One really nice benefit to living in Denver is that my mom and I are now only a 70-minute, $100 flight away from each other. As a result, we’re able to see each other a lot more often than when I lived across the country. She does plenty of exploring on her own in Montana but she’s also always very eager to come adventuring in Colorado. She spent a little over a week with us this past July, during which time we squeezed in quite a few hikes. The first was to Silver Dollar and Murray Lakes.
We left Denver just before sunrise and headed up to Guanella Pass and the Silver Dollar trailhead. There are two starting points for this hike… the lower trailhead and the upper trailhead. Had we planned ahead better and driven our Subaru we could’ve reached the upper trailhead, but there was no way my Corolla was going to make it. We didn’t mind, though. It’s only about 0.7 miles (1.1 km) between the lower and upper trailheads and it was a pretty walk along the road.
Colorado is always prone to summer afternoon thunderstorms and this past summer especially was very volatile. We learned upon arrival that Guanella Pass had gotten quite a lot of hail during the storms the previous evening; it was still coating the ground.
Upon reaching the upper trailhead, we continued ascending through the trees to a view of Naylor Lake. The lake is on private property so you can’t reach the shoreline, but past this point you’ll spend most of the hike looking down on it from above. I think I ended up taking photos of it from just about every angle.
By now, we were approaching tree line and could see our approximate destination in the distance. Getting there involved quite a bit more walking, including crossing a small bit of snow and a large quantity of mud. We were able to make it through most of it by stepping on conveniently placed rocks, but there were some places where we had no choice but to step in it. The alternative – going around it – would have meant stepping on plants and widening the trail.
And finally, we reached Silver Dollar Lake. The lake is nestled in a bowl at the base of Square Top Mountain, small and clear and, on this particular day, fairly calm. There were a handful of people fishing and in fact we did see a few fish swim by.
Many people end their hike here, and it’s a worthwhile destination for sure. But for those willing to climb an additional 0.5 miles (0.8 km) and 250 feet (75 m), you’ll be rewarded with the beautiful Murray Lake as well as more wildflowers and additional views of both Naylor and Silver Dollar Lakes from above.
Upon our arrival at Murray Lake, my mom and I both made the same observation: it reminded us quite a lot of Snowbank Lake, which we’d hiked to the previous summer.
A trail encircles the lake. The other group that came up just ahead of us went right, so we went left and found a quiet spot to enjoy the view. Once the others departed we headed around to their spot, which required crossing the outlet stream. It appeared as though there was somewhat of earthen dam here, as well as some metal pieces to hold the dam in place.
All in all, this was a beautiful hike; three lakes, lots of wildflowers, and a healthy dose of that fresh Colorado mountain air!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: The lower Silver Dollar Trailhead is located on the north side of Guanella Pass, about 2 miles (3.2 km) below the summit. The parking area is unmarked but there’s a larger paved pullout on one side of the road and a small dirt lot on the other. If you have AWD/4WD and clearance, a steep dirt road leads up from the dirt lot 0.7 miles (1.1 km) to the upper trailhead.
- Fees and passes: none
- Hiking: From the upper trailhead it’s 4 miles (6.4 km) and about 750 feet (230 m) elevation gain round trip to Silver Dollar Lake. For Murray Lake, add 1 mile (1.6 km) and 275 feet (85 m) round trip. If you park at the lower trailhead add 1.4 miles (2.2 km) and 350 feet (107 m) to the round trip distance. Our total from the lower trailhead to Murray Lake was 6.5 miles and 1390 feet (425 m) elevation gain.
- Where to stay: There are 5 developed campgrounds along Guanella Pass if you want to make it an overnight trip. Dispersed camping is also an option but is ONLY allowed in established sites… more info here
- Other: About half of this trail is above tree line with no shelter, and because of the surrounding mountains you may not be able to see approaching weather; keep a very close eye on the sky and be ready to turn around at the first sign of thunderstorms