed rock. I know anxiety can kick in, and so can complacency, which can cause nasty falls at this section. My advice would be to climb the slab only if comfortable. Don’t climb the slab if wet. The rock has great handholds, use them. Once you get up to where you can comfortably stand, head east towards the cascade. Look for the cairns. This is where the easiest route will continue.
You can alternatively climb up the cascade instead of the giant rock slab. This route looked to be less exposed, as a fall here, you may not tumble down as far as if you were on the class 3 rock slab.
Continue climbing up the cascade that is well marked with cairns until you reach the outlet of Lower Spectacle Lake.
Once at the lower lake you will be in one of the most remarkable basins in Rocky Mountain National Park. Climb up the rock slab to the east to get a better view of both of the lakes.
The higher you go the more of the second lake you will be able to see. Hiking to Upper Spectacle Lake will start the bring the next lake into view immediately.
Getting to Upper Spectacle Lake
There’s no defined path to reaching Upper Spectacle Lake. You will have to boulder hop to get there. We did however, find a way easier path on the way back, as compared to the way there.
Check out my Alltrails route if interested
Reaching the shore of the upper lake will take you about .4 miles of some moderate boulder hopping, with about 100 feet of elevation gain and loss.
The views at the shore of Upper Spectacle Lake are worth the extra time it takes to get there. Even though we saw a good amount of people on the trail this day, we had the Upper Lake entirely to ourselves.
Chiquita Lake Attempt
Our next destination was Chiquita Lake. There’s a social trail turn off on the way back to Ypsilon Lake, which I also marked on the Alltrails route. Someone on the trail warned us that the grass would be overgrown making it difficult to navigate the bushwhack. He was right. We made it about .4 miles up before I had one too many falls in the tall grass. We were already gassed and decided to turn around. Which really sucks because looking back at the map we were pretty close to getting out of the grass and it would have been boulder hopping and scree the rest of the way. Guess we’ll have to return later in the year to knock this lake out.
Spectacle Lakes Hike Review
- Views at Spectacle Lakes are worth the pain. Very rarely do you get an end result as cool as this
- Not a hike for beginners. Lots of scrambling required. If weather turns bad this hike will get significantly more difficult.
- Recommend hiking in late summer for easiest access to the lakes.
- Most of the trail is marked well with cairns. However we saw a lot of people going way off route. Recommend having some type of navigation system.
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