Colorado, Colorado Hikes

Colorado Day Hikes: Beartracks Lake

Even as we consistently check hikes off our to-do list, it never seems to get any shorter. And yes, we’re extremely fortunate to have so many options to choose from. I’m definitely not complaining. But it can also sometimes be overwhelming to decide which trail to tackle each weekend.

Case in point: this hike.

Hiking to Beartracks Lake on this particular weekend was about Plan H, if I recall correctly. I had a whole bunch of other possible options picked out, but one by one they were eliminated due to lingering snow or COVID-related closures. I was just about at my wits end by the time I stumbled across this hike and, when some internet research revealed that a fairly pricey permit would soon be required to access the trailhead, it was settled. We were going to hike it for free while we still could.

(I don’t mean this to sound ungrateful. I don’t mind paying usage fees to support our public lands, particularly ones set aside specifically for wildlife conservation as is the case with this particular area. But $14 per person for one day of hiking is a bit much.)

The Beartracks Lake Trail departs from Camp Rock in the Mount Evans State Wildlife Area (SWA). Camp Rock is a dispersed camping area located at the end of Bear Creek Road, an 8 mile (12.9 km) narrow dirt road. Plenty of sedans made it to the trailhead without difficulty; truthfully, the two tall, sharp speed bumps near the entrance gate would be the most problematic part to navigate with a lower clearance car.

Personally, I don’t think we’ll ever stay at Camp Rock. It was a pretty area, but at least 50% of the people staying there had left their campsites unattended inappropriately. Two groups left stoves and dishes sitting out, people at one of the walk-in sites hadn’t properly hung their food, and one group left their cooler sitting on the ground right next to their tent. Maintaining safety in bear country is a collective effort, and that was definitely lacking at Camp Rock.

But anyway, back to the hike. AllTrails shows this hike as a loop, and it can be completed as such. The Beaver Meadow-Cub Creek route departs from one side of Camp Rock and the Beartracks Lake trail departs from the other side; they meet about 4 miles (6.4 km) into the backcountry, at which point the Beartracks Lake trail continues to the lake. We, however, took the Beartracks Lake trail in both directions because it’s the shorter route. And by shorter, I mean 11 miles (17.7 km) roundtrip. This is a long hike no matter what.

The Beartracks Lake route heads out of the camping area and around to run along Bear Creek for about the first 0.5 miles (0.8 km) before crossing the creek and beginning to climb. For the next couple miles (~3 km), we then hiked through the remnants of the Beartracks fire of 1998. Though it’s been 20 years, the forest isn’t recovering as well as I would have expected. Plenty of grasses and flowers and some aspen trees have taken hold but very few pines have begun to grow back.

Bear Creek
Hiking through the burned area from the 1998 Beartracks Fire

While the drive to the trailhead and the first section of trail is within the Mount Evans SWA, most of the rest of the hike travels through the Mount Evans Wilderness. This is the same wilderness area I’ve discussed in my previous two posts so I won’t reiterate the standard wilderness guidelines now, but please note that they are in effect for this hike as well.

Eventually the trail crests a high point, at which point we were afforded our first glimpse of Mount Evans – coated in a fresh dusting of snow that had fallen the previous evening. Did I mention we did this hike on the summer solstice? Two years in a row now, the Colorado Rockies have welcomed summer with decidedly un-summer-like weather.

Anyway, no longer in the burn area, the trail now travels through a pine forest where it remains for most of the rest of the hike. As the trail approaches Beartracks Lake, it becomes at times difficult to follow simply because it’s not a well-worn path. This is a less popular hike than many in the Front Range (though we still encountered plenty of people, including a lot of backpackers). Also, this final area just shy of the lake is where most backpackers set up camp so there are various lightly-worn social trails to the different campsites. But we found our way through and eventually the woods opened up to reveal the lake.

Approaching Beartracks Lake

We found a spot on the lake shore to eat a snack and soak up the views we’d hiked quite a distance to enjoy.

Beartracks Lake

The Important Stuff

  • Getting there: Beartracks Lake trail departs from Camp Rock, at the end of Bear Creek Road in the Mount Evans State Wildlife Area
  • Fees and passes: as of July 2020, an annual Habitat Stamp (~$10/person) + a daily (~$14) or annual (~$31) fishing license is required to enter the Mount Evans SWA, even if you’re only planning to hike or camp
  • Hiking: minimum 11 miles (17.7 km) and 2500 feet (760 m) elevation gain, depending on whether you hike the full loop (longer) or do it as an out-and-back
  • Where to stay: a few dispersed campsites are available at Camp Rock (pit toilets and tables but no potable water) and many people choose to backpack this trail; it’s also easily accessible as a day trip from the Denver area
  • Other: after leaving the state wildlife area the trail enters into the Mount Evans Wilderness, at which point standard wilderness restrictions (dogs must be on leash, camp 100 feet/30 m away from water and trails, etc.) apply

14 thoughts on “Colorado Day Hikes: Beartracks Lake”

  1. Yeah $14 is a bit too much in my opinion. Beautiful hike though. It’s disheartening to see how little recovery there’s been from the fire. I’ve been in plenty of burn scars that predate that one (as I’m sure you have) and with climate change many of these areas will be devoid of fir and pine forever now.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thorough and comprehensive explanation of the hike and stunning photos, Diana. Too bad campers are so negligent, maybe the new price will bring in only the devoted and knowledgeable outdoor adventurers. Thanks for taking us to Beartracks Lake.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Plan H…that’s so great to have all these options, but I know what you mean with frustrations related to closures, snow and permitting. I’m going to have so much hiking info for when I finally get to Colorado! Lovely photos of the lake.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You are a font of knowledge and info on Colorado hikes! We’ve been bouncing back and forth between TX and CO, but once we settle in there for a few months next spring/summer, I will be pulling out your posts again for sure. (I also appreciate your comments on wilderness responsibility.)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Maybe that’s why it’s called Beartracks Lake because bears are attracted to the area from all the campers who leave their stove and dishes on their site. This looks like a lovely hike and glad you did it before they started charging people $14. That’s steep. Some of the conservation areas here have started charging people, which is fine, but they do it in two-hour blocks and you have to reserve a spot ahead of time. This makes it challenging to plan as you don’t always know how much time you’ll need to complete a hike.

    Liked by 1 person

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