The combination of living in Colorado and having a winter anniversary always makes it difficult to figure out how we’re going to celebrate. You just never know what the weather has in store, especially in the mountains. This year we actually had the opposite problem from what we expected: it was going to be too warm at our planned destination to do the skiing and snowshoeing we wanted. So, six days before departure, I was frantically searching for any available lodging that was in our price range. It took all evening but eventually I found us a plan B: Twin Lakes.
Twin Lakes is an unincorporated town, population about 200. The kind of place where if you blink, you miss it. We’d driven through Twin Lakes twice before but never actually stopped. Well, this time we stopped and spent the weekend there. And let me tell you… it may be super tiny but it’s one heck of a gorgeous location!
Twin Lakes – like most Colorado mountain towns – was founded in the mid-1800s by gold and silver prospectors. It’s named for the Twin Lakes, which sit at the base of the towering Sawatch Mountains, the highest range in Colorado. This includes Colorado’s tallest peak: Mount Elbert.
Our home for the weekend was the Mount Elbert Lodge, a quaint B&B owned by a very lovely couple, John and Becky. They were wonderful hosts, kind and friendly, breakfast was delicious, and we had a jacuzzi tub in our room. We really enjoyed our stay! Also, John comes from a German family – as does Pat – so the two bonded throughout the weekend while chatting about Germany.
On Saturday morning we headed out for a hike to the historic Interlaken Resort. Upon arrival at the Twin Lakes trailhead, we did our Good Samaritan duty of the weekend and helped a guy get his car unstuck from the snow (one of two people who got stuck on their way to this trailhead that morning… good tires, AWD, and clearance recommended). And then we strapped on our snowshoes – which for me involved putting them on the wrong feet, a fact I didn’t notice until halfway through our hike – and headed off.
The trail – which is part of both the Colorado (CT) and Continental Divide (CDT) Trails – parallels Lower Twin Lake, gently undulating its way along the shore. Every time there was an opening in the trees, we were afforded gorgeous views. The latter half also involved walking through some of the tallest aspen trees I’ve ever seen. This would be a pretty trail year round, but I imagine especially in the fall when the leaves are changing.
After about 2.7 miles (4.4 km), we found ourselves at Interlaken.
Interlaken Resort was originally built as Lakeside Resort in 1879 by John A. Staley. It was intended to appeal to the upper class, with amenities including a dance hall, billiard hall, and a hexagonal 6-stall privy with leather seats (gross, if you ask me). It was then purchased in 1883 by millionaire James V. Dexter, expanded, and renamed Interlaken Resort. Unfortunately, after Dexter’s death in 1899 the resort began a downward trajectory and was ultimately turned into a boarding house and then abandoned.
After falling into disrepair and being ignored for many years, Interlaken was eventually placed on the National Historic Register and purchased by the Forest Service. The buildings were moved to higher ground to protect them from a potential future project that may have raised the water level of Twin Lakes. They’re currently being fixed up, a massive project that has a few years remaining.
The first building we came to is the cabin Dexter built for his family. A fancy cabin. It was built in 1895 and modeled off an East Coast captain’s house, complete with a third floor lookout tower. He even had wood from the east coast shipped in for use in the interior of the cabin. As of early 2021, the cabin is the only building that is open to the public. It’s been mostly renovated but is unfurnished and home to some small rodents, by the looks of it.
The rest of the buildings can be viewed from the outside only. There are also a handful of interpretive signs that explain the history of the resort and the Twin Lakes area.
After returning from our hike, we decided to drive back toward our B&B and continue down Highway 82 another 7 miles (11 km) to the winter closure. The road climbs over Independence Pass, the highest paved pass in Colorado. It’s a gorgeous area. It’s also an absurdly narrow and winding road through prime avalanche terrain… needless to say, it is not open to cars in the winter (though snowmobiling and other winter recreation is allowed).
We ended up driving the stretch of road between our B&B and Twin Lakes about 6 times. On 3 of these occasions, we encountered bighorn sheep. They were always at the same location, so we began referring to it as Sheep Curve. One sheep in particular really just seemed to enjoy standing in the road. She looked at us very disapprovingly as we paused to take some photos, apparently displeased with us for hogging her lane.
Back in Twin Lakes, we stopped at the Welcome Center parking area to see the remaining buildings from historic downtown Twin Lakes and learn a little about the town’s history. It’s just across the street from present-day downtown. Both are tiny.
Next, we decided to poke our heads into the Twin Lakes Inn, recommended to us by John and Becky. This would be the first time we’d eaten inside a restaurant since COVID began. We figured we’d pop in and see how busy it was… and found it empty. Perfect! We ordered beers, garlic Parmesan fries, and a Caesar salad, and boy did it hit the spot. I had a very smooth porter from a semi-local brewery and Pat had a Java stout, also from a place not too far away. Oh, and we also enjoyed this view while we ate:
Give me blue skies and snow-capped mountains and I’m in my happy place. I was not ready to leave and I’m definitely excited to return someday soon. Thanks for a beautiful weekend, Twin Lakes!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: Twin Lakes is just west of the intersection between US 24 and CO 82 in central Colorado, at an elevation of about 9600 feet (2900 m)
- Fees and passes: none to visit the town or hike the trails
- Hiking: we hiked to Interlaken Resort via the Colorado Trail (5.5 miles/8.9 roundtrip with about 200 feet/61m elevation gain), which is probably the shortest and easiest option, especially in the winter. Other popular (but more challenging) nearby hikes include Mount Elbert, La Plata Peak, Hope Pass, and dozens of other options up Independence Pass
- Where to stay: we highly recommend Mount Elbert Lodge! Other options in town include Twin Lakes Inn and various cabins. There are numerous national forest campgrounds in the area, though they’re closed in the winter
- Other: from what we observed, ice fishing is the main attraction in the winter, though pretty much all water- and mountain-related recreational opportunities are available in the area throughout the year