As is often the case, I mistakenly assumed that because this hike was only 5.5 miles (8.9 km) round trip, it probably wasn’t going to be that great. And, as is often the case, I was wrong. Timberline Lake is beautiful!
In mid-July 2020, Pat and I headed off for a weekend camping adventure near Leadville, Colorado with another couple. The wife loves to hike but isn’t super keen on camping, so the goal of this trip was to show her that camping really isn’t so bad. And also to explore the area – a place in which none of us had really spent much time.
(Spoiler alert: we were moderately successful with goal #1 and very successful with goal #2)
Our explorations began with the hike to Timberline Lake which, contrary to its name, is not located at Timberline. It’s about 600 feet (185 m) lower, seated in a beautiful tree-lined valley surrounded by mountains.
The trail to Timberline Lake begins at the Timberline Trailhead just west of Turquoise Lake. It’s not a long hike, nor is it steep. The challenging part is the water crossings. There is no bridge and – at least during normal creek flow – no way to rock-hop your way across. You have to just take off your shoes and wade. And let me tell you; it was cold! They weren’t large crossings and the water only came up to the top of my calves, but my feet actually hurt from the cold by the time I reached the other side.
Also, I learned recently that it’s good practice to unbuckle your backpack before beginning a water crossing. On the off chance that you were to slip and fall into the water, having a backpack strapped to you could be dangerous. It may weigh you down or – more importantly – it might get caught on logs or rocks and, if it’s fully buckled, you will then be stuck right along with it. More than likely this isn’t a scenario that will ever occur, but better safe than sorry, so I thought it was knowledge worth passing along.
Once reaching Timberline Lake, we continued on the semi-maintained trail that fully encircles the lake, enjoying the differing appearance of the lake from all angles.
After fully circumnavigating the lake we headed back down the trail, once again submerging our feet in the ice cold water en route to the parking lot. Prior to completing this hike, it’s definitely important to check reviews on AllTrails or speak with someone about the state of the water crossings; high or fast-flowing water would make these a lot more difficult and potentially dangerous.
AllTrails reviews also warned us to be prepared for mosquitoes, and that was accurate. They were terrible and we did end up using bug spray.
And that’s really all there is to say about Timberline Lake. A hike I would recommend, especially for someone looking for a shorter and/or less intense excursion in the Leadville area.
The Important Stuff
- Getting there: Timberline Lake Trail departs from a parking area off the western-most point of Turquoise Lake Road near Leadville, Colorado
- Fees and passes: none
- Hiking: 5.5 miles (8.9 km) round-trip with 905 feet (275 m) elevation gain; less if you opt not to hike all the way around the lake
- Where to stay: there are dozens of camping options in the vicinity, you can backpack in to the lake, or there is lodging nearby in Leadville
- Other: for anyone who enjoys fishing, Timberline Lake is apparently a good place to do so