I feel very fortunate to be a member of the Colorado branch of Women Who Hike, as it’s the most active one. There are always people looking for hiking buddies and, because there are multiple ambassadors, hosted group hikes occur very frequently. I’ve been lucky enough to secure spots in a few of these hikes, including this one from last September!
Helms Lake is located 6 miles (9.6 km) from the Burning Bear trailhead off Guanella Pass Scenic Byway. If Guanella Pass sounds vaguely familiar to you, it may be because it’s also the location of the hike I wrote about last week. Burning Bear trailhead (I’m really curious as to the origin of the name Burning Bear) is located on the southern half of the Byway, just a few miles up from the town of Grant. This isn’t the most popular trailhead in this area, but it’s a prime location to view fall colors, so during peak season it’s much more crowded than the rest of the year.
Our group of ~15 (there are group size restrictions on this hike since it’s a wilderness area) set off around 7:15am dressed in lots of layers; it was a chilly morning. It warmed up quickly, though, and by the time we neared the lake it was approaching 70ºF (21ºC)!
The elevation gain of this hike is about 2400 feet (730 m) and it’s fairly evenly distributed throughout the 6 miles (9.6 km). The first 4 miles (6.4 km) are slightly more gradual and the last 2 (3.2 km) slightly steeper, but having so many people to chat with took our minds off the uphill and made it feel like a relatively mild hike. The beginnings of fall colors and three moose we saw off in the distance were exciting distractions as well!
Helms Lake sits about 2,000 feet (610 m) below the summit of Mount Bierstadt, one of Colorado’s 14ers. It was a fairly calm day, and we hung out on the shore chatting and munching on some snacks.
In addition to being a wonderful hike with a fun group of women, this also ended up being hike #52 to cap off my 2019 participation in the 52 Hike Challenge! I’m not participating in the challenge in 2020, but it was a lot of fun to do and it really motivated me to get outside and explore as often as possible.
This trail actually continues another 2.5 miles (4 km) beyond Helms Lake to Abyss Lake, which is on my backpacking to-do list, so I’ll hopefully be able to write all about that one in the near future. Until then, happy hiking!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: Burning Bear Trailhead is located along the southern half of the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway,
- Fees and passes: none
- Hiking: Helms Lake is a 12 mile (19.3 km), 2400 foot (730 m) elevation gain hike from Burning Bear Trailhead that tops out at over 12,000 feet (3660 m)
- Where to stay: there are 5 established campgrounds along Guanella Pass if you want to make it an overnight trip; however, they’ve recently tightened restrictions for dispersed camping in this area… more info here
- Other: there are no restrooms at the trailhead; if you have to go, please follow LNT principles, which means finding a spot far from the trail and any water sources, digging a hole at least 6″ (15 cm) deep for solid waste, and packing out all toilet paper and feminine hygiene products.